While clearing out Ivy Style headquarters I came across an amusing clipping in a box of ephemera. It’s a letter to the editor that ran in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1994, when I was 24 and was publishing anything I could, anywhere I could. It’s in response to a columnist who had written about getting rid of the necktie.
Funny how long this necktie death has been dragging out. I’m putting the final polish on a work of fiction right now that centers around the fate of the tie.
The letter’s sensibility reveals a retro-eccentric “angry young man” bitter at having entered the real world only to find it does not conform to his antiquated sensibilities. The “epater le bourgeois” phallocentrism shows the influence of Baudelaire, while the metaphoric prose betrays the conscious imitation of J-K Huysmans. — CC
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Letter To The Editor
By Christian Chensvold
San Francisco Chronicle
April 3, 1994
Image by Mercer & Sons
I wish to respond to Mr. Carroll’s preference to go to work sans cravate. I am afraid, if the tone of his piece has resonated properly, that Mr. Carroll feels he is being something of a revolutionary, a kind of prophet of casualness come to preach the gospel of lazy dressing. Perhaps in his workplace going without a necktie is daring or even heroic, but I found his ideas rather commonplace and even, despite the lucidity of his prose, pedestrian. Mr. Carroll’s piece offers no new thinking; it seems plucked from the mind of the average American citizen. His thoughts are clearly in the mainstream, and the deluge of contemporary slovenliness seems to have swept away yet another victim.
I will now brave the torrents and suggest that the gradual disappearance of the necktie in many business fields follows the loss of the tuxedo on Saturday night dates, the waistcoat, braces, fedora, handkerchief, walking stick, watch chain, and every other accessory that used to make a man look like a man. It’s a wonder we don’t go about completely naked these days. The old axiom that clothes make the man seems especially poignant when applied to neckties, above all when one considers the shape of a tie.
Having been thus stripped of nearly all our manly accoutrements, I fear that the loss of the necktie will mark the extinction of the last visible symbol of the male phallus, exterminated in an age suspicious and even hostile toward masculinity, and leading to a new era when, as Mr. Carroll points out, we will all simply wear sweat suits. Only then will we have reached the logical conclusion of this hundred-year-old striptease: soft, limp, unisexual clothing, with its cherished goal of comfort.
I’m not going to be the first to comment on this. But, I do wonder what “While clearing out Ivy Style headquarters” means, please? It reads like you are closing up shop.
As mentioned, Ivy Style is moving HQ from NY to Charleston, SC. I hope there’s some housing left.
I’ll be traveling light and will put some books up here, including some rarities and Ivy stuff from Japan. If anyone wants first dibs, I have a collection of 32 golf books….
Christian, Huysmans and Baudelaire were both Decadent authors who shared a liking of hashish, opium, and absinthe taken in excess.
You strike me as a very balanced, clean living teetotaler. I’m a little confused…
With regard to the necktie, I fear 2019 may be the year of “Death of the Necktie.”
Ties are becoming as archaic as spats, swallow-tail coats, and sock garters. Even in Charleston, I imagine.
It’s a strange new world. People actually take offense to my wearing a necktie. A few weeks back we were to attend a dinner at a place described as “up-scale”. Everyone showed up dressed like they were about to mow the lawn, or clean up the garage. They all make more money than do I, and they are all smarter than am I. I removed the neck-tie, but I was still conspicuously over dressed. I am genuinely confused by all of this.
1) You should have kept the tie on to shame them throughout the dinner.
2) Get new friends.
You’ll be selling some of your clothes as well, presumably? I’m sure many here would love a shot at those via ebay!
Get yourself a “look closely” tie from Paul Winston at chipps ties in blue and red. Wear that tie next time you break bread with those folks.
I’m about to turn 70 years young in October. For the first 25 years of my career as a lawyer I was with a large firm and wore a tie every day even in the Texas heat. For many years now I’ve been with a very small firm and have worn khakis and OCBD’s etc on a daily basis. I’ve found that casual has grown old. This fall I’m going back to a tie with a sport coat unless I’m in the courtroom when I’ll be in a suit and tie.
