Postwar Sign, Symbol, and Symptom: “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit”



The cover image for Sloan Wilson’s best-selling 1955 novel The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit features a slim, suited man, striking what looks like a military “at ease” stance. Shoulders squared, feet apart, hands clasped behind him, this dark-gray silhouette is clever in its combination of legibility and illegibility In the original image, which I am unable to reproduce here, one can clearly make out the suit, the straight edge of a white handkerchief, the white collar.1 But beyond a vaguely stern, upward glance, the man’s face remains indecipherable beneath its fedora. Who is this “Man in the Gray Flannel Suit?,” the mystery of the title and illustration beg us to discover. But the tag line above the image on the 1956 paperback edition suggests that readers of the 1950s already knew him: “The superb best seller America is taking to its heart. … A touching, powerful novel about men and women you know, live with, and love!“2


Middle Class York Time White Collar Sociological Critique Fortune Magazine 
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  1. 2.
    Sloan Wilson, The Man in the Gray Tlannel Suit (1955; rpt. New York: Cardinal/Pocket Books, 1956)Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    This term inconspicuous consumption is used in William Whyte’s Organization Man (New York: Doubleday, 1956)Google Scholar
  3. Anne Hollander, Sex and Suits: The Evolution of Modern Dress (New York: Kodansha, 1994), 17.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Lennard J. Davis, Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness, and the Body (London and New York: Verso, 1995), 6–27.Google Scholar
  5. 21.
    Robinson, The Man in the Bowler Hat (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1993), 26.Google Scholar
  6. 24.
    Roland Marchand, Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity, 1920–1940 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985).Google Scholar
  7. 34.
    Ned Hilton cartoon, Look, August 1959. Rpt. in Daniel Horowitz, Vance Packard and American Social Criticism (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), 167.Google Scholar
  8. 36.
    See Mirra Komarovsky, with Jane H. Philips, Blue-Collar Marriage (1962) (New York: Vintage, 1967).Google Scholar
  9. 38.
    Wendy Kozol, Life’s America: Family And Nation In Postwar Photojournalism (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994).Google Scholar

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© Elspeth H. Brown, Catherine Gudis, and Marina Moskowitz 2006

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