It is quite possible that no other instrument in the history of men’s clothing has been more misunderstood than the necktie. Its purpose has been misinterpreted more than the meaning of a Shakespearean tragedy. It has been associated with everything from a symbol of Western Oppression, to an arcane ritual that should have long since been abandoned, to the ultimate statement of conformity. In fact I would argue that the tie is more maligned than a back pedaling politician caught in the 24 hour cable news cycle. As an admittingly biased proponent of the tie, hopefully I can dispel some common stereotypes that have been attached to it. I must start of by conceding that in terms of functionality I would be hard pressed to come up with a practical usage for it that was not at best exaggerated. It does not keep you warm, and there are certainly better utilities to wipe your face with. However a lack of functionality has never diminished the aura of a diamond ring, nor the emblem on Superman’s chest. What they lack in that area they certainly make up for in terms of profound significance. Such is also the category of the tie. Its history is certainly more glorious than its present and it can speak of a great deal more than just conformity.
Historically a necktie, or fabric around the neck, was worn by kings, emperors and men of great importance. It was another way for them to stand out symbolizing their status and power in society. It is of no great coincidence that current heads of state, at least those who are not currently involved in malevolent dictatorships, carry on this tradition. No matter how casual a situation the he may enter into, a President or Prime Minister will always be dressed in a suit and tie when on official business, signifying the magnitude of the office he holds. As a tie was historically used to denote a certain rank in life it found its way into being used as a badge of membership in exclusive clubs and groups. In fact any Ivy Leaguer who has made it into a fraternity of any distinction can attest to that. The past relevance of the tie makes its slow extinction from the common man’s work wardrobe all the more incredulous. Today with the rise of tech companies and the spilling of casual Friday into every other day of the week, the tie has become looked at in the same vain as VHS tapes, that is to say a thing of the past. The only saving grace is that fortunately any other situation that holds some manner of significance, whether it is a wedding, high level business meeting, interview or a day in court, still usually has the accompaniment of a tie. So there is still hope that a leader of the free world will never address their nation in flips flops and an athletic tee.
Leaving history out of it, it is unfortunate that a tie has come to be so readily equated with conformity. A tie can be as adaptable as any other piece of clothing. Just as certain shirts say certain things about you, in their formality or casualness, so to do ties. Many times a tie is the only thing that can act as a conduit to display your individuality. When you’re in an environment where you have people who are clothed similar to you, whether your profession is in banking, teaching, bartending or your recreations include fine dining, jazz lounges, or cigar bars, it is tough to stand out in an homogenous mixture. A tie is what can signal your uniqueness in standing apart from the rest. A skinny tie can show off your casual cool, a striped tie can show off your relative boldness, as well as slim your face for those who have already given up a new year’s resolution or two. A plain red or blue tie can accentuate the rest of what you are wearing and act as a compass for a viewer to guide their eyes clearly toward your face; again, no great coincidence that most presidents wear these colors. A tie can and should be worn in many diverse settings. The fact that an honor that was once reserved for only the highest in the high of society can now be bestowed to you should be met with a sense of great enthusiasm. So why not take advantage of it today?
Marcus Green is the author of A Year Without April, and lives in Seattle,WA. His motto is that “90% of life is simply showing up…dressed well.”