Column: Requiem for the necktie


It started with my first professional job as a newspaper reporter. And it continued throughout most of my career: Attire at work was coat and tie.

There was a routine to it back then, a daily process that became part of the work ethic. It went like this:

I snugged my tie in place before I left the house. I preferred a full Windsor knot, but a four-in-hand was also acceptable. In the car, I hung my jacket from a hanger in the back seat to keep it from getting wrinkled. At work, I put it on and buttoned it with a single button as I entered the office.

Greetings and good mornings all around, to the receptionist, the janitor setting up wastebaskets for the day’s collection of detritus and litter, and to secretaries and co-workers.

At my desk (this is the good part), I took off my jacket and hung it over the back of my chair. Then, I sat, rolled up my sleeves and loosened my tie. Let the day begin.

At lunch the process was reversed; snug up the tie and don the jacket. Back at work the sleeves went up again and the tie knot was jerked loose. Back home at night everything got hung up until the next day.

I had a collection of ties back then and wore a different one each day. And, yes, anyone who didn’t know what to get you for Christmas bought you a tie. I never received one with a hula girl on it, but I knew guys who did.

This is what working America was like for guys back then. I worked for one company where only white dress shirts were sanctioned. Another that disallowed light-colored sports coats. The constant in all places, however, was the necktie.

I’m not sure when it changed. It’s just that one day I went to work and all the guys were wearing golf shirts. A couple years later it was T-shirts and jeans. The president of a company would walk into a staff meeting wearing a tee that announced he was the World’s Number One Dad. His kids knew that, but I’m not sure we needed to.

I feel a little sorry for guys today. They no longer have special rituals to get them through the workday. Once they’re dressed, they’re good to go. It’s simpler I suppose. Still, there was a sense of authority, commitment and determination that came with removing your jacket, rolling up your sleeves and loosening your tie. You knew and the world knew you were ready to meet the job head on.