Jeremy Paxman’s rejection of the tie may just turn it into the height of fashion, says Janet Christie.
LAST week, Jeremy Paxman appeared tieless on Newsnight, still in a smart suit, but with his top two buttons undone. Apart from revealing an expanse of ageing turkey gizzard, the 62-year-old was also dispensing with a time-honoured tradition of the BBC that its male serious-news presenters wear ties.
The Twitterati wittering was immediate, with one post managing to drag in Savilegate, adding: “The BBC is in meltdown. It’s like the last days of Rome. Anything goes.” And another demanded that Ed Miliband call for an independent inquiry into why Paxman was not wearing a tie.
Paxo himself has nothing to say on the matter, no doubt being absorbed in much weightier issues, but in the past he has been characteristically phlegmatic in his contempt for ties, describing them as “an utterly useless part of the male wardrobe”. Back in 2007, he wrote on a BBC blog: “The only people who wear [ties] daily are male politicians, the male reporters who interview them – and dodgy estate agents.”
At first it seems a sartorial storm in a teacup. Who cares if our male news anchors wear ties? So what if our offices, banks and shops are manned by males with barely a nametag on their fleece to distinguish them from Joe Public? It doesn’t make them any less effective or talented?
Yet this is to ignore the evidence of history; that we are judged by what we wear and clothes are an expression of status and intent. As Shakespeare had it in Hamlet, “the apparel oft proclaims the man”.
Without wishing to sound like an ageing major or Barbara Cartland, there’s something about a tie that makes men look businesslike and bestows gravitas (even when we know the wearer is just as capable of numpty behaviour as any ned in a shellsuit). Also, given that few men can express themselves with Grayson Perryesque workwear, it adds a flurry of colour and personality to an otherwise anonymous uniform of dark suit and light shirt. Most of the men torching their ties with the abandon of the second wave of feminists burning their bras aren’t replacing them with a statement. They’re just plain dressing down, embracing ubiquity, replacing one uniform with another. That’s why when the big occasions hit – funeral, wedding, job interview, court appearance – they still reach for a tie.
“We’re focusing on other elements of our outfits,” the tie-dodgers cry, pointing out their beautifully crafted cufflinks, or knock-your-socks-off hosiery. Come on guys, no-one can see those. Why turn your backs on a whole rainbow of colours and patterns? Why ignore centuries of style?
Back in 221 BC, China’s first emperor, Shih Huang Ti, and his “terracotta army” were all buried wearing neck ties; and Roman orators loved them for keeping their vocal chords warm. When Croatian mercenaries brought neckwear to France in 1650, “croat” became la cravate, and the craze spread to the UK. By 1784, Beau Brummell was championing them, and in 1818 the publication of Neckclothitania saw the first use of the word “tie”. Mass-produced, ready-made versions were patented in 1864 and the rest is his-tie-ry. Designer ties were born, the Duke of Windsor took time off to invent a new knot, and in 1970, Elvis introduced the kipper to America. Skinnies hit in the late 1970s and so ties flourished until the babyboomers, the likes of Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney, decided to cling on to their youth by dressing down.
Tony Blair made going tie-less an art form, whether addressing the troops in Basra or grooving on down at an Elton John gig. Obama and Cameron love nothing better than ripping off their ties in a vain attempt to display faux plebeian credentials, while Richard Branson rubbed his age-spotted chest in the faces of the Commons Transport Select Committee when he appeared to argue for his west coast mainline rail franchise. What a rebel.
“They’re too tight and restricting” is a common tie-dodger whine. Try heaving yourself into a bra, tights, thongs, a “body” with poppers digging in to your nethers and tottering about on heels, boys. We might not do it all the time, but every woman knows there are occasions when comfy leggings, baggy jumpers and biker boots just won’t cut it.
With the chill wind of austerity whipping up and down the high street and through our open-plan workplaces, now might not be the time to adopt a more relaxed approach to workwear. The men throwing away their (old school) ties are in their forties, fifties and sixties. They’re safely up the greasy pole and have proved themselves. Or is it that as they age and spread they worry that the tie will no longer dangle, but drape itself over their generous midriff? What’s next? So long to suits and hello elasticated waists and involuntary farting?
If we need any further proof of the fact that ties still have a shelf life, we need only enquire what the men discarding their spotted, paisley patterned, striped, knitted and old school ties are doing with them. Giving them to their kids, that’s what. Because the young fashpack know ties are cool and Paxman’s abandonment is a sure sign they’re back in.
Peter York, GQ columnist and author of Harpers & Queen’s The Official Sloane Ranger handbook, says: “Much that I love Paxo, I think the fact that he’s gone tieless is a very clear indication that tielessness is over. Once men with no sense of sartorial style dispense with ties, it’s safe to say that ties are back with a bang.”
Watch Daniel Craig in Skyfall. Will Bond’s open-necked collars be flapping in the backdraught as he dangles from a helicopter? No, they will not. He’s all sharp Tom Ford suits, button-necked collars and 1960s-influenced slim, grey and blue silk ties. We may well have cheered his budgie smugglers, but it’s when he’s suited, booted and tied, that he really displays his licence to thrill.
On the high street sales of ties are up. When Doctor Who’s Matt Smith declared “bow ties are cool”, Topman saw sales of the neckwear soar by 94 per cent, and over at the country’s biggest department store, John Lewis, Tom Saunders from the formal wear buying office says: “We are continuing to see really strong demand for ties, with sales up by 15 per cent compared with last year. We have also seen an increase in sales of more casual ties, such as silk blends with linen, silk blends with cotton and woollen ties, which have been proving popular with our younger customers.”
Meanwhile, at the top end of the market, fashion-conscious men are rushing to tie one on. Darren Donaldson, Harvey Nichols’ menswear sales manager, says sales of ties, and particularly bow ties, are on the up and offers the following advice: “Don’t be shy with colour and texture but be careful of gaudy patterns. Think daytime dandy and mix it with tweed and coloured trousers. McQueen, Hackett and Duchamp do some great versions.”
So, ladies, don’t ask the men in your life what they want for Christmas, particularly if they’ve mentioned onesies or Harley Davidsons. Be smart and give them a tie. It’s the perfect gift – just ask Monica Lewinsky. «