A Loosening of Ties
Willy J. Spat
For over two thousand years - since at least the Quin dynasty - the necktie (or cravat) has been the most widely used, and the most multicultural of all phallic symbols. Worn by the personal guard of Shih Huang Ti's terracotta army, by the orators of ancient Rome, and by a succession of dandies, fops, and power dressers throughout history, "the clothe prick" (As Lord Byron was said to have termed it) appears to be nearing the end of its unprecedented accessorial reign. The president of IBM, in a recent e‑mail, announced that the cravat was no longer de rigueur for the once impeccably‑tied "wing‑tip warriors" of the giant multinational. Gianni Versace's latest book Men Without Ties is a runaway success. And now, at the most progressive corporations of New York, Paris, and London, it is quite permissible for men to appear dressed for business with no trace of silk, rayon, or polyester about their necks. What has come undone? Why, after an unprecedented two‑thousand year reign, has the most useless, and yet the most fussed over, element of male attire gradually begun to whither in importance?
The necktie has always been, for a certain class, a celebrated piece of male equipment. The Chinese soldiers who, in the third century B.C., oversaw the construction of walls and roads to strengthen the might of Shih Huang Ti's empire, tied lengths of silk about their necks in order to set themselves apart as an elite corps. Similarly, the legionnaires of ancient Rome sported knotted neckcloths, kerchiefs, and even primitive versions of the four‑in‑hand under their armour. The ties were a mark of allegiance, wealth, and belonging at a time when cloth was hard enough to come by for clothes, never mind for articles of gratuitous adornment. They told others, both inside and outside the elite, that the bearers of the neckpieces were the people who mattered - the people who belonged.
Not all of antiquity was so easily seduced by such immodest pluming. The Roman public generally considered the covering of the neck with anything but the toga or the hand beneath the dignity of men and citizens. Many orators protested, claiming that the necktie was not just an article of fashion, that it actually served a purpose: keeping the throat warm to better protect the voice. This in turn led to a counter‑charge by some of the greatest orators of the day - Horace, Seneca, and Quintilian - that neckcloths were the mark of sickly or effeminate men, and not the pieces of virile equipment some urban imitators of legionnaires might have hoped.
It was almost as though the suspicion that the necktie was just a trifle outré influenced the neckwear wave through to the Renaissance. Those who had the money, and who were not out crusading in the Holy Lands with proto‑regimental colours tied around their necks, went for the most elaborate and frilly of neckpieces in their more amorous crusades. French courtly poet Eustache Deschamps celebrated dressing to kill in 1380 with the immortal line "faites restraindre sa cravate" (pull his cravat tighter).
The wealth and power detained by prosperous seventeenth‑century silk‑stockinged gentlemen allowed them to scorn many common opinions concerning lace ruffs. They indulged their tastes for masculine display by virtually any means possible. In fact, so excessive were the ruffs and frills of Queen Elizabeth's courtiers, that Oliver Cromwell and his crop‑haired Model Army made the self‑indulgent Royalist style a point of moral and political controversy. The stern lines of broad linen neckwear entirely replaced decadent lace during the English Civil War of 1642‑1649.
While the violent austerity of the Roundheads somewhat checked the popularity of ties in England, the lace cravat flourished on the continent, still very much in Royal favour. Almost as though to spite Cromwell, fashionable men on the continent were sporting their hair longer and curlier, making the round‑the‑neck ruffs of the Elizabethan court difficult to wear. Instead, drooping neckties became the style, and Charles II, in exile at the court of Louis XIII, displayed the same enthusiasm as his French hosts for the dangling, ornate appurtenances. By the time he returned to England, and the necks of most of the revolutionary Roundheads had been severed, Charles was wearing the hottest of men's fashion accessories: the lace cravat.
Although Italian and Belgian lace were acknowledged as the last word in fashionable seventeenth‑century business attire, import duties and restrictions made keeping abreast of the latest trends in neckwear very expensive, if not entirely illegal. Dogs dressed in lace, and covered with false coats, were used to smuggle lace across borders. Once formed into neckties for the gentleman fashion‑plates of the day, the most elegant of lace ties could cost as much as thirty‑six English pounds - at a time when a good salary amounted to only a few pounds a year.
