Friday, April 30, 2010

Translation: "But I Like Neckties"

The Guardian has published a defense of the necktie, in apparent response to the question of whether the necktie is "a symbol of oppression" in the workplace. The author doesn't like the look of a collared shirt with no necktie, finds them perfectly comfortable, and sees them as "a stylish tool of self-expression." The first argument is esthetic - I personally don't have a problem with people who wear collarless shirts, open collars or turtlenecks under their suit or sport coat, no tie required. I will grant that it's a less formal look, and isn't going to be suitable in all present contexts where a necktie is expected. To each his own. Nobody would ever accuse me of being a member of the fashion police.

The final argument is true to a point. The necktie is about the only true area of self-expression allowed to men in a business setting. Sure, there are other contexts where you can be more expressive in the cut, color or fabric of your suit, but (as long as it's not too wide, or too narrow, or to short, or too long, or too bright, or too eccentric) you can add some individuality and personality to business dress with a necktie. But really, it's a limited form of self-expression, and many men don't really give that aspect of the necktie any substantial amount of thought.

But this is just plain wrong:
The most common complaint I've heard is that they're "uncomfortable". Nonsense. As a former seller of fine tailoring, I can let you in on a secret: if your tie feels uncomfortable, it's because you've got a fatter neck than you thought, and have bought your shirts a collar size too small.
No, really, for some people a necktie (or even a properly fitted dress shirt with the top button fastened) is uncomfortable, period, end of story. I'm not going to argue that people whose shirts and neckties form tourniquets around their carotid arteries won't experience more comfort if they invest better fitting shirts, but for some of us even a collar that's a half-inch "too big" doesn't give enough relief from the discomfort of having a silk noose wrapped around our necks.

But even if you're fortunate enough to feel no real discomfort when you're wearing a necktie, it's worth considering both the expressive and comfort value within the context of what you wear "the rest of the time." If you're only wearing a necktie when you have to do so, in response to certain work or social expectations, ripping the thing off of your neck at the first opportunity and not looking at another until you again "have to" wear one, it's reasonable to say that it's not a very good expression of either comfort or individuality.

If you don't believe me, just take a look at the author's headshot. When off duty, he apparently expresses his individuality through facial hair and an open collar.


  1. There's an off-color joke about why lawyers wear neckties. It's not very funny... If you're so inclined I'll let you Google for it.

  2. "But really, it's a limited form of self-expression, and many men don't really give that aspect of the necktie any substantial amount of thought."

    Heh. Let's trade for a week of having to juggle shoes, shirts, hemlines, slacks and all the other wonderful "expressive" outfits that female professionals have to deal with because people do notice those things, and they might give it some thought later.

    I once had an argument with a senior (male) attorney about whether one really needed a carry-on bag for a week's business trip. He truly didn't get that he could wear the same suit and shoes all week as long as a) they matched and b) he varied his tie, and nobody would notice or care.

  3. Somebody once shared a story with me about a co-worker, born in a foreign nation, who came to work with a rather colorful necktie. The narrator approached him and asked, in full anticipation of the reaction, "Did you know that there is a giant marijuana leaf on your tie?" The shocked response, "I thought it was a palm tree."

    (It was a Jerry Garcia tie.)

  4. Ouch.

    A former colleague of mine, doing his first solo trial, wore a (different) red tie every day because a senior partner told him that's the "correct" color that juries expect lawyers to wear, research says blah blah blah. He won, but the first feedback he got from the jurors was "What's up with your ties? Is red your 'power color' or something?"

  5. I once had a "what's the closest store where I can buy a necktie" moment on the way to court.... (Tip: If you're in a job where you have to wear a tie, keep a spare in your car.)


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