The Decadent period is one of my main areas of interest. Baudelaire extolled “les paradis artificiels,” but Huysmans had far less interest in drugs. On the other hand, he was deeply interested in religion.
I wrote a pastiche of the period a couple years ago with my storybook “The Disengage.” Email me your address as I think I have a spare copy.
It may be old-fashioned in this era when the personal is political, but I never let a man’s life determine whether or not I was interested in his art. As Flaubert said, “L’homme c’est rien, l’ouevre est tout.”
Not sure how you came to the conclusion I’m a teetotaler, but others have come to far stranger conclusions.
Wardrobe is tight. I don’t think I’ll be getting rid of anything.
Hmm. Well, on my 40th birthday, back in 2007, my workplace the British NHS banned ties from the workplace. Apparently they harbour all sorts of pathogens. A very sad day indeed, especially for all the homeless pathogens….
Any possibility of seeing Jon Carroll’s article to which you responded?
I’m afraid that proper briefcases have also become a rareity. Backpacks and shoulder bags abound.
I’m afraid that proper spelling has also become a rarity (not a rareity).
It surprises me how some commenters here say (presumably in all seriousness) tnat “the tie is dead”, and that ties are now seen as “offensive”. I don’t know where you guys live, but in New York City, every bank teller wears a tie, ties are part of the uniform of train conductors and subway workers, suits and ties are still the uniform of politicians, government clerks and lawyers. Many people still dress up to go to church. Less ties are seen at restaurants, that’s true (even the most elegant), but there are private clubs in New York that still require one to wear a jacket and a tie to enter. Of all the cities in the world, the most traditional and formal is London. Ties are certainly not seen as anything exotic there.
Brands like Hermes and Drake’s charge around $200 for a tie, so, clearly there is demand for this product! To be fair, it is obvious that less and less people are wearing suits and ties because less and less people are required to do so at their workplace. So, the long term trend that we will be witnessing, is going to be the gradual disappearance of cheap, department store suits and ties (they will still be offered, but the selection will be very limited); instead, the made-to-measure companies will continue to grow, and the true luxury tie brands, like Drake’s, will continue to thrive. Suits and ties will be worn primarily by those discerning gentlemen who will want to wear them and who really have the trained eye and the acquired taste to pick only tbe best. Wearing a suit and a tie can only be “cool” and attractive when the suit is impeccably tailored and the tie is of the highest quality. Same goes for the shoes. Cheap “dress shoes” will be disappearing, but high quality Italian or British made ones will not.
As you will recall Flaubert also said : ” Madame Bovary, c’est moi !” Best of luck with your move to Charleston. I’m looking forward to dispatches from your reinvention as a southern gentleman.
This is great. Thanks, CC. Well written.
The universe of men who both enjoy and have opportunities to “dress up” is small and shrinking, which results in a sort-of embattled minority mentality. I sometimes wonder if all the divisions among our ranks–updated tradition, Trad, Neo-Prep, Purist Ivy, Savile Row, etc.–distract us from this fact: we’re on the same side. If you wear a suit, sport jacket, a tie, and something other than jeans to work– welcome to the club.
The most liberated of all men is the one who, probably working in the arts or journalism or the academy (or nothing at all), can “dress up” as he pleases–for the sheer heck (joy) of it.
You’re right about the necktie–it’s a badge of masculinity. One of the few accessories women can’t wear without looking utterly ridiculous.
True about New York. And D.C. And, for that matter, Philadelphia. Neckties galore–seen everywhere.
The “club” tie, whether stripe or emblematic, is the neckwear equivalent of blazer or sport jacket: it connotes sport and/or leisure. Not to mention the campus. Hence they’re much easier to “get away with” in an increasingly casual sartorial environment–and perfect with other dressed-up-but-sporty items (button down shirt, sport jacket, khakis, loafers, etc.).
This is the beauty of Ivy: “dressed up” while remaining sporty and relaxed.
Pity the poor soul whose style has elevated to haute English, including solid ties, spread collars, double breasted jacket, and lace-up shoes. Unless his workplace invites that level of formality, he’s destined for grief.
Ugh – don’t you hate when you re-read things you wrote when you were young? ‘Cringe-y’, as my kids would say.