Because of the fortunes involved, Italian and Belgian lace styles were being imitated all over Europe by the 1660's. The extremely heavy and robust Venetian lace style was a particular favourite amongst the manliest courtiers, and King Louis XIV employed a cravitier for the express purpose of tying his unwieldy lace into a neckpiece. The less well endowed had to resort to cheaper expedients to keep their ends up, and in 1669 the master caver Grinling Gibbons sculpted an extraordinarily detailed - and very stiff - mock Venetian lace cravat from solid wood. Others, less skilled with the blade, adopted the artifice of supporting their masculine equipment with coloured ribbons.
The ribbons supporting heavy lace cravats spawned their own fads and imitations, so that by 1688, "cravatts" were described by the Englishman Randle Holme as an: "...adornment for the neck being nothing else but a long Towel put about the Collar, and so tyed before with a Bow knot, this is the Original of all Such Wearing: but now by the Art of Invention of the Seamsters, there is so many new ways of making them, that it would be a Task to name them, much more to describe them." And by the end of the seventeenth century, whether gentlemen were gathered in London or New York it was expected that they would display both their station and their wealth by some sort of thing hanging from their necks.
The eighteenth century brought unprecedented innovation in neckwear. The Steinkirk, a loosely wrapped scarf‑like tie worn with the dangling end chastely tucked or pinned to the breast, began to take precedence over the lace cravat in the early part of the century. So popular was the style, that women were soon attracted to wearing the more demure version of the necktie, only in more lively colours than the gent's basic white. By the middle of the century, the feminine interlopers, in their crimson Steinkirks, had prompted tough young bucks to retrench their neckwear styles in something altogether more virile: the stock.
The stock was the most erect neckwear ever developed. It was especially designed for foot‑soldiers in France and Germany in order to encourage the martial appearance of turgid necks and thrusting chins. The stock also had the effect of increasing blood flow to the face, giving soldiers a ruddy, healthful appearance. In fact, the effect of the stock was anything but healthful, as the officers obliged the men to tighten their stocks to the point that "caused the eyes almost to start from their spheres, and gave the wearers a supernatural appearance, often producing vertigo and faintings, or at least bleedings at the nose." The excess of stiffness made it impossible for the soldiers to face left or right, never mind to stoop or to fight. And these constraining effects were rendered even more severe as sparse military budgets ensured that the stocks came in only one size. However, the stock, unlike the cravat, did not have to be tied, and its horsehair, whale‑ bone, pig‑bristle, card, pasteboard, or wooden frame could be covered and recovered with satins, linens, cottons, muslins, silks, or calicos as the latest fads dictated. Not only that, it was a practical military style, since it showed dirt less than the Steinkirk.
As with the lace ruffs and millstone collars of nearly a century before, the stiff reign of the stock was gradually softened by changing men's hairstyles. Republican ideas were spreading as the eighteenth century progressed, and the trends were toward shorter and shorter hair. The most fashionable men began sporting a simple pigtail instead of a wig, with the trailing locks often tied or decorated with black ribbons. The long ribbons came to be fastened around the neck with a knot in front and the free ends dangling over the chest. This simple expedient led to the inevitable imitations and innovations, with coloured and multiple ribbons soon taking over from the basic black solitaire.
Royalty and landed gentry continued to elaborate their neckwear, to the point that a club of English dandies, called the Macaronis, dedicated themselves to reviving the frilly lace excesses of centuries past. In 1776, The Town and Country Magazine described the Macaroni as a "most ridiculous figure ... Such a figure, essenced and perfumed, with a bunch of lace sticking out under its chin, puzzles the common passenger to determine the thing's sex." With revolution in the air on both sides of the Atlantic, such effeminate excesses could not go unchallenged by real men for very long, and soon plain handkerchiefs, the very antithesis of frilly lace, were being tied into a distinctive common man's neckwear: the bandanna.
