The problem with picking a strong lead image for an article is that since a picture is worth a thousand words one has to start in the middle of the piece to avoid repeating one’s self. Since not everybody is a visual learner, here: the death of the necktie has been predicted almost as much as the end of the world, and with very similar accuracy.
My predecessor made a very strong argument for the death of the tie, even before Covid, and then Covid came and seemed to say, “You’re right so let us hurry this along, shall we?” But this prediction, and the same predictions that came decades before miss a critical factor. The tie, more than any other piece of men’s wear, is less clothing and more symbol. To eradicate a symbol, you have to eradicate the call for its message. That call still rings.
To distill the meaning of the symbol in the case of the necktie, one must simply ask why it is being worn. There are two situations where a tie is worn. The first and less forthcoming is when you have to – work, uniform, ceremony, etc. The explanation for that particular occurrence contributes to the larger story: we like to belong to one another and we like to be lifted up, and if we can do both that the same time – that’s winner winner chicken dinner. The other situation, perhaps with a more outspoken endowment for the meaning of the symbol, is when we don’t have to wear one. Yet we do. What is being communicated there? Let’s play Family Feud.
Respect for ______.
Self/a task at hand/another person/an event/an occupation/work ethic/other clothing/an institution.
This meaning, the larger form one, came into being at about the same time when civilization had advanced enough to afford us the time and luxury to explore such statements. If you want to catch up on how the tie happened, here, from Bows-N-Ties.com, is another visual aid:
Why it stops in the 1970’s is the purview of the creator of the image, but it does give you enough perspective to get the point. The necktie has been around a while, and will continue to be so because its symbolic meaning hasn’t changed all that much.
So why the call for the death of the necktie? We as wearers thereof seem to predict the death of the necktie like we just finished The Secret and have an open collar on our vision board. What are we thinking there? The answer is simple, the symbol of not wearing a necktie. When ties constituted a higher percentage or wearers, non-wearers sought to communicate how ahead of the curve they were. The open collar at work was meant to project, oddly enough, exactly what the necktie at work started out projecting: Look at how seriously I am taking this. Then the open collar, or no collar, went on to be a small sermon on work/life balance. And on how forward thinking the non-wearer is now that we have the internet.
The Global Reboot is a theory growing in popularity to explain our times. And George Will has a new book out. I say this because I saw George Will on Bill Maher, and while their politics are at opposite ends of the spectrum most of the time, I could see the respect with which Maher treated Mr. Will, who was of course in a white OCBD and a striped tie. This respect was born out of a history of thought, out of the presentation of civil discourse in disclosing this history of thought, all of which was reflected in an Ivy outfit. Even the other guest panelist who’s politics as well were on the other side of the teeter totter, talked about how George Will’s columns are required reading in some of the classes she teaches.
The cycle of the tie obituary is, at the end of it, simple to explain. It is an adolescent reaction to the ego which says that we know better than those who came before us. And then at some point, the tie resurges a la Mr. Colman of the New York Times, as we reach that sartorial moment where we leap from our parents knowing nothing to our parents having been right about a lot of things.