Should men wear ties?

Neckties strangle clear thinking.  Lin Yutang

I have had a problem with neckties as long as I can remember. Perhaps it is my youthful memories of those unpleasant, ultra-conservative, tie-wearing Afrikaner men that have tainted my attitude to the wearing of ties. Regardless of that, half strangling yourself with a necktie seems to me to be a pretty pointless exercise. I couldn’t get home from school or work fast enough to rip off my tie, but my father-in-law, Alan, even used to wear a tie while gardening. As he was an Englishman, such an eccentricity was perhaps to be expected.

Neckties originally developed from cravats, worn by Croatian mercenaries at the time of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). It started a fashion craze in Europe. Today, after nearly four hundred years, many men all over the world are still slaves to this fashion item.

In the early 1980s, when I worked in Papua New Guinea, it was too hot and humid to wear socks and shoes, far less a tie. Going to work in my T-shirt or gaudy batik shirt, wearing rubber thongs, was a liberating experience. I didn’t go completely troppo though, because I kept a pair of leather sandals in my office to wear to meetings with senior government officials and for occasional meetings with the Minister.

Returning to Australia in 1983 I had to start wearing ties to work again. After my three year break from self-strangulation in Papua New Guinea, this was a very unpleasant experience for me.

When I started a new job at Brunswick City Council I arrived on my first day at work for a meeting with the Town Clerk, the City Engineer and the Finance Manager wearing a tie. In those days Brunswick was still closely attuned to its working class history. When I entered the meeting room I realised that none of the others was wearing a tie. They looked me up and down in my suit and tie, clearly regarding me as some jumped-up ponce from the yuppie end of town. That was the last time I wore a tie to work in the normal course of events.

Some years passed. Colin, the new Director of Finance, was an ambitious young man with a high regard for corporate symbolism, including a penchant for ties. His favourite tie sported the logo of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia.

Once Colin and I were both on an interviewing panel to interview architectural firms that had tendered for a council building project. This occasion required the wearing of a tie, so I retrieved the only tie that I still possessed and wore it to work. When he spotted my tie he was hugely impressed. ‘What is that tie that you’re wearing?’ he asked. ‘It’s my old school tie,’ I said.

‘What’s the name of your school?’ I realised that he expected something along the lines of Scotch College or Melbourne Grammar School. ‘The Hottentots-Holland High School,’ I told him. He looked quite stunned and struggled unsuccessfully to come up with a response.

When Jeff Kennett implemented the amalgamation of Victorian Councils in 1994, the City of Brunswick was amalgamated with Coburg and with part of Broadmeadows to form the new Moreland City Council. All the senior positions were made redundant and were advertised externally. I was one of a handful of managers from the previous Councils who were appointed to management positions in the new Council.

I could not bear the thought of having to wear a tie again, so I took a calculated risk. At the first meeting of Moreland’s Senior Executive Team I was the only male who was not wearing a tie. I kept a surreptitious eye out for any hint of disapproval from Peter, the new Chief Executive Officer, about my lack of a tie, but there was none.

Six months later I had to wear a tie for interviews with some consultants. I crossed paths with Peter in a corridor. ‘You’re wearing a tie’, he observed, frowning. ‘Are you going for a job interview?’ I explained that I was going to do the interviewing, hence the tie. There was a long pause, while he looked me up and down. ‘Doesn’t suit you at all,’ he observed, before briskly going on his way.

A couple of years before I retired I had to attend an evening award event with the Chief Executive Officer and with my Director. I had not given the matter of a tie any thought until after work, when most of my colleagues had already left for the day. Then I suddenly panicked. I needed a tie. Fortunately Dave, the Manager of Open Space, was still in his office.

‘Hey, Dave, can I borrow your tie tonight please?’ I asked him. Without blinking an eye or asking what it was about, Dave said ‘Sure,’ took off his tie and handed it to me. Having not worn a tie for years I couldn’t remember how to tie the knot, so Dave kindly took care of that too.

Not long afterwards I had to attend another event which required me to wear a tie. This time it was the WorkSafe Occupational Health and Safety Awards ceremony, which was to be held at Crown Casino. I asked my colleague Barry, whom I had observed wearing an array of stylish ties to work, whether I could borrow one of them the next day. Barry, a gay bloke with a fair amount of style when it comes to clothing, asked me: ‘What colour shirt are you going to wear?’ I hadn’t considered this angle. He was miles ahead of me in the fashion stakes. ‘I’ll wear a light blue shirt tomorrow,’ I told him.

The next day Barry brought along not one, but two ties. He held them up against my shirt successively, pondering for a minute about each of them. ‘I think this is the one,’ he finally said, holding up the chosen tie. Who was I to argue?

In recent times the wearing of ties has begun to fall out of favour. ‘Casual Fridays’ are now common at workplaces and you often see senior people in government and in private business wearing a suit without a tie. I was thrilled to learn that at the furniture company IKEA, the wearing of neckties is no longer allowed.

I said to my wife, Gill, the other day: ‘Do you know, I stopped wearing a tie long before it became a common thing. I was a man before my time, a fashion trendsetter.’ To which Gill, used to seeing me around the house in my tracky dacks, drily replied, ‘Yeah, sure thing Tim.’

For those who may be interested, International Necktie Day is celebrated on October 18 in Croatia and in various cities around the world, including Dublin, Tokyo and Sydney. I am not planning on joining in the celebrations.

  Social Development Dept Moreland managers May 2007

  Tim with his boss and his fellow managers from Moreland’s Social Development Department. Note the absence of a necktie.

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