PSY, the Gangnam dancer, wore a bow tie to international fame. Beatles walked across the Abbey Road in ties. Two millennia back in time, many of the 7000 soldiers of the Terracotta army of the first Emperor of China were seen wearing some form of a tie. And Oscar Wilde considered its elegance striking enough to write, “Well-tied tie is the first serious step in life.”
Then why are men dumbing down? Why have they cast off this piece of elegance? If they are making a point the world seems to have missed the message. Tie-less men look ordinary; they lack gravitas.
Had it not been for their coats, they might as well be getting off from a construction site. A man without a tie is like food without salt and pepper. Sartorially the look is colourless.
Some people accuse Tony Blair of starting the trend of people in high places economising on a tie. Obama also gives it a miss occasionally, but he looks as if he forgot to wear one. His is a carefully cultivated careless look.
But they did not start this trend. It was actually the dot com Americans who shed their ties first. But the dot com revolutionaries would have hesitated to cast off their ties, had they known that they were aping the West-abhorring Iranians. Remember, it was the Iranians who first surprised the world with an open collar look. People had scoffed at Iranians then; and pitied them for their poor taste.
There is no doubt that a tie is for men what a bindi is for women, an extra but an elegant extra. Men looked smarter in the age of the tie. The modern history of this accessory is generally traced back to the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). The Croatian mercenaries in the French Service wearing their traditional small, knotted neckerchiefs aroused the interest of Parisians. Croat soon became Cravate and a fashion craze started among men and women.
But it was still a part of the elite style. Its appeal to the masses started only during the industrial revolution when masses of people shifted to cities. Ultimately an American tailor named Jesse Langdorf created and patented the modern look of the tie in 1924. The Duke of Windsor gave an elegant but complicated look to the business of tying a tie by introducing the Windsor knot. However this proved to be such an intricate exercise that a simpler version was soon introduced.
Until almost recent years a tie was considered such an essential part of a man’s attire that this is what separated the gentlemen from others. Colonial masters wore a tie to set them apart from the open-collared natives. During the oil boom in the Gulf the multinational executives insisted on wearing a tie in 45 degrees plus heat because it gave them a superior look and got them big orders from the Sheikhs.
A tie enhanced status. Many establishments across the world denied entry to those who by design or default arrived there tie-less. Quite simply a tie made a man. No wonder the global tie sales reached the figure of $1.3 billion in 1995. If people spent so much money on a piece of, shall we say a broad rope, then there had to be something special to it. Otherwise, why would millions of men constantly shop for ties?
Let’s also concede that a tie is not flawless. It could get trapped in the closing doors of a lift or a train. The lower end of a tie might dip into the soup bowl even before you had the chance to taste the soup. Sometimes a tie has also come in handy as a noose. Less dangerously a tie could flap over your shoulders on a windy day. But these are only minor encumbrances. The same tie that flaps annoyingly in a fierce wind can be heart breakingly romantic as it slides gently over your coat in a mild breeze. Countless women have lovingly given a neatly knotted tie a gentle squeeze. It was also an excuse to step closer. Now, in the absence of a tie, what will they show their affection on?
A tie binds, it enhances and tying a tie gives time for thought. An open collar is a loser’s statement. It’s an incomplete look as if men forgot what needed to follow next. Men look lost without a tie. But there is time. Perhaps this winter men will decide to be gentlemen again.
The writer’s satirical novel Almost an Ambassador is now available on Kindle