In 1966, when the Kinks sang “Dedicated Follower of Fashion,” I know they didn’t have me in mind. I’ve been many things, but I’ve never even remotely resembled a fashionista.
That’s not to say I don’t have some personal fashion standards. I like my long-sleeve dress shirts to have button-down collars and my short-sleeve shirts not to have them. I prefer blue jeans to khakis. If Sketchers ever goes out of business, I don’t know what I’ll do for shoes or sneakers. And I’m convinced the lost 11thcommandment is “thou shalt wear only black socks for dress, white socks for workouts and sports.”
Now I have on occasion fallen for the fleeting fashion trends of the moment. My high school students used to laugh uproariously when I described the outfit I wore in 1974 on my first day of student teaching – a white double-knit shirt with a wide (and I mean really wide) pale blue, yellow, and striped white tie; a pale blue, yellow and white sports jacket with a rounded collar big enough to cause me to blow away in a stiff wind; navy-blue double-knit bell-bottom pants; a white belt; and white platform shoes that added almost two inches to my 5’11” height. Oh yeah, and my wavy, shagged hair fell down to my shoulders. In my defense, however, I never owned or wore a leisure suit and I never put goldfish in the heels of my platforms, even though I actually once saw a pair of those in a store window in Philadelphia.
In all three of my careers – journalist, teacher, and educational consultant – I dressed appropriately, which meant my outfit almost always included a tie.
But when I retired from the 9-to-5 world a couple of years ago to become a freelance writer, I made a vow. No longer would I be tied up. Or tied down. Never again would I be tied in, fit to be tied, tie a knot, or tie one on. I would not be bowed into wearing a bow tie or any kind of tie for that matter. For me, wearing a necktie would now be a fashion no-no far worse than that awful day in 1967 when I wore a paisley shirt and plaid pants to high school.
My tie ban didn’t mean I would no longer get dressed up. I still like wearing suits and sports jackets. My favorite informal look is jeans, a t-shirt, and a sports jacket. But my outfit wouldn’t include a tie.
So why my tie embargo?
It really centers on five factors – a strong anti-authoritarian streak, a disdain for conformity, a lack of utility on the part of any tie, a rejection of nonsensical fashion changes, and the rising, ridiculous costs for such a non-essential piece of clothing.
How did ties originate and why do men still wear them?
Now no one is absolutely certain, but most sartorialists believe the necktie originated in 17thCentury France during the 30 Years War. King Louie XIII (not to be confused with Louie Louie or Crab Louie, both of which are pretty cool) hired Croatian mercenaries who wore a colorful piece of red cloth around their necks as part of their uniform. King Louie won his war and became quite fond of the decorative look. In fact, he liked it so much he made these first ties mandatory for all royal gatherings. He even gave the clothing piece its name – “La Cravate,” which is still French for necktie. Now can you recall one other piece of 17thCentury clothing mandated by a French King (or anyone else for that matter) without an obvious function which is still in fashion? Can’t do it? I thought so.
I was born in 1952. That was the decade of Elvis and Eisenhower, but it was also the time of truly skinny ties. Then came the late 60s and ties got more colorful and wider. Then, in the disco 70s, ties got truly crazy and ultra-wide. When the 80s dawned, it was back to narrow ties. And this back-and-forth pattern has followed pretty much to now. Why? If a tie looked good in 1972, why didn’t that same tie look good in 1982?
Today, four centuries after they first came to prominence, ties still serve as an economic class distinguisher. Men of supposed substance wear ties. The rich and the powerful (think red power tie) wear ties. Businessmen wear ties. Politicians wear ties. Lawyers wear ties. I’m none of these, so why should I bother to wear a tie? I mean Donald Trump wears a tie. George Washington didn’t. That alone is reason enough for me to dump all my ties and make American male necks great again.
Fashion experts (and by fashion experts I mean people who make money out of making or promoting ties) claim the tie is the one accessory in the male wardrobe that expresses personality, character, and presumed position in authority. John Malloy, in his hugely influential book Dress for Successhad this to say about neckties: “Show me a man’s ties and I’ll tell you who he is or who he is trying to be”. Now no offense to Mr. Malloy, who has made much money off his book and all the fashion designers who have done likewise with their wide-tie-now-skinny-tie-now-wide-tie-again dictates, but I think using ties to judge a man’s character is extremely superficial at best. Most days, I’m just a poor soul whose intentions are good, trying my best to be wise, witty, empathetic, kind, and honest and I really don’t see what wearing or not wearing a tie has to do with that.
I understand that ties are symbolic. But I’m not really sure I want to be associated with all that they stand for, especially since I believe what’s inside us is much more important than what is on our outside.
Ties are also big business. Last year alone, U.S. sales of neckties, even in this era of increasing informality, totaled more than $1.5 billion. Imagine if all the tie consumers took that money and donated it to their local school system or charity of their choice.
Like most clothing today, the price of ties can cross into the realm of the ridiculous. A Google search reveals the most expensive tie sold in the world today is the Satya Paul design studio tie. You can purchase one for a mere $220,000. And your Satya Paul tie will definitely stand out since it will consist of 271 elegantly crafted diamonds and 150 grams of gold coated on a piece of pure silk. If that is a little too pricey, you can settle for a $30,000 Stefano Ricci diamond-plated tie or the much more economical $8,500 EMPA gold tie. But even for the non-obscenely rich, prices for ties here in Washington, D.C. where I live, have exceeded the $200 barrier at a few exclusive department stores. Call me unfashionable or call me cheap, but at those prices I’ll just say no, thank you.
Of course, like any rule, I must be prepared for exceptions. Currently, I recognize two of them. One is named Audrey and the other, Owen. They are my grandchildren. Audrey is 10 and Owen just turned nine, so that gives me a few years to convince them that my anti-tie stance is both proper and moral. If I fail, however, and either one of my grandchildren ever ask me to don a tie, I will do so without a moment’s hesitation. For no matter how strong your anti-tie fashion feelings are, there are some family ties that are simply much more important.