Animation by Kayelle Allen at The Author's Secret

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tie be, or not tie be - that is the question

Drive through any urban area between three and four pm when the schools are disgorging students faster than the speed of light, and you will notice the radically different ways kids from different schools wear (or sometimes don’t wear) their school ties. This got me wondering whether tie fashions reflect the way students feel about their ties or about their schools.

As a former teacher, I know how important the school uniform is to a school and in most secondary schools, the senior management team will try to ensure that children leave the school premises looking smart. After all they represent the school to the local community. But somewhere between the school gate and the nearest bus stop, that uniform – and the tie in particular – undergoes a radical makeover.

If students resent wearing ties so much, shouldn’t we be listening to them? What real function to ties serve anyway? The blazer colour and badge identify the school perfectly well, so as a means of advertising the school the tie is pretty well redundant. The majority of students leaving school will probably only wear a tie on very rare occasions. For boys, these will be their first interview, their wedding and perhaps if attending a funeral. But what about the girls? Unless they join the forces, they will probably never again wear a tie in their lives. So why inflict this unwanted accessory on them for eleven of their most formative years?

I began noticing ties more and more over the last few weeks – or perhaps I should say I began noticing their absence. On a trip to London during the rush hour, I noticed the majority of commuters were men and in my carriage only a small percentage were wearing ties. On the TV, whilst Tim Henman seemed to sport his tie with pride, another famous commentator, Boris Becker, looked far more relaxed without one; and on Question Time, last week, I noticed Hugh Grant was the only male panellist not to wear a tie – but that certainly had no adverse effect his eloquence, wit and credibility. The audience was solidly behind him (and I only noticed one tie amongst them). Conversely, Stephen Fry was the only tie-wearing member of the all-male team on QI and while his tie may have looked like an esplanade of multi-coloured pebbles snaking a beach of fuchsia-tinted sand, it definitely did not dim his dazzling repartee.

Nevertheless, it seems being on TV (even the BBC) is no longer up there with weddings and funerals as meriting formal attire. Is this a silent rebellion against the noose-like symbol of subservience to one’s company? Are ties gradually disappearing in the same way as cuff links which might be seen as jewels in the manacles of servitude?

Politicians, when they do wear them, seem to pick them as an afterthought to bring out the colour their rosettes when they are out and about, slumming it with Joe or Jo public; whilst in hospitals they are no longer considered de rigueur by the medical profession.

So why do men wear ties? And what’s more, why do women seem to get so much pleasure out of choosing and buying them for their men? Are ties really smart attire, or are they simply outdated throwbacks to some sort of institutionalised servitude, which women, in some sinister fashion, endorse?

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