It’s time for men to liberate themselves by burning their ties.

September 25, 2007 | By | 9 Replies More

It’s way past time for this mass protest.  Let’s set the scene at a large prominent public space such as the Washington, DC Mall.  Let’s gather five million white-collar workers and professionals and invite them to throw their neckties into a huge bonfire to demonstrate that they’re not willing to take it anymore.  And why should they?  Who was it who decided that men should have to walk around wearing nooses around their necks?

I found a few articles about neckties here and here.  Actually, these articles establish that wearing neckties can be dangerous to your health.  Ties can increase the risk of entanglement of those working around machines.  They can increase the risk of vascular constriction–in fact, paramedics quickly remove neckties from people who are unconscious to make sure that the necktie is not the cause of the problem.  It has also been found that doctors and dentists who wear ties are more likely to spread germs among their patients.

When I was still in high school, I knew that I would never take a job that required me to wear a tie.  Then again,  I violated my own rule and I became a lawyer.   I often wear a tie.  It would be foolish to walk into most courtrooms not wear a tie.  The lack of a tie would be noticed by everyone in the courtroom and, I’m sure, many judges would disparage this “informal” attire, regardless of what you wore.  Failing to wear a tie is not something you want to do if you are trying to make a good impression on the judge in order to help your client. Back at my law office, ties are often disparaged my coworkers, but that is probably rare among big-city law firms. 

Would we all be better off not wearing neckties?  Without a doubt. That is the opinion of Cecil Adams, of The Straight Dope. “So far as I can determine, the only thing the tie does at present, apart from enforcing corporate discipline, is to hide your shirt buttons. Such a hassle. No doubt we’d all be better off if we could just get naked and frolic with the animals.”  It is important to note that the male white collar workers in many countries (e.g., Iran) do not wear neck ties.  Nor did anyone wear a tie more than a few hundred years ago.  Cesar did not wear a tie.  If you can believe the millions of paintings and stautes, Jesus didn’t wear a tie. Thailand is not a place where everyone has to wear a tie.

I once worked with an obese fellow who was a slob, but who always wore a tie.  Unfortunately, the tie was always stained and crumpled.  I went to lunch with him one day and saw how it all happened.  As he sat down to table, the first thing he did was to unbutton his shirt so that he could tuck in his tie.  That way, only the top inch of his tie was exposed (the one-inch immediately beneath and knot), the rest of it being safely tucked under his shirt.  This fellow had quite a knack, however. Because his belly was so large, his shirt was almost horizontal with the floor for the first few inches beneath his neck.  As I watched him eat that day, he dropped a glob of sauce on the tiny section of his tie that was exposed. Bull’s-eye!

Like most good ideas, giving up neckties is an obvious move.  Like most good ideas, however, the real problem is deciding who goes first, not deciding whether it’s the correct thing to do.  How do we get this movement started?  That is why we would need to have a mass demonstration to get rid of the world’s neckties, altogether, at one gigantic public showing. 

From that moment on, it would be okay to not wear a necktie.  Or maybe not, because, as we all know, too many people in positions of power in this country wear neckties themselves and they insist that their subordinates continue to wear neckties too.  Obviously, there are some exceptions to this rule. Trendy young corporations often dispense with the need for neckties. Good for them! Even stodgy businesses sometimes offer casual days on which employees need not wear a necktie.  But woe unto most people who are asked to show up at an important social function sponsored by the corporate powers-that-be without a necktie.

Why is the necktie so important in some circles?  Wikipedia suggests that a necktie is often a sign of membership of a group.  True enough. I am sure that this is many times the case.  The next obvious question to ask, however, is why some groups insist that their members wear ties.  I’ve thought about this at some length, and I think it’s the same reason that many women wear uncomfortable–and sometimes dangerous–clothes such as high heeled shoes. Like high heeled shoes, neckties are evolutionarily expensive.  Those who wear these uncomfortable and dangerous clothes would seem to decrease their chances of survival.   Dan Klarmann reminded me of this decrease in survival value here:

Men wear ties, a noose that any attacker can quickly and effectively use. The higher the rank of the man, the better the noose and more effective the knot.

On the other hand, wearing a necktie could enhance one’s connection with certain social groups, possibly offsetting that decreased likelihood of survival.  Another possibility is that an individual wearing a tie on his own (not with the aim of seeking membership in a social group) is making a powerful display to potential mates.  If his tie is both expensive and clean, he is calling out to potential mates that he has the means to purchase his tie and to keep it clean, as well as displaying that he has good enough health that restricting the blood flow to his brain is something he is willing and able to risk.  Therefore, neckties really do have much in common with high-heeled shoes.  They are not pragmatic.  In fact, they are anti-pragmatic.  They appear to be a stupid investment until one considers that neckties are quite often keys that open social locks.

