Why A Tie?



Watching the trailer for ‘Rogue One’, the Star Wars prequel, you can’t help but be struck by the way it hits this decade’s most popular trope – the rebel girl. ‘On your own from the age of 15,’ says the commander, ‘reckless, aggressive and undisciplined,’ as if these are adequate job qualifications.

‘I rebel,’ says the stroppy, rather weedy heroine against a montage of her somehow finding the strength to thrash robots. Is this what rebellion has now come to mean? Once it meant not wearing a tie. Rebellion is non-conformity (not in Hollywood movies, though, where it clearly means being recruited into a military force). A tie is conformity.

The idea of wearing one mystifies me – I’ve been bought a few on silver salvers by flunkeys in swanky joints over the years, but my school required one and – along with a briefcase, another preparation for adulthood – the tie stayed around my neck until I started work.

It would have stayed longer but after my first boss saw me in one and confided that they nearly didn’t hire me because of it, I never wore one again. Not in the creative industries, you don’t. Besides, while some people look cool in a tie, I look like I’m being strangled.

When Swiss bank UBS published a 44-page dress code, which advised client-facing staff on everything from appropriate underwear to wearing ties and having neat haircuts, it was leaked and widely mocked. After all, this wasn’t in the Edwardian era but in 2010.

However, fashion houses reckon that ultimately people remember how you look, not what you say. (Of course they would say that, wouldn’t they?) Apparently people were more likely to describe themselves as ‘businesslike’ in smart clothes, and ‘easygoing’ when dressed casually. This research comes courtesy of the School of the Bleeding Obvious.

The modern necktie spread by Europe traces back to the time of the 30 Years’ War (1618–1648). That’s when Croatian mercenaries in French service, wearing their traditional small, knotted neckerchiefs, aroused the interest of the Parisians, so ties are another stupid thing we have to blame the French for, along with steak that bleeds and French Exploding Bread (croissants).

Due to the difference between the Croatian word for Croats, Hrvati, and the French word, Croates, the garment gained the name ‘cravat’, and boy-king  Louis XIV began wearing a lacy one, Fotherington-Thomas style, in about 1646 when he was seven, thus setting the fashion for French nobility.

It started a huge craze in Europe (although not among the Poors of course); men and women wore pieces of fabric around their necks. The cravats were often tied in place by cravat strings, arranged neatly and tied in a bow. And now, over three and a half centuries later, we’re still stuck with the damned thing simply because no-one has come up with anything better.

Whenever we had an event at the Cannes film festival, my business partner insisted on all the men wearing tie-up bow-ties, and as he was the only person in the company who could tie a bow from the other side (facing you) he went around to everyone and did theirs for them. No-one wears a tie to a premiere unless they’re Orlando Bloom and can get away with it.

Meanwhile, we’re stuck with a hideously ugly item regarded by the naffest establishments as something they can kick you out for not having. And women complain that they have to wear high heels!

Nude tie


12 comments on “Why A Tie?”

  1. John Griffin says:

    Try being a male teacher. Unless your’re PE staff (who mostly can wear shorts all day, unless at a posh independent) you have to wear shirt, trousers and tie as a minimum. If it’s an academy chain, the students have to wear ‘business dress’ which is generallly mocked when they’re on work placement. Ladies don’t have dress codes. I’ve worked with women dressed like porn models, charity shop dummies, T-shirts with baby milk stains, skirts split to the waist, harem pants, stretch pants so transparent you can read the knicker label; full suit, tie and crop as well as tweeds and a pipe hve been worn by female work colleagues over 40 years in education.

  2. Jo W says:

    Hey Chris,love the reference to the School of the Bleeding Obvious. I’ve been using that expression for some years now when shouting at the tv(yes,again,I know they can’t hear me). But I usually upgrade the dim ones to having a masters degree from the University of the Bleedn’ obvious. Oooh,better calm down now and relax- off tomorrow for a nice day at the seaside. Herne Bay and the forecast is for showers. Why am I going? No b******g idea. ;-(

  3. Damon says:

    Where do you stand on cravats?

  4. Adam says:

    Ties are definitely on their way out. I work for a large financial company, and ties are very rarely seen around the office. When I first started some 17 years or so ago, ties were compulsory, jackets had to be worn at all times, and anyone more senior had to be addressed as ‘Mr’. Thinking back to school days we had a rigid uniform policy, but had many subtle ways to rebel; coloured socks and ‘fat’ ties, anyone?

