It’s not perfectly clear why men started wearing pieces of cloth around their necks, but the practice dates back at least to the early 1600s, and although styles of ties have changed through the years, the practice has continued uninterrupted.
There have been—and occasionally still are—cravats, jabots, ascots, bolos and string ties, but the narrow knotted tie generally worn today was introduced about 1860.
Until recently men who didn’t wear a uniform, work around machinery where a tie might get caught, or do very dirty manual labor, wore ties to work. It was not only such professions as lawyers, preachers, basketball coaches, news anchors, and some politicians who regularly sported knotted neckwear—but teachers, clerks, salesmen and office workers as well.
The introduction of “casual Fridays” has led to pretty much casual all-the-time for both men and women. Those chipper housewives of 1950 television ads doing their cooking, cleaning and ironing dressed in high heels and ruffly aprons have gone the same way as those dapper gentlemen in suits and fedoras touting everything from cars to their favorite brand of cigarettes.
Now we’ve all opted for comfort, and open necked shirts, tees and sweats are the general garb of choice for everybody. Whenever I see men all decked out in coats and ties, I think “Wow. They really clean up good!”
It’s certainly understandable why men are advised to wear a coat and tie to job interviews and why lawyers dress their clients up in suits to go to court. It’s about as close as you can come to turning a sow’s ear into a silk purse.
—Jean McCamy is a Wake Forest artist.