This could leave us naked to the looming menace of foreign neckwear, but that doesn't seem to matter much anymore, because a key reason for the group's demise is men no longer seem to be wearing neckties.
All of this was front-page news in The Wall Street Journal, whose readers constitute perhaps the last great bastion of tie-wearers in the United States. But, according to a Gallup poll cited in the story, only 6 percent of American males wear ties to work, down from 10 percent in 2002.
That seems low to me but maybe not. On MSNBC's "Morning Joe," host Joe Scarborough doesn't wear a tie nor do any of the other males on the show except conservative voice Pat Buchanan, very much a traditionalist and maybe the exception that proves the rule. When a conservative Republican ex-congressman eschews a tie it means this trend has struck deep into the body politic.
I've worn a shirt and tie to work ever since I started in the newspaper business. We wore the tie loosened, the shirt unbuttoned and the sleeves rolled up to convey the impression - in my case, the thoroughly misleading impression - of a harried, hardworking reporter. But when our corporate execs came to town recently for a dog-and-pony show none of them wore a tie.
At one time, a necktie was a status symbol. You got promoted off the shop floor and got to wear a white shirt and tie to work. Indeed, Sarah Gibbings' history of neckwear, "The Tie," has a chapter titled, "Your Most Important Status Symbol: The Tie Today." Apparently that no longer holds. The Journal says, "In fact, it can be a symbol of subservience and trying too hard." There's a fashion death sentence for you.
The story says the zenith of the American necktie was the 1980s when every alpha executive had to have a blue pinstriped suit and a yellow tie - the power tie. Under the new rules, instead of power and authority that kind of tie would convey servility and desperation.
Judging from the photos of the baseball crowds of the day, I would say the zenith of the necktie was in the '20s, '30s and '40s, when every male in the park wore a shirt, tie and a hat, a straw boater if it was summer. The hats are long gone; now the ties are going; and in some of the rowdier reaches of the bleachers, so are the shirts.
Poking around the Internet for news of the necktie world, I came across a fashion Web site where a writer with the intriguing name Nokio January wrote, the way fashion writers do, with no supporting evidence, while men were no longer wearing ties, women were. She recommended a skin-tight, button-down shirt, so as not to look too mannish "you can leave it a bit loose, one or two buttons undone, and show some skin, particularly if you have small breasts." We only report.
But perhaps the tie isn't completely dead. One apparel company executive told the Journal he thinks "the current economic downturn is actually good for his company's tie business. His reasoning: Laid-off workers will need new ties for job interviews."
There's another reason ties surely will make a comeback: They always have.
Gibbings traces the tie from the relatively simple neck cloths of the Romans to the frilly cascades of the late 18th century European courts to our more modest paisley and rep ties of today.
She traces the very first necktie to 211 B.C. and the appropriately named Chinese emperor Shih Huang Ti. His tomb is where they found the 7,500 terracotta sculptures of his soldiers. Each one had a carefully folded and knotted tie, silk according to the records. They looked kind of natty actually.
- Scripps Howard News Service