In conclusion, I’m afraid that the title to this post was tongue-in-cheek.  As long as the well-entrenched tie-wearing people who hold the most power in society are issuing the paychecks to the rest of us, all too many of us will continue to dress like them.  Which is why I probably sensed, even back in high school, that I didn’t want to wear a necktie.  I didn’t completely make it into No Tie Land, at least not yet. In the meantime, let me know if anyone actually arranges a Tie Burning Day . . .

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Category: American Culture, Consumerism, Culture, Evolution

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (9)

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  1. John Hall says:

    I suggest you also consider throwing the baseball cap on the fire too. When my revolution happens, base-ball-cap-backwards (how conformist!!!) wearers will be up against the wall on about the third day. Your site pic almost caused me to avoid the site, but I relented because of the usually-relevant content.

    (My schedule is undergoing revision, as the Internet looks like it will take care of the Realtors.)

  2. Erika Price says:

    Would forgoing the tie destroy workplace formality and drive productivity into the ground? It seems very doubtful, yet many people make such claims regarding "appropriate" attire. The same arguement goes for school uniforms: that clothing somehow magically transforms social dynamics and personal work ethic. The logic of such a claim just doesn't hold up. For example, businessmen in Bermuda wear ties and jackets, but they don't wear dress pants. Oh, no. They wear brightly-colored Bermuda shorts! Do freely-exposed knees, legs wafting in the wind, change any dimension of the business environment? It certainly doesn't appear so. Chalk it up to any other purley arbitrary social expectation- like high heels, ties, taking off hats while inside of buildings, and so on.

    If you haven't seen business Bermuda shorts before, click here.

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    John Hall: No matter what I wear, it would likely conform with some group somewhere. I could wear a toga, for example, but then you might accuse me of trying to conform with toga-wearers.

    My photo was taken by my 5-year old daughter a couple years ago and it looked a lot like . . . me. I'm sure that any photo I choose would have its faults. Still as far as conforming, I suspect that there are many more forward pointing baseball cap wearers out there than backward pointing.

    The cap has since blown off and sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic ocean in a traumatic moment. You don't have to worry, then, because I can't wear it anymore.

  4. Mary says:

    My husband has long shared your sentiment. He told me that when he dies, if I bury him in a tie, he'll come back to haunt me. No worries there. I don't care if he wears a tie or not, plus, we've decided to be cremated.

    I'm all for your tie-less revolution.

  5. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Back in the late 70's, I had a college roomate in the summer quarter who was from Nigeria. He insisted on wearing a suit and tie to class, while I would usually wear a pocket tee shirt and jeans.

    One morning, he blocked the door and refused to let me out of the room unless I wore a tie. he told me that I looked like an aniimal and should not go out that way. I grabbed a tie (I actually had about30 ties that I never wore, they were gifts from relatives) and put it on. In spite of the fact that it looked silly wit the tee shirt and jeans, he informed me that I then looked like a man and could leave the room.

    As soon as the door closed behind me, I removed the tie, stuck it in a jeans pocket and proceded to class.

  6. Vicki Baker says:

    Compared to the Elizabethan ruff, Victorian neckcloth and cravat and the Edwardian celluloid collar, the necktie seems like a soft option. Of course, the ruff had the added benefit of preventing one from licking one's stitches when one had been to the barber/surgeon.

  7. Ben says:

    I love to use ties. I think you look more graceful and reasonable in a tie.

  8. grumpypilgrim says:

    I don't see a problem with ties. They can provide a nice dash of color to what otherwise might be a dull sea of grey suits and white shirts. People in developed countries (and many developing ones) long ago passed the stage where clothing was primarily functional; today it is primarily decorative, so why should people not be decorative in whatever manner they believe best suits them?

    Of course, we could also debate the wearing of grey suits, but the fact is that clothing has, since the Renaissance, been used to enhance not only a person's social status, but also one's desired physical attributes. For example, at one time during the Renaissance men's fashion dictated the wearing of surcoats that had thickly padded chests — giving men a pigeon-breasted appearance. At another time, still in the Renaissance, it was fashionable for men to wear surcoats that had thickly padded stomachs — giving men a beer-belly profile. Go figure.

    At any rate, the modern suit originally became popular, and continues to remain that way, not only because of social convention, but also because it enabled middle-aged men to conceal their enlarged mid-sections. Indeed, a good, well-tailored suit can hide a multitude of sins, just as tailored clothing and cosmetics can do for many women. Sure, it's vain and superficial, but that's at least part of what makes us human.

  9. pgriffin says:

    M<st Australian men I talk to agree completely with you, and would love to be part of the celebration when we all burn our neck ties.

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