  5. Ness says:

    I wore a tie at school for a very practical reason; it stopped the cold winter air from creating a wind tunnel from neck to skirt while riding a bike to school. I couldn’t tie it myself though, it had to be pre-tied by a male relative who had almost forgotten the art, having acquired mostly elastic banded ties in the 70s. And now I have to deal with high heels as well.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    I taught in the mid sixties in a small upcountry town (Lytton – named after that man) where we had mountains on either side of us and a wind that just ripped up the canyon. The school was built as per the standard departmental plan: the windows faced south for maximum light and there was no air conditioning because there was no school in July or August. We froze in winter and melted in the summer because hot weather often started in May. The district superintendent insisted on ties and jackets for male teachers regardless of weather, although women could leave off a lot of things (girdles and stockings particularly) and go to light weight dresses. The men wore their ties very loose, collars untied, and jackets on the back of a chair. Teachers were expected to phone the next school down the line if “Dr. Mac” was doing an inspection. They were also required to keep an eye on the man in the hopes that someone might spot him some day without a tie or jacket. No such luck.
    My husband wore a tie his whole working life, even in the trucking office after he left teaching, and still often does. He has an impressive collection of colourful, humourous, and thematic ones, all of which I am counting on as additions to the quilt materials I’m amassing.

  7. Wayne Mook says:

    At work someone visited us and they thought it was dress down Friday, oh dear.

    A rebel it’s going against the grain, wearing a smart suite is starting to look that way. Rebel with a cravat, I think Tony Hancock has already done that.


  8. Joe says:

    “However, fashion houses reckon that ultimately people remember how you look, not what you say. (Of course they would say that, wouldn’t they?)” I see what you did there. And yet, I do still remember vaguely what Ms. Rice-Davies looked like.

  9. Nicholas Jenkins says:

    I frequently agree with you Christopher but on this subject I have to demur. I started to wear ties together with fitted shirts, jackets, and trousers, brogues and waistcoats, primarily because this manner of male dress is, in contemporary terms, an unconventional look (and this after a lifetime of sporting casual attire). When all around are clad in the ubiquitous jeans ‘n’ teeshirt or, in hot weather, cargo shorts, flip-flops, and bare chest, a gent in a light jacket and shirt teamed with a carefully-knotted tie bucks the societal trend for casualness and could certainly be considered as a ‘rebel’ in terms of normative dress codes.
    Furthermore, and most importantly if you’re an elderly fella on a budget, the smart look, acquired exclusively from charity shops, is cheap compared to High Street prices. Yesterday, out for a fish dinner with the family, I wore a white and blue-striped Gieves and Hawkes cotton jacket (£15), a blue Brooks Brothers shirt (£4), a green Aquascutum tie (£2), yellow chinos from Charles Tyrwhitt (£8), and a beautiful pair of brown Oxfords from Samuel Windsor which I found in the Trinity Hospice charity shop in Notting Hill for £25 and which I hope will last me, with care, for at least five years. Total outlay: £54.
    I enjoin all chaps and chapesses to trawl your local charity shops, spending your hard-earned dosh on quality schmutter at bargain prices whilst contributing to good causes rather than the likes of Philip Green’s retirement fund; at the very least you will stand out from the corporate tee-shirted crowd and save a bundle.
    Above all, I prize my dignity and self-respect as I approach the twilight years, and who amongst you can point to an elderly (50-plus) bloke who retains a dignified air clad in shorts, tee-shirt and flip-flops, varicose veins bulging, ingrowing manky toenails on display, collapsing flesh and flabby lineaments creased like a pharaonic relic for all to ‘admire’? I’m free from that now, and I love it.

  10. Peter Dixon says:

    Quite agree about charity shops and the idea that men over 40 should dress like men, not not fat 8 year olds at the seaside.

    I tend not to wear ties overmuch (although I have about 25) but have lately ‘got into’ waistcoats.

    I think the problem is not ties themselves but the idea of a ‘dress code’ that we all rebel against. I remember as a 5th former the idea was to tie the knot anywhere but where it should be, so ties would end up hanging down to the crotch or else about 4 inches below the throat.

    A charity shop best buy a few years ago was a hardly worn Barbour jacket for £45. Unfortunately i haven’t been able to wear it for the last year because it looks as if I’m copying Nigel Farage.

  11. Helen Martin says:

    Definitely in agreement with Nicholas on this. My resident expert usually is nice when we go out (even shopping counts as “out”) but the other day it was beige gardening pants with red suspenders (patterned with tools) and a peculiarish polo shirt, all topped with his summer straw hat. It was not a good look.

  12. John Griffin says:

    Sorry Nicholas, nearly 65 and always in shorts and T shirt. But then apart from the beginnings of a wattle, still run three times a week, do proper weights with a barbell, occasional spinning class, mountain and road bikes…….and work part-time as a teacher.

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