Most articles of apparel are subject to what might be termed style churning. Consumers are accustomed to seasonal modifications, new variations, and occasional eruptions of stylistic insanity. Women’s clothing is especially subject to these sudden changes, which can render the previous season’s outfits obsolete. What is much less subject to style changes is business clothing, especially men’s business clothing. In my July 13 blog in the Museum of Possibilities, “Cutting Edge Office Wear,” I offered some unusual design possibilities for business wear, though I concluded that the current economic climate is not favorable to wild-looking office clothing. I did not look at men’s neckties.
If one examines two variables in a man’s apparel -- the shirt and necktie – their permutations and variations have been few. They have evolved very slowly during the nation’s 234- year history.
For example, when studying the necktie choices of four U.S. presidents, one can see the stubborn and sluggish evolution of their shape and form. For clarity, these neck embellishments are colored red. From left to right, John Tyler (1790-1862) sported a loose, extravagant, cravat (a predecessor of the necktie and bowtie), while Chester Arthur (1829-1886) wore a loosely-gathered fabric, tidily tucked beneath his vest, similar to an ascot tie (another evolutionary branch that preceded the necktie). Teddy Roosevelt (1858-1919) wore a fat necktie that hardly differed from current styles, and Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) favored a thin tie that would not look out of place today.
Today, in almost all areas of culture and behavior, one finds a relaxation from earlier, fixed standards and rigid codes. Has the time arrived for men’s necktie styles to break out from tradition, and undergo mutations in shape, form and function? In theory, men should be able to start the day searching through a closet full of an assortment of necktie types, each for a different occasion or mood.
Men’s shirts, suspenders, sweaters, vests and neckties could perhaps be viewed by fashion designers as mix ‘n match elements within a single apparel “kit” that allows for unique combinations. There could be neck-shirts, tie-suspenders, neck-sweaters, shirt-like neckties, and shoulder-ties. Some of these shirt-and-tie combinations were featured in the April 19, 2010 issue of Design Mind magazine.
Why these kinds of riotous mutations in men’s necktie design have not occurred is puzzling to me. One possible reason is that the necktie – which has no obvious useful function – is emblematic of a particular part of a man’s anatomy! Perhaps it describes a man’s virility, and because of that cannot seem too silly- or strange-looking. Men want desperately to be taken seriously! Plus, in most contexts, men are shyer about their bodies than women.
Another possible reason for extraordinary conservatism in necktie design is that they are already a troublesome, hard-to-tie accessory; they don’t need to be made more complicated. They feel confining and choking, resembling a yoke. The phrase “loosening one’s tie” refers to one’s being able to relax.
While it is fun for me to imagine future scenarios, perhaps the one that I have described here just won’t happen at least for now. During a time of and job loss and shrinking incomes, an exhuberant flowering of new men’s necktie styles is perhaps not in the cards.
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