For working‑class Europeans, the bandanna at last provided a mark of masculine respectability at an affordable price. Of brightly coloured and robust material, the bandanna did not easily show the dirt, and was quite washable when it did. In addition, the material could be used to form a basket, lead an animal, or mop the sweat from a working brow when not being used to project the owner's dignity. Prohibited in England by the Calico Acts of 1700 and 1702, the lowly bandanna even acquired something of the cachet of the forbidden, as well as another name - "the Kingsman" for the King's man or customs officer who would normally seize the forbidden cloth. Soon, however, European industrialists began to cash in on the craze, and knock‑offs of the Bengali silk prints were being manufactured at home. Over the water, in North America, the cotton bandanna became an extremely popular and affordable common‑sense form of neckwear for those colonists who could not wholly abandon the urbane fashions of the Old Countries.
As interest in the bandanna necktie became ever more general, the time‑worn urge of a certain power elite to distinguish themselves from common men soon provoked the flourishing of yet another style of neckwear: the Incroyable neckcloth. Partisan politics were again at the root of fashion, and the Incroyables - literally the Unbelievables - were a dandy group of young French nonconformists who expressed sympathy with Republican ideals by revolutionary sartorial excesses. They wore strange cravats of an almost inconceivable size: "The shirt collar rose to the sides of the ears, and the top of the cravat covered the mouth and the lower part of the nose, so that the face (with the exception of the nose) was concealed by the cravat and a forest of whiskers; these rose on each side of the hair, which was combed down over the eyes. In this costume, the elegans bore a greater resemblance to beasts then men, and the fashion gave rise to many laughable caricatures. They were compelled to look straight before them, as the head could only be turned by the general consent of all the members, and the tout ensemble was that of an unfinished statue." Royalists countered the excesses of the Incroyables with more sober green neckcloths, which in turn prompted even more extravagance on the part of the Republicans: two sheets of muslin, one white and one black, wrapped around the neck, chin, and face, finished with floppy bows drooped across the shoulders.
Despite the pretensions of the French Incroyables and their affected imitators, it was gradually the lowly bandanna that solidified its position as the neckwear of choice with the fashionable men about town. Instrumental in the establishment of this relatively sober, practical, and easy‑to‑tie neckcloth was the most famous pugilist of the early nineteenth century: Jem Belcher. Belcher, of humble origins, nearly always appeared with a blue silk peacock‑eyed bandanna, knotted suavely about the neck. Anxious to associate their own male prowess with the cock of the walk, fashionable young bucks and bloods of the day took to wearing the Belcher neckcloth with almost monotonous rigidity.
Into this stylishly uninspired and politically uncertain age came the figure of the archetypical gentleman: George Bryan "Beau" Brummell. Brummell offered self‑respect and belonging to men who could no longer count on the ascendancy of the nobility in the face of a growing middle class and an increasingly discontent working class. Rather than doing this by proposing yet another excessive neckwear style, Beau did it by offering all men the opportunity to be gentlemen. According to Beau, regardless of one's income, breeding, or education, one became a gentleman by displaying simple, sombre dress - together with one firm necktie.
In his advocacy of the straightforward, clean line of men's dress, Beau Brummell single-handedly launched the one‑hundred and fifty year reign of the clean shirt‑and‑tie mentality. A blue coat, a buff waistcoat and pantaloons, together with black boots could, and should, be worn by anyone with pretensions to being well dressed. The more simple and uniform a man's general attire, the better, insisted Beau. "Gentlemen are known for their discretion and lack of vulgar show," said he. But when it came to the thing around the neck, men of distinction stepped away from the off‑the‑rack mentality, and expressed their individuality in the shape, size, and stiffness of the hanging thing.
