Thursday, July 12, 2007

Cutting Ties

If men can run the world, why can't they stop wearing neckties? How intelligent is it to start the day by tying a little noose around your neck? ~ Linda Ellerbee

If the necktie is not the most useless article of clothing on earth, it's gotta be in the top 10. Let's see, what might be in the same category?

  • Platform shoes
  • $400 sneakers (especially the ones with little lights in them)
  • Bellbottoms
  • The "layered" look or the "I'm wearing my whole wardrobe today" look
  • Gold chains (not the little subtle ones; the Mr. T look, complete with Mercedes Benz hood ornament)
  • Cuff links
  • Cowboy hats (unless you're a real cowboy)
  • Big foofy neck bows, the woman's equivalent to a necktie
  • Huge belt buckles
I will plead guilty to have worn some of those things. In the sixties, I wore flared slacks, which would pass for bells today, although they were modest compared to some of the floor sweepers people wore. I used to wear cowboy hats until I realized how dumb I looked, although one got me a friendly cabbie in Boston, who let me ride up front where his air conditioning worked. He said he normally wouldn't do that, but he figured a guy getting off a plane in Boston wearing a slightly beat up cowboy hat must be a nice guy. Translation: I looked like a hayseed who wouldn't mug him.

I also wore cuff links, mostly because my dad wore them, but I got over it. He never did.

And I did have a couple of medium sized belt buckles, but I gave them up when Jerry Glanville, who was a clear demonstration of the theory that one's intelligence is inversely proportional to the size of one's belt buckle.

But the necktie is simply stupid. What started out as a garment to help keep warm during the little ice age evolved into the defining element of "white collar worker". Over time, with the standard two or three piece suit, it has also come to identify management or at least those with management potential. Fortunately, there are those who recognize the foolishness of the necktie as an identifier of authority or competence.

Over the years, I have aggravated a variety of managers by finding ways to avoid wearing them, even though I was "white collar." At one company, I spent a lot of time in the factory, where there were machines that would eat neckties and the head contained in one, so I started taking off the tie, like some of our engineers. When my boss raised the issue, I said, "When you get the engineers to wear one, I'll wear one." Believe it or not, that bit of teenage reasoning actually worked.

Even in work situations where I could escape the tie most of the time, I had to keep one around for visitors, especially when bigwigs came by. The bigwigs, of course, had their Armani ties and during plant tours looked as out of place as fine Corinthian leather in a dump truck.


Thanks to the Director of IT for the state of Alabama Department of Human Resources, I haven't worn a necktie for any reason since about 1998 or thereabouts. When I got into IT, I was a "consultant", an employee of a company contracted for some time to the Alabama DHR. Most of the time, I wore a tie, which I wore pulled away from my neck. They could make me wear the thing, but they couldn't make me look good in it.

One day, a notice went around from the DHR IT director, who signed our invoices, saying that the department dress code was now "business casual." Now, no one is ever quite sure what that means except that it usually means "no blue jeans." And it always means "no neck ties." When my boss came to me with the memo, I looked at him and quoted chapter and verse from our company manual which, slightly paraphrased said, "Employees will wear solid color shirts and neckties at all times unless the client's dress code says otherwise."

And then I ripped my tie off. It was a glorious gesture, which would have been even more glorious had I not given myself a neck burn in the process. Not only are those things uncomfortable, they're dangerous. At any rate, after our gig with the state ran out, I went to work for the City of Birmingham, which, in a moment of whimsy, decided it wanted to hire me permanently. My boss's dress code is simple: If the clothes are clean, not torn, and are covering everything that needs to be covered, wear what you want.

The man is a trend setter.

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