Another Perspective

The Ties That Choke

Florence King works her magic again.

By 9.6.06

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TAMPA -- In a book review in the September issue of TAS, our Florence King's latest public service was to out the inventor of one of the worst instruments of torture devised by the black heart of man.

No, no, not the thumb-screw or the rack or reality television. I speak rather of the vile necktie, which has been inflicting discomfort on millions of men (and in our gender-equality besotted society, some women now as well) at least since the butt end of the 18th century.

The inventor of this unspeakable blight on the enjoyment of the masculine life was one Beau Brummell, an early Brit metrosexual who, I regret to report, escaped hanging (guess what I would have used to do the job?), but in a come-back victory for justice died from the worst symptoms of syphilis. This blackguard better hope that Hell is a dry heat, because I'm sure this is where his sorry soul will be found for Eternity.

La King quotes leggy Australian feminist Germaine Greer to the effect that it's insane to allow the world to be run by members of a sex who start each day by tying a noose around their necks. (So, who says we're in charge? But that's another issue for another day. Wife of Bath, call your office.) Most of Germaine's other pronunciamentos are pretty dotty, but it's hard to get around this one.

The neck tie serves no discernible clothing purpose. I mean, what's so bad about seeing a man's bare neck anyway? Clearly we have various bits and pieces that look a lot worse (though, in fairness, now that I think of it, we're encouraged to cover these as well).

Aside from being of no utility, the necktie causes all manner of discomfort (bordering on agony in hot, humid climates, this resident of Tampa will testify to under oath) ranging from restriction of movement to sweaty, itchy necks, with other offenses in between. Many men have learned to tolerate neckties, but hardly any man I know likes them. The only honest answer when your kid asks, "Daddy, why do you wear a necktie to work?" is, "Because I have to."

MY OWN INTRODUCTION to Brummell's abomination came on an otherwise unsullied fall evening in 1954 on the occasion of my first formal dance, an affaire de hop put on by my junior high school. As I buttoned up a starched white collar and wrapped a bought-for-the-occasion tie around my then virgin neck, I remember saying to my mother, "I really don't like the way this feels." Her reply, which seemed reasonable at the time, was, "You'll get used to it."

Become resigned to it, more like. I want to make it clear that my now widowed and sainted mother doesn't make it a habit of lying to me. But it's been more than a half century since that melancholy fall night in Tampa and I'm not "used to it" yet. I'll be an angel long before that happens.

Lewis Grizzard had it about right when he said that neckties are men's payback for the fact that we don't have to get pregnant (you might not want to trot this comparison out when moms are around -- it may not get the best reception). So if neckties serve no purpose save to cause agony, how did their voluntary use become so widespread? It's one of the mysteries of the ages. Doubtless it has some deep psychological source having to do with self-loathing.

One of the most frequent but fatuous arguments in favor of the necktie is that it makes a man look "businesslike." Excuse me, but a man wearing a necktie when it's 90 degrees with humidity to match doesn't look businesslike -- he looks stupid.

As a conservative I'm totally sympathetic to the notion of upholding dress standards. There are far too many rat-bags out there who offend the eye (and often the nose). At my local Borders some of the employees dress as though they're going immediately after work to muck out a stable. And some well-intentioned employers, in an attempt to give the help a little dress latitude, have seen Casual Friday degenerate into Train Wreck Friday, with some employees reporting to work in clothes that appear to have been acquired during a smash and grab at the Hell's Angels encore shop.

So let's get the Mickey Mouse tee-shirts, and shorts, the legs of which appear to have been chewed off by mid-sized rodents, out of the office. But let's not lose our heads (or at least not our necks). Let the word go forth that men can come to work with a crease in their trousers and a shine on their shoes without cinching something up around their necks, there to torment them for the rest of the day.

The Syphilitic Brummell died in an insane asylum, which is where all of us belong if we don't cast off Brummell's plague of an invention. Freedom to the male neck! Ignominy to the memory of Beau Brummell! And thanks to Florence King for pinning the tail on this odious donkey.

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.