Beau himself was known for a particularly neat, sensible, and well‑starched cravat, which he changed as many as three times daily. Exactly how he knotted the thing was the secret of his boudoir, where Beau spent as long as necessary to arrange his linen. The Prince Regent, curious to study the cravat‑knotting prowess of Brummell, once spent an entire morning trying to emulate the refined technique of the arbiter of English elegance. Poets satirized the rite:
My neckcloth of course, forms my principal care,
For by that we criterions of elegance swear,
And costs me, each morning, some hours of flurry,
To make it appear to be tied in a hurry.
But the rest of the gentile Anglophone world furiously aped Brummell's dandyism.
The crazed English attention to neckwear was not without a political dimension. Across the channel, Napoleon was overrunning Europe wearing a mere black stock, while the majority of gentile Frenchmen were still sporting lace cravats. By their firmer and more erect neckwear, the English were in fact expressing their martial superiority over the French. On the day of the battle of Waterloo, The Duke of Wellington (nicknamed "the Dandy" by his soldiers) took to the field of battle in an immaculate, and quite stiff, cravat. Napoleon, perhaps oblivious to the strategic importance of power dressing, exchanged his usual black stock for a flowing white handkerchief, tied in a bow about his neck. Wellington, after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, was fond of remarking "The history of a battle is not unlike the history of a ball."
With the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the restrained and gentlemanly conservatism of the Brummell cravat fell from favour nearly as quickly as the Beau himself. There was an eruption of neckwear styles as the once unchallenged arbiter of refined English elegance was forced to flee to France to escape his creditors. Trades, clubs, and bands of young men astride powerful stallions all developed their own styles of neckwear, christening them with names such as The Mathematical, The Horse Collar, The Trone d'Amour, and the now familiar Four‑in‑Hand. So numerous and complicated became the styles, that works such as Neckclothitania began to appear in order to instruct young men in the art of choosing and tying ties. Said the French writer Stendhal after travelling in tie‑crazed England "La mode chez eux n'est pas un plaisir, mais un devoir" (Fashion in their country is not a pleasure, but a duty.)
But the fashion rage was not confined to England. Private lessons in the art of tying the tie were being given in France by a certain Stefano Demarelli. Books on the subject proliferated in all the European languages, often published under such comical pen‑names as Baron Starch and General Lepale. Dr Véron, the physician, politician, and founder of the prestigious Revue de Paris, was in the habit of wearing such extraordinary neckties that his private correspondence was sometimes addressed "À Monsieur Véron, dans sa cravate, Paris" (To: Mr Véron, In His Tie, Paris). Even the great French novelist Honoré de Balzac was said to have penned a number of works on this most fashionable of subjects, relating how pistol shots and sabre cuts had been stopped cold by well‑starched ties. To dry Balzac, "the greatest insult that can be offered to a man ... is to seize him by the cravat; in this case, blood only can wash out the stain upon the honour of either party."
While the necktie was being taken to ridiculous excess by some, it was for most men "the criterion by which the rank of the wearer may be at once distinguished, and it is of itself ‘a letter of introduction’." Men of standing were expected to display their place in the hierarchy by means of an appropriately firm and ostentatious tie. In the male establishment, only artists could get away with a dishevelled look: Lord Byron wore no tie, even though there were a number of neckwear styles named after him. Perhaps, like Balzac, he held "that the least constraint of the body has a corresponding effect in the mind, and ... a tight Cravat will cramp the imagination."
With the rising of the middle class through the later nineteenth century, neckwear again became sober and practical. The fallen icons of excessive style came to be viewed with dispassionate objectivity, as the great English novelist William Thackeray demonstrated in his portrait of George IV: "I try to take him to pieces, and find silk stocking, paddings, stays, a coat with frogs and a fur collar, a star and blue ribbon, a pocket handkerchief prodigiously scented, one of Turufitt's best nutty‑brown wigs reeking with oil, a set of teeth and a huge black stock, underwaistcoats, more underwaistcoats, and then nothing." The professionals, the higher tradesmen, and the businessmen who increasingly detained social power quite simply had no time for the ridiculous extravagances of the idle rich. The height of male fashion became, once again, the quiet, conventional Brummellian tie, with the elaborate and colourful excesses in neckwear being left to tasteless pretenders.
