It's been on the way out in certain sartorially laid-back countries. Now the eternally elegant Italians may be ready to kill the *cravatta* too.
When Tie Rack, the global chain of stores that sells — yes — ties recently announced it would shut all of its Great Britain stores by the end of this year, it occurred to us that something more than a struggling business was at play. Sure, there’s been competition from shopping malls. But something more basic is driving this company’s demise: Nobody wears ties anymore.
Tie Rack was founded in 1981 by South African businessman, Roy Bishko, who queued up every year at the Harrods’ sale in London to buy nice ties at good prices. Looking around him, he noted how many men were there for exactly the same thing, and so he thought that a shop selling only ties, at reasonable prices, would do well. By the end of the 1990s there were more than 400 Tie Rack stores around the world, in part thanks to a good marketing strategy. Tie Rack invented the “Glasnost” tie, with the U.S. and USSR flags intertwined around a dove. The senior George Bush wore it during the 1989 Malta Summit with Mikhail Gorbachev.
But over the past few years, business has steadily worsened for the company, despite the closure of rival Italian group Fingen. The reality, the chain’s managers admit, is that the tie’s time is simply up. Not even British Prime Minister David Cameron wears one when he goes to meet President Barack Obama, and on the streets of London, it’s difficult to spot someone sporting one.
We’ve become accustomed to fashion trends that die suddenly and then are resurrected just as quickly, but this time there doesn’t seem to be much hope. To know what young people think of ties, for example, just look at the children who are forced to wear them as part of their school uniforms. They sling them over their backs, tie them in funky ways, or even hide them inside their shirts.
The companies that all the kids know and want to work for someday are Google, Microsoft, Amazon and eBay, where employees work amid Ping-Pong tables and bean bags and have free rein over what they wear. Even the most traditional offices have adopted “casual Fridays” or a “business casual” dress code, where ties no longer have a place.
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The tie’s auspicious history
If only fashion were rational. There are many good reasons to wear a tie, though few accessories are more uncomfortable. Men have been wearing them for 400 years — since the Croatian mercenaries of Louis XIV marched to Paris with their scarves knotted at the neck. The king and court immediately adopted the fashion, giving it the name Croat scarf, which eventually became cravat.
It was the British who made it the symbol of an elegant man. Almost all the knots have English names — from the simple Four-In-Hand to the St. Andrew to the illustrious, yet nearly impossible, Windsor.
In the 1920s, it was considered a casual accessory and was worn when playing golf, riding horses or climbing mountains. It was also used as a way of emphasizing membership in a club or the military.
Regimental striped ties, those that stripe from the left shoulder to the right hip, are worn casually the world over — but not in England, where they are still used to emphasize membership. It’s a badge taken so seriously that Brooks Brothers decided to imitate them but chose to stripe them in the opposite direction out of respect.
Over the centuries, the tie has become an effective way to size up someone upon a first meeting. Whether it’s worn too loose on the neck, too short, badly tied, mismatched, or the worst, dirty, the wearer invariably communicates something about himself.
Though the tie is probably the most useless item of clothing we wear, it will nevertheless be missed.
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