My father kept a rack of ties like a row of unconscious snakes. They lived on the inside of his half of the wardrobe and were like prizes from some long forgotten hunting trip. Each varying in length and diameter according to their vintage, their reptilian markings were the sole exotic elements of his wardrobe that hinted at a self expression beyond his chinos and blue shirts. In that rich, musty space, the treasures of my father’s youth lay at the feet of his dinner jacket trousers. There were old board games, soft leather shoes, a cricket bat, a coin collection, a painting set, the 1961 Eagle Annual and a small bundle of soft paperback, white at the spine that revealed themselves to be complete set of i-Spy books – the train spotter tendency in my father that was luckily checked early on.
Personally, I have never seen the need for a tie. To me, it is remnant from some by-gone age, a descendent of the expansive cravat and ruffle of the European court. Putting one on seems tantamount to a condemned man slipping on his own noose or a prisoner attaching himself to his own ball and chain each morning. When my father first introduced me to the ritual of the tying of the knot, he was in fact initiating me to the world of work and servitude into which his father and introduced him. He did however, enliven the proceedings by immediately showing me the glory of a Double Windsor, a trick I was never able – nor ultimately wanted to pull off. Whoever decided that wearing a piece of string around your neck helped you do your job better was a remarkably dim witted sort of fellow – albeit one who has had a marvellously positive influence on the silk trade. You only have to catch a gaggle of school children on their way home to witness the hilarious disrespect they show towards their ties. Whether it’s unpicking the seam, unstitching an entire colour and tucking away all but a two inch sprouting beneath their chins, they turn their enforced slavery into a fashion statement. For us, the fashion was to leave the thin end hanging out, while the fatter end was tucked away brushing our bare chests during double maths.
Today I have three ties, for occasions that absolutely and unavoidably demand formality: a quietly positive green one for interviews, a red spotted number for weddings and baptisms and a slim black tie that is thankfully, rarely used. Apart from these, which are all showing signs of war damage due to the alcoholic nature of these encounters, and their aftermath, my wardrobe remains infest free of these serpents. Life in an opened necked world seems so much saner. People have the luxury of breathing as they speak to you rather than gasping out their words while someone attempts to garrotte them. A bowl of soup can be consumed with a minimum of worry and fuss; a glass of wine can be swilled without fear of finding the end of your tie gently soaking up the Claret. A spoonful of Bolognaise can be raised, knowing that a show of tomato sauce has not just Jackson Pollock-ed your cravat. People act differently too. There is a certain frankness – a ‘down to work’ statement of intent implied in the removal of the tie. People can no longer hide their expensively schooled and exquisitely enunciated dimness behind a length of silk. The class system is dealt a blow – between the haves and the have-nots. Or should that be the knots and the have-knots? It plays havoc with the old boy network, no longer able to sport their old house colours to win grace and favour. This seems a marvellous victory alone.
Like the insistence of wearing shoes in a nightclub – the tie itself is no guarantee of decency. Every murderer in history I’m sure at one time owned at least one tie and a smart pair of shoes. Oscar Wilde was cautionary on the subject: ‘with an evening coat and white tie, anybody, even a stockbroker, can gain a reputation for being civilized.’ If your office remains enslaved by this anachronism of fashion, be the first to lose the tie, or else look for some other place of work where humans aren’t kept on dog leads.
‘I like wearing a tie,’ Paul says. ‘It means at the end of the day I can fling it across the room and feel truly free.’ A fair point, but then why not feel free all day long? ‘Many people will simply dismiss you out of hand in the world of serious business,’ he counters. But then that’s only as long as everyone plays ball. How did the age of hats end? Clearly someone on a particular day left his at home and one by one, so did everyone else. No doubt some big business deals went down in the days of the Roman Empire without the need for a tie – and presumably no one remarked that everyone was wandering around in a sheet.
We need not spend much time on the novelty tie, sported by embarrassing uncles since time immemorial. However a cursory wander through cyberspace will tell you that if you so wished, you could be in possession of a tie displaying the naked female form, Elvis Presley, Pac-Man, the ten commandments or a close up of a bacon Frazzle. Naturally anyone in possession of a musical tie is to be treated with extraordinary caution. Having said all this, there is an undeniable thrill at being part of a wedding party, with a great length of silk extravagantly bristling beneath your chin – yet the fun here is dressing up as a gentleman would one hundred and fifty years ago. Do we think that in another one hundred and fifty years’ time, men will dress for weddings in a pair of jeans and sweat stained t-shirt with the legend: Sex Instructor: First Lesson Free?
My father wore his tie to work, to mass, fondue parties and visits to the bank manager to negotiate ever more desperate loans. He once told me an extraordinary story of a 1970s trip to the Ideal Home exhibition. In a burst of futuristic madness, they shelled out for a plastic yellow cheese grater. Only on leaving the exhibition did they realise they had not left enough money for the bus home. My father had the indignity of having to negotiate a loan for five pounds from the local branch of the Clydesdale bank – and without a tie at that. Perhaps I’m wrong about all this – but life surely has more to offer than staring blankly out of your kitchen window at seven in the morning running an iron over a crumpled tie.