Yet as the century wore on, the pretenders began to move into positions of power and influence, and were not slow to express their differing origins by means of the neckpiece. Charles Dickens, the son of a bankrupt government clerk, indulged his flamboyant tastes for scarlet, green, purple, striped, and even embroidered neckties as he toured Europe and America at the height of his literary fame. Some, such as the Scottish writer Peter Buchan, clung to the waning vestiges of gentlemanly precedence, and dismissed all such attempts at sartorial Republicanism: "The title of Gentleman is now commonly given to all those that distinguish themselves from the common sort of people ... Indeed, almost at all times, among the vulgar a suit of fine clothes never fails of having the desired effect of bestowing on its wearer the name of Gentleman, without any other qualification whatsoever... To the tailor and barber alone, hundreds are indebted for the title of Gentleman." But the necktie had become just that: an accessible, affordable, and reasonably practical mark of belonging to a burgeoning power class.
It wasn't long before women began to long for the dangling display of masculine equality. In 1851, Mrs Amelia Bloomer of the Rational Dress Movement was suggesting that not only should Victorian ladies shed their corsets, crinolines, and voluminous skirts to adopt more practical trouser‑like bloomers, they should take up the wearing of the tie, as Mrs Bloomer did herself.
Widespread industrialization, the repeal of the English Corn Laws, and the effects of global trade led to the increasing availability and affordability of a wide variety of material for neckties. Furthermore, the concentration of wealth in Europe and the Americas gave rise to leisure activities and sports of all kinds. Dress evolved hand in glove with changing masculine activities, and before long, ties were developed to suit the sporting gent. Allowing for vigorous movement without being displaced or unravelling, the sporting ties the 1870s, tied with four‑in‑hands over low collars, closely resembled the ubiquitous business ties of today.
Such an easy, robust style of neckwear lent itself to mass production, and as the century drew to a close, sweatshops and homeworkers all over the world were cranking out a new male uniform. A plenitude of materials and styles became available: cotton plaids, striped silks, satins, taffeta, wool, and brocades. There were even ready‑made ties for those who desired sartorial elegance, but were quite unsure about how to arrange their neckwear in order to obtain it.
There were some, such as the editors of The Gentleman's Magazine of Fashion of 1875, who would have had fashion turn back to the high collars of yester‑year: "Medical men ascribe many deaths during the past winter to the fashion of low collars and to gentlemen not being sufficiently protected by their clothing at the throat and neck." But the shape of the collar and tie had become standardized, like the cut of most Victorian middle‑class clothing.
The sheer uniformity of styles in the machine age prompted extraordinary innovation in the patterns of cloth used for the necktie, since the accessory had lost not of its ancient role of setting the wearer apart from others by means of class distinction, professional status, or other pretensions. Foremost amongst these ostentatious ties were club, school, and regimental neckwear, which distinguished by means of a studied pattern or colour, as well as by association with a well‑known or well‑respected institution. Gaudy colours and ready‑made ties were still the exclusive preserve of the poor, ill‑informed, or those lacking in taste. Legions of self‑styled fashion writers sprung up, prepared to advise the public on this increasingly complicated symbology of the necktie. Opined a fashion writer called "The Major": "Of course, no gentleman ever does wear a made‑up tie, and doesn't want the credit of wearing one. I consider it the duty of every father to tell his son this on leaving school; it would save him a great deal of heart‑burning and anxiety in after life."
In 1900, in The Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud felt the urge to elucidate another aspect of the necktie's symbology. He wrote: "In men's dreams a necktie often appears as a symbol for the penis. No doubt this is not only because neckties are long, dependent objects and peculiar to men, but also because they can be chosen according to taste - a liberty that, in the case of the object symbolized, is forbidden by Nature. Men who make use of this symbol in dreams are often very extravagant in ties in real life and own whole collections of them." No doubt Freud was only making explicit what had been at the back of everybody's mind for quite some time, and yet his overt analysis did nothing to check the necktie's popularity. In fact, perhaps envious of such a ubiquitous form of menswear, sporting women began to wear the hanging thing. It was reasoned that a staid and well‑tied male fashion accessory around the neck would counterbalance the evident feminine provocativeness of knickerbocker suits, Norfolk bodices and culotte skirts which women were beginning to wear in order to indulge in sports such as horseback riding, skating, sailing, and playing tennis.
