The truth about neckties

I just finished Scott Westerfeld's excellent YA novel "So Yesterday" which tackles who decides what is cool and fashionable in the teenage worlds of sneakers and clothing. Inside is a bit of a history of the necktie that posits that neckties came about because of the Little Ice Age. Everyone in Europe wore scarves all the time because it was freezing so bad the Vikings died out in Greenland. Neckties have been popular for centuries since then but they have no reason or purpose to exist. The bowtie and cravat have already fallen, but the necktie, with it's oversized shirt collar, continues to survive. You know I hate hollow traditions like that.

Combine this with a conversation I had with a geo-physicist on my bus one day about silly-easy things we could do to help the environment. She mentioned over-air conditioning DC to account for winter business wear that we insist on wearing in the summer. Like long-sleeved shirts, neckties and suit jackets.

Today was a triple digit day in DC, and schools and houses across the area had their AC conk out due to overwork. It may be time to rethink cinching our necks tight under a thick collar that likely has a t-shirt underneath. Even though the necktie culture is well entrenched. Even though the short-sleeve dress shirt is outdated. Even though the hip substitute for a tie is a sport jacket, which is decidedly less cool in the summer. Even though most office climate decisions are made by bosses, who are likely jacketed and tied and sweating men. Even though it makes younger workers look older, more serious and older workers look younger (imagine your boss in a t-shirt and shorts as opposed to a figure slimming navy blue suit and tie). Even though being formally dressed in DC is code for seriousness, as those in the most expensive ties and suits make the most unserious claims.

In one sense, wearing a necktie has desensitized people to seeing a sharp dressed man. What used to be reserved for super-formal occasions (Bond, James Bond) is now boring. And not wearing a necktie looks cool, hip, at least in DC. I'm impressed five times more often by the shirt and jacket hipster than the sharp, neato tie. Supposedly the ever encroaching biz-casual has threatened the neck tie, but that's a neckwear apocalypse that never quite seems to arrive.

Maybe I'm exposing some misplaced West Coast roots, but I think a t-shirt with a sport jacket and uncreased pants should be fine for anyone in a geek job. Yeah, the oversized collars, on shirts so transparent you have to wear an undershirt, probably have to go as well. Save the ties for the prom, the wedding, the funeral, the big presentation/occasion. We need a new idea of business wear that complements the changing environment. I don't know what that is.

As for me, I may try to limit the routine necktie wearing (does anyone care where I work if I wear a tie?) and keeping the AC off this summer in my office. The truth is that I can't escape the necktie entirely, and don't mind them that much, but it's time to usher those things into oblivion.

1 comment:

shoffy22 said...

oh yeah! this is a bold move mr. trackball! i think this is a good summer philosophy - esp. given the fact it may lead to less need for AC in the office. plus the super thin beach style cotton shirts with some good color to them seem super stylish to me - perhaps they could be the guy equivalent of summer dresses that the ladies wear? woohoo!