Ties: why bother?

Of all the fashion accessories available, far more are aimed at women than men, but the one that baffles me most is ties.

Their technical purpose might be to cover up the unsightly neck uncovered by an open-necked shirt, all the more so since cravats became deeply unfashionable, or to provide some decorative covering to compensate for a rather boring buttoned down shirt, but ties formed a life of their own by becoming part of the regimented uniform of male working, and indeed correct social attire at one time, for better or worse.  According to Wikipedia:

Many such men and women were required to wear neckties, because it was perceived as improving work attitudes, morale, and sales.

Maybe because conformity behind the plain tie demonstrated discipline, respect for authority, acceptance of your place in life?  And maybe those are perceived qualities largely lacking in modern life.

Sometimes the tie became part of other uniforms, like skinny ties for mods, string bow ties and bolos for rockers among many more.  You wore your black dickie bow with evening dress, your green or brown woollen tie with your tweeds and your black tie to funerals.

But worst of all was the school tie, generally thin polyester numbers in the school colours that looked awful no matter what you did with them.  This did not stop generations of students from trying to jazz them up into an individual fashion statement by tying their school tie into a thick stump with no tail, wearing it half way down the chest at half mast, or even around head or waist.

But for work it was generally a smart and tasteful silk tie (maybe in cornflower blue with an optional discreet stripe or spot but never a gaudy number with cartoon characters) tied with a half Windsor knot to show a fashionable dimple under the knot. Thickness of the knot varied but was generally deemed a good thing.

Trends in ties are such that they vary in width and style by the season, so you can guarantee that the paisley ties you wore 20 years ago will come back into fashion at some point, though hopefully not the kipper ties of the 70s – I still shudder at the very thought.

I never truly liked wearing suits with collar and tie, but it was de rigeur in business such that failure to do so would have resulted in being sent out to buy the offending neck wear, being sent home, and possibly even a black mark and restricted future career enhancement.

Ironic then that going back some way many employers, often but not exclusively creative companies, took to a non-tie policy as far back as the late 80s, along with dress-down Fridays (uniform of chinos and designer polo shirts.)  These days formal meetings generally require a tie but most work situations will permit a dress code of suit and a casual open-necked shirt with which I personally feel comfortable but doubtless others do not.

Sadly for me, I went through a period of acquiring ties in the 80s and 90s, many of them so zany and patterned that nobody would touch them with a barge pole.  They serve to remind me of an era when tie was king.  Their colour stood out from the crowd, spelled confidence I rarely felt.  They were a mask behind which I could hide.

While those are never worn these days, I do have a collection of classier ties for interviews, board meetings and suchlike, mostly woven silk ties bought from T R Lewin, Thomas Pink and other shirt shops, and chosen for the deep lustre of their silky colours and their compatibility with crisp cotton shirts (to which I am addicted, when I can afford them.)  If you’re going to look good, you might just as well get something that stands the test of time and does not go out of fashion.

But while I’ve been said to look smart in a suit and tie, give me jeans and a casual shirt for comfort every time.  Would I work more effectively or feel more professional in my finery and my silk tie?  I will leave you to speculate on that point.

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