The Great War was a great leveller of men as well as pretensions, and the necktie lost something of its cachet and code of class in the roaring twenties. Money, rather than breeding, was more than ever the new measure, and most of the latest and most sought‑ after fashions could be had for cold cash, rather than by way of association with some exclusive organization. Fashion enterprises catered to the new social order, creating a welter of new styles, as well as some new methods of neckwear production.
Until 1924, neckties were cut straight down the piece of material, making them inelastic, and prone to premature wear. Jesse Langsdorf, an American tailor, discovered that by cutting the tie on the bias of the cloth, the tie would be much more resilient and long‑ wearing. Cut slightly off bias, the tie would pull off‑centre and fall crookedly, but if cut at exactly 45 degrees, the aprons of the tie would drape elegantly, straight down from the knot. Langsdorf made some other modifications in the construction of the tie, and patented the process under the trade name Resilio. Rights to the revolutionary tie‑ construction method were later sold to manufacturers all over the world, and it is by Langsdorf's method that most good quality ties are made today.
Apart from construction techniques, early twentieth‑century designers spawned necktie fashions that were globally disseminated as necktie fashions had never been before. Films and newsreels carried the images of the most fashionable neckpieces to the far corners of the earth, so that the neckwear styles of Noel Coward, Fred Astaire, and Bing Crosby were scrupulously and immediately imitated worldwide. Even Edward VIII, disgraced by his 1930's affair with the soon‑to‑be‑divorced American Wallis Simpson, spawned a universal necktie fashion, although under his abdicant name: The Duke of Windsor.
Women also had a hand in influencing necktie styles during the post‑war period. Grieving widows with little hope of finding a new man draped themselves in sexless skirt suits, complemented by brogues and a tie. Athletic women, and those influenced by Radclyffe Hall's egregious lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness, also wore masculine neckgear. However, the most marked cross‑dressing fashion of the period came from the Parisian couturier Jean Patou. As Chanel's great rival of the 1920s, Patou introduced green, blue, pink, orange, and black silk scarves, patterned after the works of such cubist artists as Picasso and Braque. Although first conceived for women, the patterns were so successful that Patou decided to offer men's versions in his women's boutique Coin des Sports. Patou's wealthy American clientele bought up the ties, mostly as gifts for the men who were paying their fashion bills.
Through the Second World War, despite rationing, the wearing of the necktie continued to be an opportunity for men to display a personal style and convey important messages to their peers. Said one stylish young gent, "I please myself when I buy ties, ditto grey flannels. When I buy a suit or jacket, I set out to please my fiancée." Another commented, "I don't like open shirts for games because people who wear them have sloppy minds." Still others opted for simple imitation, emulating the silk cravats of Royal Air Force flyers, or else tartan ties made popular by the Duke of Windsor's Celtic wartime rags.
Following the Second World War, men wanted colour, style, and flash to compensate for the drab and kaki styles that they had had to endure during the war. The wide, floppy Hawaiian‑print "belly warmer" tie dates from this period, as do a host of other exuberant necktie styles and themes. Wartime production was being redirected to consumer goods, and the gents were being encouraged to snap up the rampant production of thousands of tie manufacturers weaving a host of new synthetic materials. Tie‑swapping clubs formed, and men became collectors of ties. Celebrities of all kinds incited the fad, with Good Housekeeping reporting: "Guy Lombardo orders his ties in duplicate, one for in‑ town, one for out. Frank Sinatra's wardrobe boasts five hundred. Sinatra often gives the tie off his neck to croon‑crazy friends." Marlon Brando's 1952 string‑tie appearance in Viva Zapata spawned one craze; Warren Beatty displaying a light tie over a dark shirt in Bonnie and Clyde spawned another.
