RISMEDIA, Feb. 6, 2008-(MCT)-Nice tie, I said to the boss. And then I got to thinking: What is that strip of fabric doing around his neck anyway?
And not just his neck. Any man’s neck.
Maybe the question won’t hang around much longer. The wearing of neckties is in deep decline. Call it a knotty problem for the dapper sorts who know how to make a lovely dimple under the Windsor.
A Gallup poll last year found that only 6% of men wear ties to work every day. That’s down from an already-measly 10% in 2002.
According to Gallup, if you add in the 7% who sometimes wear a tie to work and the 20% who rarely do, you can see the necktie isn’t completely lost to the fashion world _ yet.
But the main message from the survey is that two-thirds of men (67%) said they never wear a necktie to work _ a jump from 59% five years ago. Why?
Casual Fridays morphed to casual every days.
Brilliant computer geeks in Silicon Valley startups made millions while in blue jeans and Birkenstocks, proving that dressing for success wasn’t necessary.
Telecommuters and home office entrepreneurs wore their bathrobes.
The American labor pool shifted to service jobs that didn’t have a tie tradition.
Some countries even banned neckties for health professionals because reworn, unlaundered ties were found to carry staph or other germs that could be passed along when bending over patients.
In sum, neckties-with limited exception-became irrelevant.
Still, the lawyer who fails to don a tie when arguing a case in court might well get a dressing down from the judge, and maybe even a less-favorable reaction from the jury.
And a job applicant at a “big four” accounting firm had better wear a tie to the interview, even if the people he sees in the office do not.
But the age is clearly past where a tie speaks authority. I attend a lot of seminars and interview a lot of business leaders. It’s a toss-up whether they’ll be wearing a tie, a turtleneck or an open-necked shirt.
In some quick sartorial research, I learned that the origin of Western (as opposed to Far Eastern) neckwear is credited to Croatian mercenaries. They wore colorful, identifying strips of cloth around their necks when they fought in the European Thirty Years War in 1618-1648.
The style caught on in France and was popularized by Louis XIV. From the French cravate came cravat.
From there, the world got stocks, scarves, bandannas, bow ties, Ascot ties, bola ties, clip-on ties, Windsor knots, four-in-hands and other variations.
The enduring development for most men was the introduction of the three-part, long, skinny fabric tie cut on the bias, which made it easier to knot and keep its shape after multiple wearings. (Thus, the staph infections.)
Just as the Croatian mercenaries’ neckwear served an identification purpose, so have modern ties _ as with the “rep” tie, whose diagonal stripes and insignias identify the wearer with a regiment, a school or a club.
Speaking of “rep”-as in reputation-that’s probably the vestigial reason for wearing neckties. It still says, “I am a professional.”
Whether one needs a tie to send that message is a matter of fashion evolution and personal performance.
That said, I wrapped up some really cool ties, if I do say so myself, for the men in my family at Christmas.
© 2008, The Kansas City Star.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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