Like many horrific fashion items, the necktie has its roots in a religiously-motivated defenestration.
I took one last sweet gasp of air before the cloth closed in around my neck. People undergo a variety of humiliations in exchange for money, but I had previously managed to avoid this one. I wasn’t even doing it for money yet – I was doing it in the hope of being offered money, which is even worse.
Last week, for the first time in many years, I had to put on a tie. I was informed that if I had enough space to breathe, that meant the shirt collar did not fit properly. Fortunately it was on for just a few moments, and I was able to quickly rip the garrote from my throat in time to prevent asphyxia.
This led me to wonder. Where did these foul contraptions originate, and why do people still wear them?
The origins of the modern necktie lie in France. This is one of those facts that could not possibly be otherwise. It may even be a priori knowledge. The story varies, but in about 1630, the French, were fighting in the Thirty Years War [which was started because some Catholics got thrown out of a window in Prague Castle - they survived by landing in horse manure. It’s known as the Defenestration of Prague (although there was an earlier defenestration, in 1419, which led to the Hussite Wars)]. They encountered soldiers from Croatia who wore colorful scarves around their necks (thus the word ‘cravat’ from the French pronunciation of ‘Croat’ ). The French were taken with the idea of choking in the name of fashion, and a new craze was born.
Over time, the big puffy cravat was slimmed down, and eventually evolved into the modern tie around the 1920s.
European nobles were understandably worried about fashion, and people of that time were willing to sacrifice comfort in order to look good at court. After all, they wore wigs, tights, and all manner of ludicrous clothing. The addition of something around the neck was just one more discomfort. If it meant gaining the King’s favor, it was worth it.
Somehow while Americans were rejecting the entire system of European government and social structure, they decided to keep the necktie. Brilliant. All it would have taken was someone like Washington or Jefferson to refuse to wear one in the name of the Republic, and the trend would have gone the way of the tricorne.
So the tie is traditional. So are togas, and they look comfy. Why do we still wear the tie?
One possibility is that enough people think that a tie looks good, so it stays in fashion. I understand nothing of fashion (and don’t want to) but this doesn’t seem to make sense. Ties are worn far more often in the context of business or politics then they are by celebrities and movie stars. When you think about it, a tie is really just a colorful piece of cloth hanging from someone’s throat. It makes just as much sense to find shiny objects to stick in our hair or colorful feathers to shove up our ass.
Of course, if you’re going to play S&M asphyxia games at the office, it’s important to have everyone’s consent, and they certainly don’t have mine. If there was a necktie-safeword, I would use it.
I don’t think that most people find ties to be spectacularly fashionable. I don’t think most men find them comfortable. If you had a group of 100 men and you announced that starting tomorrow, all of them were going to have to wear goofy-looking strands of rope wrapped tightly around their throats in order to come to work, they would all refuse.
But it doesn’t happen to large groups. It happens to each man one by one. He applies for a job, and they require a tie. So he thinks ‘screw that, I’ll get a different job’. The next job requires a tie, and the next. Sooner or later the man starts to run out of money, and eventually he is forced to dress a certain way. It’s not only about the discomfort. It’s also about the humiliating knowledge of utter drone-like conformity. It is a kind of hazing ritual; an expression of dominance by the company. One by one men are stripped of their sartorial independence and forced to conform to the universal business dress code.
Unless you manage to get a job at a dot-com company. Then you’re ok until the inevitable layoff next week.
I imagine this whole thing could be applied to women and ridiculous office shoes.
Of course, there’s always the chance I don’t get the job with the tie. Then I’ll be able to breathe all day. I won’t have any money for food and shelter, but oxygen is always free.
This article appeared previously on Heretical Ideas.