While the bright tie styles were exclusively worn by men, it was in fact the women who had begun to buy ties for their gents. By the late 'forties, about seventy percent of ties were being bought by women. Advertisers focused on this Freudian reversal with such slogans as "Whatever your dish, Van Heusen has three sizes: small, medium and WOW!" Women were henceforward to ensure that their men well were hung with ties.
The booming post‑war economy created teenagers - a young, restless generation with jobs, money, and a taste for adventure. Some rebels - called "Spivs" and "Wide Boys" - distinguished themselves with ties that were even louder and more crass than anything yet seen. "Nerds" took up the opposite conservative and understated styles touted by Good Grooming Leagues. Still others, who longed for another time when neckwear was more simple and dignified, called themselves the New Edwardians, and went for very distinguished and immaculately knotted silk ties. "Teddy Boys" or "Teds" in turn took the Edwardian style to a violent extreme, wearing long, loose jackets with narrow, tight trousers, and very, very thin ties.
The generation that began experimenting with neckwear in the 'fifties continued to develop their tastes in the sixties, with the Beats, the Mods, and the Regency Revivalists all taking up fantastically different and varied neckwear styles. Lord Lichfield, the dandy Royal photographer, even went to the extreme of reviving the Incroyable cravat with a huge bow. Said Lichfield: "A man doesn't dress for himself. He dresses to attract the girls.... I have an idea all men dress to be sexy like cock pheasants in the mating season."
So numerous and numbing were necktie styles, that, as the 'sixties grew to a close, there was real confusion, even amongst the trend setters. Some believed that fashions would become even more outrageous, with extremes like Paul McCartney in great hanging kipper ties, and Mick Jagger in dainty Laura Ashley chiffon mini‑dresses. Some, such as trendy Texas designer Ramon Torres, believed that the end was near: "All articles of clothing that only tradition can defend will disappear. Nineteenth‑century concepts of ‘elegance’ will crumble - together with the very words or phrases, written or spoken, which have served so long to describe and sustain it. Blind Bond Street, resting Rome, placid Paris, specialized New York - how wide will our ties be in 1980? How tight will we wear them? Will it still be elegant to wear a head above a stiff white collar or will we have choked it off by then? No. There will be neither ties nor collars in 1980!"
Most, however did not share Torres' apocalyptic vision. Pierre Cardin, inventor of the flowered tie as well as the hugely phallic kipper tie, felt that neckwear had a future. "Ties can brighten up a male costume and allow the wearer to express his personality," said Pierre. And Douglas Hayward of Saville Row's Hardy Aimes, concurred: "Men want to wear a tie because it is the only thing that can express their personality. I don't want to get caught up in the present scene of accepting anything that's new. It will calm down eventually."
And calm down it did. In 1975, a modern‑day Brummell - the New York image consultant John Malloy - published a book called Dress for Success. The book set out in rigorous detail the modern aesthetic of the necktie. According to Malloy, men who wear neckties are perceived as more trustworthy, and more financially secure than their unendowed brothers. Consequently, to be successful, men must take the wearing of the tie seriously. They must buy their ties themselves, and ensure that the articles are crafted of silk, imitation silk, wool, or cotton. Their ties should reach the belt buckle, and harmonize with the width of the jacket lapels. Permissible patterns are solid plain colours, regimental and club ties, upper‑class sporting ties, and some patterned ties such as paisleys, plaids, and Macclesfield silks. Purple must be avoided under all circumstances.
Molly was blunt: "The tie is a symbol of respectability and responsibility. It communicates to other people who you are, or reinforces or detracts from their conception of what you should be. While the most appropriate tie, worn correctly, naturally cannot insure your success in business or in life, it certainly can - and should - give off the right signals to keep you from being regarded as a no‑class boob."
