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David Bouchier: The Ties That Bind

Image by Fulvio Tognon from Pixabay

My clothes tend to lag behind the seasons, and it is only when July looms on the horizon that I start exploring my wardrobe for something more appropriate. This is always an unrewarding task because, in my mind, winter is always just coming or just going.

I have a lot of long-sleeved shirts and heavy jackets. Most men’s shirts are still designed to be worn with a tie, and look incomplete and scruffy without them, and I have more than enough neckties to decorate any number of shirts. Obviously I won’t be needing them in the steamy months of July and August. But when did I last need a tie? It might have been at a wedding or a funeral years ago, but I can’t remember. Yet here, front and center in my closet, as they have been for years, are all these neckties. Having nothing better to do I counted them: 26.

They make a curious collection. Some are very dull and some are very bright, a few have been eaten by moths. Some have pictures of ducks on them, some have cats and one has a picture of Marcel Proust. It seems that I also own one bright scarlet silk tie, rather like the one favored by Mr. Trump. Where did that come from?

Ties played a significant part in my past life. We had to wear them at school, straight and properly tied, and at the office and in the military. It was only when I started teaching at a university in the trendy '60s that I was able to put my neckties away, and they have stayed away ever since, waiting for special occasions that have never come.

My neckties are obviously fading into history like their owner, and this item of male fashion may soon vanish altogether, which would be a pity. Ties add a splash of color and individuality to the drab male costume, and often tell us something about the wearer: that he is that he is a fisherman or a baseball fan, or simply that he has bad taste, or imagines that he went to Harvard.

The practical purpose of a necktie is not obvious, except that it covers up a pallid triangle of your neck that gets chilly in winter. But the symbolic purpose is very clear. The tie is or was supposed to be a sign of respectability, status and self-discipline. The starched collar, the clerical dog collar and the high collar or “stock” worn by the military in earlier times, were all intended to keep the head and neck erect, and therefore dignified, and therefore superior. The necktie is a pale reflection of these more serious symbols of status. Now even the President sometimes wears a sloppy, open-necked shirt to indicate that he is a man of the people. Perhaps the loosening of the necktie symbolizes the loosening up of everything. Only bridegrooms and criminals in the dock are expected to wear a tie these days.

Summer has arrived, so I can forget about my ties for the moment. Probably I should just throw them away. Instead I have carefully arranged them on the tie rack and returned them to the closet. Each tie represents an identity I tried on at least once, if only for a day, so I have to keep them, like snapshots from the past. How else will I remember who I pretended I was?

Copyright: David Bouchier


David began as a print journalist in London and taught at a British university for almost 20 years. He joined WSHU as a weekly commentator in 1992, becoming host of Sunday Matinee in 1996.