Claire Robinson, in (where else?) The Guardian, this week, announced that 'the phallic necktie is an outdated symbol of white male rule in New Zealand's parliament':
“'The necktie echoes the shape of the codpiece… designed … to emphasise a European nobleman’s importance through his large phallic size. It is arrow shaped and directs the eye of an onlooker down towards a man’s groin.'
Blimey. Newly elected Māori Party co-leader, Rawiri Waititi, meanwhile, refused to wear one in Parliament, referring to it as a 'colonial noose'. Waititi carried the day. Ties are no longer obligatory law-maker apparel in the happy, Covid-free home of the Bungee Jump and Cloudy Bay.
I am sympathetic to Waititi's aversion to some arbitrary, uncomfortable shibboleth of the very civilisation which was so murderous towards his people in the recent past.
But the tie as a symbol of male, rather than European, supremacy, is the argument made my Ms Robinson and I don’t buy the idea of the tie as any such thing. Which is not to say I like wearing them. There were two icons of servitude that I consciously rejected when choosing a life of stand-up comedy, some twenty five years ago - the alarm clock and the tie. Neither have played a meaningful role in my life since.
And yet the tie, like so much that is counter intuitive in culture, began as a social signifier and swiftly became a great leveller.
The comedian Rich Hall once said that the three stations in life were represented by where your name appeared – on top of the building, on your desk, or on your breast pocket. But even the lowest of these can enhance his standing with a tie. And once you can wear a suit, you and the Chairman essentially have the same fifteen inches of neck to play with, and no one but yourself to please.
Besides, the kind of men who do like to assert alpha status no longer use ties. They use their unfettered neck. The tie is about as effective a status symbol nowadays as a wallet bulging with cash, or a big bunch of keys (ie, not very).
I doubt Elon Musk even owns a tie, any more than Richard Branson did before him. I don’t know who dealt the killer blow, as 'Hatless Jack' Kennedy did the titfer, or Clark Gable the vest, but it wasn’t an angry-sounding feminist in the Guardian CiF column, I bet.
Younger men that do play that game, prefer bitcoin accounts and outsize Breitling chronometers and weirdly tight jeans and close-cropped geometric precision beards. The vast majority, meanwhile, especially those in a minefield like politics, are grateful for anything that amounts to a uniform, that doesn’t demand a particular body shape or regular 'grooming'. Most men regard dress down Friday not so much as a chance to relax as a dangerous opportunity to expose themselves to ridicule. They wear ties, but not to assert supremacy. They are just hoping not to be openly laughed at.
Ties remained popular among men trapped in institutions, because they represented the common enemy. Like a sergeant major, they forge bonds that no amount of team building exercises ever can. Business, regimental or school – the tie it is that binds. Boys might hate the school tie, wear it in various absurd knots, too fat, too skinny, too short, too long – all intended to undermine its authority over them. But the esprit de corps thus engendered is not to be underestimated.
Loosen the knot, and little by little, things fall apart.