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More politicians and businessmen shed their neckties. And now the backlash


David Cameron and Gordon Brown show off the somber look

MILAN - So it's come to this. In these ever fluid times, the necktie has become the sartorial last stand for those who see a society unraveling in the disintegration of dress codes.

It is happening right now in Germany where a Christian Democrat member of Parliament, Jens Koeppen, wrote a letter to his colleagues requesting that all agree to wear a tie at work to bring back ‘the dignity" of the Bundestag. Anyone who declines would forfeit the right to speak up in Parliament. Andrej Hunk, a fellow MP, said he did not even own a tie, protesting against mandatory use of a "19th century fashion accessory."

The debate promises to be heated, seeing as we have indeed pushed the limits of what is acceptable style. Even here in Italy, our mix of casual wear can border on sloppy. "The Senate pages were so much more elegant in their blue suits," complained former Senator Mario D'Urso, who tried to make it obligatory to change into official outfits before entering Parliament as a sign of respect for the institution.

In Italy, at least, some rules still apply: A jacket without a tie is allowed in the Lower House while a jacket and tie is required in the Senate. And that holds for everyone, from politicians to journalists to cameramen. If you don't have a tie, one will be provided.

The struggle between the sartorial traditionalists and the progressives dates back some time now. In 2007 the general manager and artistic director of Milan's La Scala Theater Stephane Lissner had instructions stamped on the back of each ticket: men were requested to wear a dark suit to openings, and at least a jacket and tie to all other shows; For the women outfits fitting of the "decorum" of the famed concert hall were required (a rather loose requirement which proved problematic when an outrageous feather-like outfit appeared and the perpetrator was allowed to stay).

But the march of the ‘tie-less' has continued unabated. Take the example of Sergio Marchione — CEO of Fiat — who shocked the Chinese with his casual sweater (The Chinese meanwhile have become more formal than ever since adopting the Western look decades ago). Esquire magazine selected President Barack Obama among the years's most elegant men and showed him dressed in an immaculate dark suit but with his shirt open at the neck. Tony Blair, once divine looking in a red tie, has since taken it off, triggering an earthquake inside and outside the Labour Party. His successor, Gordon Brown, also gave up on the tie and lost support. David Cameron is now copying Blair, and like his predecessors, shorn the tie but he still can't shed that air of Oxford snobbishness.

Still, the traditionalists are holding strong. There is Nicolas Sarkozy, who in addition to his Italian wife likes to show off his Italian ties. He prefers those designed by Maurizio Marinella but when he got married to Signora Bruni he wore a Luca Roda, which can be worn by members of both the right and left like Junichiro Koizumi, the three-time prime minister of Japan. Joaquín Navarro Valls, the spokesman for two Popes, Italian Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti, businessman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, shoe magnate Diego Della Valle: all tie men.

Support for the German dress-code stickler Koeppen can also be found in a "trend report" issued by Future Concept Lab in Milan. "It is called extra rules," the sociologist Paolo Ferrarini explains. "It is the spontaneous attachment to a system of rules, decided on at that moment, out of need. The ritual is important: it is the application of order to chaos, and respecting roles." But when Koeppen tries to actually impose this order around the necks of his colleagues, he may only add to the chaos.

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