Fashion designers were quick to cash in on the necktie's renewed cachet of respectability. It has become a sign of status, wealth, and security to have about the neck the work of some well‑known European designers. Men appreciate the positive image associated with the name of a Cardin or an Yves Saint Laurent, while the women buyers of men's neckwear are attracted to the exclusivity, glamour, and luxury of couture. Women are also becoming susceptible to the allure of designer neckwear for themselves, with the women's neckwear of Parisian makers such as Hermès enjoying renewed popularity.
Why, then, in the face of renewed interest in the necktie, is IBM untying the knot? The men of IBM offer Byronic responses: "It helped create a better atmosphere of creativity. The employees don't feel as regimented. They feel more comfortable and in control of themselves." according Tom Turey, speaking for IBM laboratory personnel. "If you're comfortable, you can think better." commented Louis V. Gerstner, the IBM President.
But the answer is not so straightforward, according to organizational consultant Dr William J. Spat: "Its been known for a very long time that the necktie is emblematic of a constricted imagination - Beethoven himself was said to have worn his neckties loose for that very reason. What IBM has recently understood is that to succeed in very many businesses today, employees cannot feel constricted - they have to feel free to innovate and to decide things for themselves. Quite simply, we are surpassing the age when organizations have to control behaviour in order to succeed. Now they have to foster creativity and innovation in order to be on top. By saying explicit to employees ‘You don't have to wear a tie,’ you are giving them many more options to express themselves and their judgement. As a management tool, this can be far more powerful than a whole set of rules and codes just because you can tell so much more about how employee will act in the absence of imposed constraints. You're also telling him that he is going to have to act in the absence of imposed constraints, instead of expecting to be told what to do all the time"
Continues Dr. Spat: "Those who think that the necktie is finished just because of IBM, Ford, and all those informal office days are dead wrong. Executives won't be going to work with their old ties wrapped around their loins like Versace's models. They will be using the necktie as well as host of other accessories to send the signals that only the tie used to convey. Look at the growing importance of watches, eyewear, and fragrances for men. Now these accessories are coming into play in the workplace. For example, for a seminar to accountants on organizational renewal, you won't find me wearing a silk tie wound up to the nth degree: I'll use a certain wristwatch, or a particular fragrance to send the message that there can be more subtle and creative ways of influencing people. For a group of government people, I'll usually stick with the tie, but something flamboyant, to send the message that, without transgressing the rules, you can make even a highly regulated context fun, exciting, and to a certain extent innovative. Where you have to worry is when everybody is trussed up in a tie looking very serious and self‑important. Usually that means that blood flow to the creative and innovative centres is severely constricted, and that the faculty for independent thinking may have altogether atrophied."
French/American linguist and semiotician Dr Christine Nivet is more concerned about the changing phallic role of ties: "Anglophone culture is sexually very repressive, so it is not all that surprising that it spawned such a regimented symbol for virility. As Anglophone women are moving away from neo‑puritan feminist ideologies, and the Anglophone men are becoming much less control‑oriented, the necktie is undergoing a kind of parallel crisis. We see that the men of Versace's Men Without Ties have an ambiguous sexuality, while at the same time being quite confident. Now, in America, one can sell a perfume for men. This could not be done five years ago, just as businessman could not appear efficacious without a great big dangling tie. Anglophone men are becoming more sure, and less in need of a big display of themselves. For their part, Anglophone women are becoming more seductive, so men do not feel that they have to project their maleness all the time."
Merchants, for their part, are hedging their bets. Neckwear continues to be a staple item even in the most trendy menswear boutiques. Despite the loosening of conventions, things are still rather as Balzac described in the nineteenth century: "When a man of rank makes his entrée ... the most critical and scrutinizing examination will be made of the set of his Cravat. Should this, unfortunately, not be correctly or elegantly put on - no further notice will be taken of him. But if his Cravat is savamment and elegantly formed ... every one will rise to receive him with most distinguished marks of respect, will cheerfully resign their seats to him, and the delighted eyes of all will be fixed on that part of his person which separates the shoulders from the chin - let him speak downright nonsense, he will be applauded to the skies."