Neckties: Unknotting the Unnecessary Custom

by Kim   |   September 14, 2009

The Christian Science Monitor's Bright Green Blog had wonderfully unbuttoned post about Bangladesh's energy-saving necktie ban--and affirmation of untucked shirttails. The more comfortable government employees will be working in offices with air conditioning set no lower than 75 degrees.

Japan's "Cool Biz" initiative from a few years ago asked bureaucrats to shed neckties and jackets in the summer months, even going so far as to enlist the help of a fashion designer to popularize the custom. They estimated that working in shirtsleeves causes a 2 degree reduction in the heat felt by the body. As far as I know, the campaign did not link the change to a reversal in cultural practices, but in Bangladesh shedding the necktie has been depicted as the lifting of an imperialistic yoke.

"Wearing suits and stuffing our necks with a tie, in spite of ourselves, is a sartorial fashion we have borrowed from the British who were our colonial rulers. Our ancestors enjoyed punishing themselves by mimicking the British style and fashion, which was seen as synonymous with being chic and modern."

The British must not bear all of the blame, as apparently ties have spread from culture to culture like a bad seed, originating with Croatian mercenaries in 16th century France. When you think of the many sartorial struggles women the world over have fought against restricting fashions--the corset and footbinding coming to mind--it seems only fair that buttoned-up office workers should have their moment of exhilaration as they let down their hair, so to speak. The necktie is a handy villain but it makes me think of the many things that we do that we only do out of custom.  Awhile back there was a big debate about whether refrigerators belong in the category of things we can do without. I, for one, still have my refrigerator, but think it is useful to examine all of the "necessities" of life to see if there is a necktie--a truly useless custom--hiding in the bunch.