The For Fact’s Sake columns are – according to Google and the Duck ’n Fiddle’s Explanation of Everything – based in truth. Occasionally however, names and places have been changed to protect innocent people involved.

Getting Knotted

“Why in heaven’s name do men still wear ties?” someone asked casually, but this innocent query caused such divisions at the recent AGM of the Yodelling Plumbers Society, that the police were called and arrests made. It was horrible. There were professional yodellers who could plumb a bit, versus professional plumbers who yodelled a bit, but in the end – after the ambulances had left – the question still remained unanswered. Why ties?

Well, for a start, we can blame Croatia. During France’s 30-year war (1618–‘48), platoons of Croatian mercenaries were deployed in the conflict, and part of their traditional uniform was a small knotted neckerchief. This caught the eye of the Parisian upper classes (tres chic, nè), who began flaunting them as jaunty fashion statements – either as a cravat that was tucked in, or a thinner version that dangled down from a knot/toggle. (Out of morbid interest, ‘cravat’ stems from the French nickname for this Croatian accessory – la cravate.)

Anyway, Louis XIII started wearing one and made them mandatory at all royal gatherings, so the fad went viral. Many variations of this throat-warmer popped up over the centuries, and in 1840 the word ‘tie’ (separate from cravat) acquired its own status in the sartorial lexicon. In 1864 the first ready-made, mass-produced tie was patented, and sold like hot-cakes in Europe and the USA.

Dictionaries describe a neck-tie as “a long piece of cloth worn around the neck and knotted at the throat, for decorative purposes, usually by men”. The standard tie as we know it today only emerged in the 1920s, and a New York tailor, Jessie Langsdorf, invented a new way of cutting the fabric when constructing a tie, which allowed it to spring back to its original shape uncreased. Fascinating, nè?

As we’ve all seen in movies/ magazines/ real life, different knots and shapes of tie have graced many a famous Adam’s apple. On formal occasions, Bond wears a black bow tie with his tux. In cowboy movies, well-to-do gamblers and ranch-owners always sported a dangling string tie, creating an air of sartorial superiority over the lowly bandanna-throated bar flies and ranch hands. Sometimes you’d find a combination of both – a bow tie with dangly bits.

Over the last 60 years, shapes and colours have gone from one extreme to the other. In the fifties, ties were pretty sedate and narrow, but in the hippie sixties they reflected their dope-induced flower-power sentiments, and ties became wider and more flamboyant, often in bold floral prints. This was the dawn of bell-bottoms and platforms, and some ties, up to 15 centimetres wide, coined the name ‘Kipper Tie’.

Over a couple of decades, Kippers were eventually fished to extinction with the re-emergence of ‘skinny ties’, sometimes made of leather, but usually fairly sedate, with dots or stripes. Then there are club ties, or the old school ties with their crests and emblems, which flaunt your pedigree or affiliation to some or other snobbish association. These ties would supposedly give you a head start in your cut-throat, break-neck journey through life.

But apart from head starters or fashion statements, they’re probably worn as a sign of respect to a host, or on auspicious occasions. Yet it still doesn’t explain why men – in this modern era – haven’t made a global ‘gentleman’s agreement’ to dispense with ties altogether. Most women realised from early on that they were useless and unnecessary.

So, to the yodelling plumbers, apologies. We couldn’t find any compelling reason why men still wear ties today. Corporate bigwigs like Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates don’t find them necessary. But sadly, Trump does. Vanity compels him to wear an elongated tie all the time instead of a face mask – and what happened? He got infected with Covid-19. This is living proof that ties can potentially kill you.

But the burning question remains unanswered. Why ties? Perhaps Ellen DeGeneres knows. She often wears one.

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