The necktie, that most maligned and despised item of men’s clothing – how could a simple strip of silk achieve such a bad reputation in so short a time? After all, the tie as we know it today has been on the scene for less than 100 years, practically no time at all in the grand scheme of clothing in general. (Think about how long the fig leaf has been around!) And its forebear, the square piece of silk known as a “four in hand”, predated it by only another 70 years or so.Military uniforms spawned the original accessory known as a “cravat” in about 1630. It endured a number of iterations over the next couple of hundred years, becoming plainer, lacier, narrower, wider, smoother and rougher by turns. Toward the end of the 18th century, the manner of tying and knotting the cravat began to be an indication, by itself, of a gentleman’s taste and style. Finally, after the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the item itself became known as the “tie”.
Its military origins provide the first clue as to “why a tie”. Most tie action in this regard is British: in the late 19th century, military dressing changed from brightly colored regimental uniforms to more subdued ones – and colored neckties represented the remnants of regimental splendor.
Britain’s famous “public” schools contributed to the use of ties as differentiators or indicators of membership as well. At about the same time as the change in military uniforms, students at Exeter were bringing style from the street by tying the school-colored ribbons from their straw hats around their necks (interestingly, with a four-in-hand knot). Eventually, they substituted striped fabric cut on the bias for the ribbons, and the school tie was born. Further developments along those lines included differences (within school color guidelines) to show age, class, house, status, and so on.
One more curiosity: In the UK, membership striped ties are worn with the high side of the stripe extending down from the wearer’s left side. In the US, stripes are likely to be worn with the high side on the wearer’s right.
Knowing where ties came from begs the question, “Why NOT a tie?” The answers seem to fall into three general areas:
- Personal preference
It seems obvious that individuals working with or near heavy equipment, where there is risk of strangulation based on a tie’s becoming entangled in that equipment, would choose not to wear ties. Those whose work may involve engaging with potentially tie-grabbing aggressors may also prefer a no-tie option. Of course, there’s always the pull-away clip-on tie, but that’s really enough said about that on both safety and fashion fronts.
Then there’s the health issue of vascular constriction, which has been linked to breathing issues and even glaucoma. It has been suggested that if the shirt collar is the right size, e.g., not too tight, there’s no reason to assume the necktie will be a constricting device. (A person should be able to comfortably insert a finger inside a buttoned collar, with or without a tie on the outside.) Even so, paramedics and good Samaritans know enough to immediately loosen a tie in the event a tie-wearing person appears not to be breathing. Those with glaucoma should stay in touch with their ophthalmologists.
The big WHY NOT seems to fall into the area of personal preference, perhaps tempered by issues of conformity, fashion, expression and – occasionally – religion. The fashion-fearful may hesitate to stand out in these days of “casual Everyday.” Those whose work never requires their interaction with people they want to impress or who fear their colleagues will conclude they are headed to a job interview may prefer a plainer look. The lazy – well, they’re simply lazy. Everyone knows you don’t actually have to untie a tie to remove it, thereby obviating the need to re-tie it for a second wearing.
So why would you ever wear a tie? Simple. It makes you look so damn good!
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