Yes, Christian’s letter to the editor was worthwhile then, worthwhile now. He observed that the anticipated “extinction” of the “manly” necktie would occur “in an age suspicious [of] and even hostile toward masculinity.” Quite prescient, considering we are now in an era when the familiar term “toxic masculinity” is considered a redundancy, and when elementary school administrators believe that everything would be better if little boys would start behaving more like little girls.
Mr. Dana, well said. If Ivy is a thoroughly American take on a personal style, it’s also conspicuously masculine. If other styles can seem a little too “pretty,”* Ivy retains a creased, wrinkled, roughhewn, rugged quality that’s, for lack of a better word and to repeat, masculine.
*Updated Traditional and haute English Bespoke are vulnerable
Yes, haute English is very much an endangered species. Around 15 years ago I was doing a stint at a major pharmaceutical company and they loathed my chalk stripe suits and Jermyn Street shirts and club ties and shoes from Northampton. They told me I would soon start dressing down. Needless to say that did not come to pass but the style itself is all but gone. Ties are far from dead, though. In fact, so many gorgeous examples are available these days that they constitute one of the principal stressors on my bank card….and along with good cologne generate plenty of compliments.
If men will insist on going tieless, I wish they’d eschew suits for sport coats and odd slacks: a suit without a tie just looks unfinished.
And, if tieless, QUIT wearing those spread collars which always look like they’re trying to escape and take flight.
It’s the old story of paying too much attention to the man in the advertisement, not enough to the one in the mirror
I took possession of 5 ties from David Hober last Friday as a 50th birthday present to myself. 3 of the 5 were repp stripe and 2 were macclesfields so I am doing my part to keep the tie alive. I am fortunate in age and level in my practice whereby I can be the only one wearing a tie in my office and not really caring. I suspect some of my colleagues look derisively at me but I just don’t care. I enjoy wearing coat and tie or suit and will continue to do so.
Bravo, NaturalShoulder! We soldier on together.
When business casual became de rigueur in the late 1990’s,the law firm in which I was then a partner issued regulations regarding proper business casual, so it was easier to just keep suiting up. I am with a large law firm and we share an elevator bank with another even larger national firm, and I’m sure I’m the only lawyer in a tie. My investment banker clients no longer wear ties. Notwithstanding that, I am not giving in. I agree with NCJack – guys in suits and no tie appear to have left the house forgetting to get fully dressed.
I’ve said it many times before, including here: I find myself looking for reasons to wear the nice collection of ties in my closet, because the only place I get to wear one professionally is when I go to court, which these days is rare.
I say “get to” because, while I’m only just about to crack 50 years of age, my clients are in their 30s and 40s and mostly in tech, and wearing a suit and tie to a meeting with them would be akin to wearing spats and a top hat. They don’t expect their lawyer to dress like they do (dark pressed denim; colorful broadcloth gingham dress shirts; bit loafers sans socks), but I get the sense a suit and tie, to them, says “self importance” in a way that they see as undermining credibility. Grey flannels, a pressed button-down in blue or white, and a navy or subdued tweed jacket, on the other hand, seems to convey to them that I’m a professional but there for them and not my own ego. I don’t know if all this is considered part of the ‘decline and fall of western civilization’ everybody complains about around here, but knowing one’s audience is important too, esp in business. And I don’t feel that my personal trad style has necessarily been devalued or insulted in the process.
A man who wears a suit and no necktie just has no clue about how to dress and I question his judgement about other things. However, I get it that some men will not wear a tie no matter what; Ted Williams was for decades the only man allowed into the old Boston Ritz-Carlton bar sans necktie. Even President Jimmy Carter was told to go back to his room and finish getting dressed. Teddy Ballgame would not wear a suit either but al least always wore a blazer.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wore a suit without a tie and he…..yeah, suits should always be worn with a tie.
Brooks should save a few bucks and just get rid of the top button on their shirts now.
While they’re at it, it would be nice if Brooks Brothers would get rid of the top button on their 3-button jackets, at long last.
Anybody out there who has a link to Jon Carroll’s article that Christian reacted to?