Blessay 9: How I Fell back in Love with the Tie

I have returned to wearing a tie. Five years ago I hardly did. Back then I owned two ties. A stylish Austin Reed tie that I bought, on a whim, in a sale back in the eighties.  I knew a friend in the shop who gave me a further discount as it was ‘going out of fashion.’ ( Still find it hard to understand that ties, unlike shoes or jackets, can undergo sartorial rejection.) And there was a black clip-on tie, lent to me by my brother, that I wore first at my father’s funeral, my mother’s funeral and, full circle, back to my brother’s funeral. I think that very old tie might have been my dad’s. But I don’t want to consider what funerals he clipped it on for.

Neither tie was right for interviews. For that I borrowed plain, or neutral patterned, ties from a friend. Anyway they were inoffensive and didn’t sabotage my job prospects. My interviewers probably summed up my tie in a micro-second and my presence in a minute. The actual jobs I got didn’t require the wearing of a tie. As for my social life, the new ‘informality’ of the last 30 years has tended to keep ties hidden in drawers, waiting for necks to return.

It was the temporary Japanese girl-friend that did it. Her dressy elegance revealed the first warning signs that my clothes looked a bit sloppy. I needed sartorial re-invention. So after the new suits, coats, shirts, trousers and shoes came the tie. None of this was meant to be a conservative uniform re-haul. It was a simple balancing out of fashion. Stylish formality requiring the stylishly casual. The jeans and t-shirts had company. And the small object of clothing desire (the neck tie) lay knotted between them.

From two ties the number slowly increased to fifteen. The price ranged from £2 charity shop bargain, £10 department store reduction and £35 new at an Italian menswear shop in the Finchley Road. Some ties came with a shirt, online Amazon order from China. But most were stray ones. The last tie on the rack, or in the final reduction stage stuck at the back of the window. One tie cost me nothing. I asked the manager for a reduction, for paying by cash, for a coat. My haggiling didn’t work but he genially threw in a tie.

Ties have an unconscious effect on the viewer. A badge of status and/or personality. Yet I haven’t deliberately used them for that. The aesthetic match being more important than any human catch. Yet my £35 tie proved to be powerful. It’s coloured gold with 45 degree angled black stripes; has a subtle sheen with no hint of flash. I wore it with a white shirt against a dark blue jacket for a cultural event at an important European bank.

Drinking some amazingly good Latvian wine and eating canapés, of a high order, I was approached by a young well dressed and I suppose junior Latvian banker. He was deliriously eager to meet me. “I recognise your face from Berlin. It was last autumn.” I let him linger on my face in Berlin. “Markets have been so unstable since we first met.” They could be unstable for another minute. “Remind me of your business” I had to remind myself, now. Silence. “The wine is good…yes?” It was and I needed more.

I saw that his eyes were cast downward.. Not at my ‘banker’ chest but my gold tie. It appeared to dazzle him. After ten deluded seconds he took my glass to get me a re-fill.  The tie had cast a spell. I innocently luxuriated in the Midas touch. On his return I revealed my banker dis-connections and said I was a writer. Eyes opened wider. Renewed glance at hypnotic tie. He wasn’t a bit disappointed. Creativity and gold just exuded a different power.

Non of the other ties have had such an effect. Yet even the knotting of a tie has the frisson of a small punch.  It’s the last act of dressing just before putting on your jacket. Call it clothing’s power to re-new, a symbol of smartness or merely making an effort. That Windsor knot action – probably not named after The Duke of Windsor, but his father George V – is purposeful, and the result is confidence.

I am not a royalist. I’m not into status. The assertion of the tie should be egalitarian. “Dress to Impress” the advice given on websites to the ‘better’ bars is limiting. It ought to be “Dress to Re-dress” and open to all, irrespective of the bulk of their wallet: with the tie having a fun sartorial role. ( I remember the 60’s when young long-haired men wore Bridget Riley, op art, pop art and psychedelic ties. All employed guys with disposable income, and admitted to bars, minus bouncers doing age ID checks and searches. The sexualized tie exploding into different shapes and colours – well at least in Liverpool they did. Part of a déclassé assertion of youth, more gentle and freshly anarchic.)

Fifteen ties. Wide and narrow. Cheap and expensive. Acqua blue. Dark green. White, black, grey, silver and gold. Flower patterned and striped. Neck ties on a rack in search of a shirt. As for the shirts…..I’ll pause. This is turning into a healthily narcissistic blog. The shirts, trousers and shoes are for later essays. All part of the surface fashion of a Japanese shadowed “floating world.” Their non-fetish day will come.

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