Archive for Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tied to formal wear

August 19, 2010

There are many things that I’ve had to relearn due to my “cerebrovascular accident,” the name of the type of stroke I experienced. These tasks that I must remaster range from putting on my shirt, brushing my teeth, eating left-handed, shaving, holding and turning the pages of a book, and walking. I’m doing very well in the walking department, but I’m facing a new challenge that I hadn’t even considered — tying my necktie. While few would agree with me, I must admit that I do miss wearing a dress shirt and tie.

For almost all of my 40-plus years of working, I wore a tie nearly every day. When I taught school at Council Grove, all male teachers wore ties and sport jackets or suits. As an advertising salesman in McPherson, we also wore ties. At the Board of Public Utilities there was an unwritten rule that anyone who worked in the central office had to dress up. When I went into the weekly newspaper business, I continued to wear ties.

The history of ties goes back to ancient China. In 221 B.C., Shah Huang Ti created statues of warriors, each wearing a necktie. Experts believe that ties were used by soldiers as a method of identification. Early Roman orators wore neckerchiefs to keep their throat and vocal chords warm before they spoke.

By the 1600s, the French army was wearing a form of the tie going into battle. This gave them both identification and uniformity. According to one expert, ties moved to the general population in the 1700s. Originally, the term for a tie was a cravat, but the terminology changed and the word for neckwear became “tie.” In 1784, fashion expert Beau Brummel is believed to be the first person to claim that a tie was an expression of personal taste.

Throughout the 19th century, ties were popular in both the United States and Europe. Look at any old-time pictures of people at work and the men were always wearing ties. Even such famous outlaws as Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Doc Holliday and the Dalton gang were photographed wearing ties. Apparently neckties were both popular and a sign of proper dress. The trend continued in the following century and again such bad guys as John Dillinger, Clyde Barrow and Machine Gun Kelly were wearing suits and ties when they were killed or captured.

In years past, nobody would even think of going to church without a tie. Photographs of baseball games in the 1920s and 1930s showed men always sporting a necktie. It was simply a way of life and no one seemed to mind dressing properly. All that has changed now and sometimes it is hard to find anyone wearing a necktie.

Recently we attended a production at the American Heartland Theatre and there wasn’t a man in the audience wearing a necktie. In fact, the only neckties were worn by the ushers. Sometimes the only people with ties on are waiters and carryout boys at the supermarket. Ties simply aren’t popular anymore. Most employees of businesses wear knit shirts with company logos.

I was taught how to tie a double Windsor knot while I was working at BPU and have passed the knowledge and skill on to employees, son-in-laws and grandsons. I recently decided to see if I could still master arranging my tie. Using my left hand I managed to come up with a sort-of knot, but it wasn’t very pretty. Someone suggested I go to clip-on ties, but I’m not sure they manufacture them anymore. I guess I could try a bowtie, but that’s not my style. I suppose this has come full circle when one of my grandsons offered to work with me to regain the skill.

In the meantime, I will join the vast majority of men who wear sport shirts or knit shirts when they go out. The time will come, however, when my right hand fully recovers and I’ll be back sporting a tie whenever the occasion calls for it.


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