IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Knot dead yet: ties resist retirement

Despite a push for casual, a move is afoot to fight off the open collar.
/ Source: Reuters

Sizzling summer temperatures in many countries led to calls for men to ditch their work-day ties. But adopting casual summer styles all year around could still count against you in the office or at an interview.

In Japan, the dress-down summer campaign was dubbed "Cool Biz" and the aim was to save energy by encouraging men to throw off their ties and jackets and turn down the air conditioning.

In Britain, trade unions advised employers to allow staff to wear "cool work" attire -- including vest tops and shorts.

It might seem logical, but it didn't come naturally.

Even as temperatures soared to records around the glass-and-steel skyscrapers of London's Canary Wharf financial district, a look around the plaza bars, coffee shops and restaurants suggested many men are cautious about doing cool.

Not a surprise, says John Miln of the British Guild of Tie Makers. He said increasingly relaxed rules on what to wear to work, which partly grew out of a policy of allowing more casual dress on Fridays, had gone too far.

"Most British men don't know how to dress particularly well, not like the Italians and the Germans."

Miln said many men are happier when they know exactly what to wear, and a suit with a tie is an easy look to put together.

But others have slammed ties as useless, and even dangerous.

The British Medical Association said earlier this year that doctors should stop wearing "functionless" ties, and white coats, because they could spread deadly hospital superbugs.

"Ties are rarely cleaned and are often worn every day," it said in a statement.

However, many companies do seem to believe that ties serve a function in Britain, where sales have held steady around 20 million per annum for the past few years.

‘Dress like a banker’Manpower, a UK-based employment agency which screens more than 1.2 million job candidates a year, says it still advises men to wear ties to interviews.

"If you dress smartly, it is easier to tone down that image, than to try to recreate the first impression," said Julie Paddon, business manager for the Holborn branch of Manpower, which provides staff for the City of London.

"If you want to be hired as a banker, dress like a banker."

This idea of the tie as an identifier has its roots in the item's origins and is behind the phenomenon of school ties or regimental ties, especially in class-conscious Britain.

The modern tie is believed to come from the cravat, a much broader piece of cloth worn by Croat soldiers in France during the 17th century to identify each other.

And then there are expectations.

Laura Vergani, Barclays public relations manager, said the hot weather had not caused the bank to relax its dress code.

"Barclays staff are expected to wear business attire as a courtesy to visitors," she said.

Meeting with the queenHowever, there can be no doubt that tie-wearing situations are not the black-and-white arena they used to be.

In Britain, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, famed for his man-of-the-people patter and relaxed cookery style, was honored by Queen Elizabeth in 2003 and chose to receive his Member of the British Empire award wearing a suit, but no tie.

It caused a stir in the newspapers, but Buckingham Palace seemed unperturbed.

"Most people do wear smart clothes, such as a suit and tie for men, or a morning coat. Women tend to wear dresses or trouser suits, and often wear hats," a spokeswoman said.

"But we don't tell people what to wear ... Some people do ask for our advice, and we tend to say 'Gentlemen may wish to wear a lounge suit' but it's just advice."

Some places are not yet as relaxed as the Palace. If you want to indulge in afternoon tea at London's Ritz hotel -- a quintessentially English experience — you'd better wear a tie.

However, all is not lost if you forget; the hotel will lend you what you need — and those living in fear of a 1970s mustard-colored Kipper tie can relax.

"They are modern, and in plain colors to go with everything," a spokeswoman said.