I was asked today what I have against neckties. I haven’t worn one for any occasion whatsoever for more than 10 years now.
I actually devoted a few pages of my book to this very subject back in 2010. It is copied below.
But in simple political terms, the main reason you will never see me in a suit and tie is simply because you rarely see the neoliberal party leaders in anything else!
CAMERON – clearly uncomfortable with a green one instead of his usual blue tie.
MILLIBAND – getting what he deserves for mixing labour red and tory blue and wearing a UKIP purple tie
CLEGG – only wears clip on ties for his own safety these days (I warrant)
FARAGE – sporting one of his fine collection of Langsdorfs
EXTRACT FROM THE ASYLUM OF THE UNIVERSE:
An obsession with appearance has some pernicious aspects. It becomes
yet another tool of oppression against the ‘have-nots’ – not just those that
do not have the money to keep an up-to-date wardrobe (thanks to
‘George’ and ‘Matalan’ and the like, money need not be the biggest
obstacle), but also those who do not have a clue (for whatever reason) as
to the dress rules and what is ‘in’ and ‘out’. Why is it impossible to be a
competent accountant in jeans? Why can’t Kwik Fit fitters wear pink
overalls – even their female ones? And in any case, just who did decide to
colour code babies pink for girls and blue for boys in the first place?
I have had a similar argument in my workplace recently. The staff
handbook makes vague references to wearing suitable attire without being
very specific. Most of the men were in the habit of wearing ties, but I
decided that I wouldn’t wear one. I wear reasonably smart trousers and a
shirt with a collar. By the time the warmer summer weather arrived, most
men had followed me and ditched their ties. The new manager was not
happy with this. I argued my case as follows.
Our clients are the long term unemployed. If asked, I doubt any would
have any objections to staff wearing ties, indeed they probably pretty
much expect to see it. They are probably largely ambivalent to it as an
issue. However, I maintain that the wearing of ties gives off subliminal
messages. For my functionally illiterate clients, these messages will not
be positive ones. My clients have invariably been seriously failed by the
education system – by teachers in ties. Many have been made redundant
or dismissed – by people in ties. They generally have a hard time from
banks – people in ties. They have difficulties dealing with civil servants in
councils, immigration offices and job centres – more people in ties. All too-
often they have had close encounters with police officers – in clip-on ties.
The last time they wore a tie was often at a relative’s funeral. Ties have
absolutely no positive connotations for them at all.
I believe that success in what I do with them relies on me gaining their
trust and confidence. I want them relaxed and at ease. I try to find things
that I have in common with them and find things that they are better at
than me. I do not want them thinking that I think I am better than them at
all. They all have self-esteem issues to some extent. For me to wear a
formal shirt and tie helps none of this.
In addition to this, there are many other arguments against the wearing of ties.
I don’t necessarily endorse these all fully but they include the following points:
HYGIENE – Because it is not common to wash or dry-clean ties,
bacteria, viruses and other nasties build up on them. They can be so germ
ridden that the BMA declared, in early 2009, that doctors should no
longer wear them when seeing patients. They have also been identified as
a factor in spreading germs, especially things like swine flu, in schools.
HEALTH & SAFETY – Ties are an acknowledged hazard in office
environments, where equipment like printers, faxes, copiers, shredders
and filing cabinets lie in wait to snare the unwary. In customer facing
environments, ties can also be a problem in cases of confrontation.
Everyone from the police to shop assistants is usually issued with clip-on
ties as a precaution. More routinely, wearing ties and keeping top buttons
on shirts done up has been linked to glaucoma and poor concentration.
WHAT IS SMART? – This is obviously a subjective question and one
whose answer evolves with fashion trends. Ties, as we know them, have
been around since the 1920s “Langsdorf” design. They have fluctuated in
width, colours and materials44 over the years. They can look very dapper
and elegant, but not necessarily so. A quick glance around any classroom
will reveal that scruffily tied strips of colourful cloth around necks do not
necessarily enhance appearances. More and more businesses are realising
that a smart shirt without a tie looks more consistently smart than wearing
ties. They are increasingly seen as a ‘fashion’ that has had its day.
SEXISM – The fuss in my workplace is pretty typical. Why is there an
expectation for men to wear a narrow range of clothing options (shirt, tie,
suit trousers – or even a full suit, and uncomfortable shoes) in a narrow
range of colours? Women meantime have a much wider range of options
of acceptable attire and colours. Patent discrimination. It is no less
reasonable to expect female staff to wear trousers, shirts/blouses and ties
than it is to ask male staff to do so.
OFFENSIVE TO SOME PEOPLE – Probably the least compelling
argument to me (as I have a penchant for offending bigots, in particular),
but some people find the symbolism of the necktie offensive. For
example, Islamic fundamentalists in Iran have declared the necktie to be a
symbol of decadent Western oppression. At the time of writing I have two
Muslim clients. There are also other cultural movements that see the necktie
as a symbol of submission and slavery to the ‘corrupt elite’ of society (i.e.
having a symbolic chain around one’s neck).
This discussion of what ties can say about us highlights the more
general fact that clothing has become a form of non-verbal
communication. Clothing almost universally signals our gender,
occupation, class, rank and wealth. We can also use it to communicate our
geographical origins, our religion, our sexual availability and sexual
preferences, our group affiliations and to provoke reactions. I think this
last point is important. If clothing is essentially a form of communication,
then should we be defending ‘free speech’ with regards to clothing in a
similar way to defending freedom of verbal expression? I do not defend
what you say, but I defend your right to say it. Similarly, I do not defend
your choice of clothing, but defend your right to wear it.
But think about what messages you are putting out when you choose to wear that tie!