You may have seen the recent photograph of members of the Iranian parliament burning the American flag, and have noticed something unusual about it. Although the MPs were all dressed in suits, not one of them was wearing a neck tie.
Ever since the Iranian revolution of 1979, which banned neck ties – deemed symbolic of Western decadence – they have become a rare sight in that Islamic republic. Yet neck ties have also since been vanishing in the West. A guest presenter of Have I Got News For You, Alexander Armstrong, appeared recently attired thus. And on a visit to London in May, up from coastal Kent, I couldn’t but help notice that the suit minus tie look remains ubiquitous in the capital.
It’s a get-up for which two decades has been firmly established among middle-aged tech and City-type professionals. It has long supplanted the pony tail, which itself supplanted the bowler hat. Yet it’s a look that instantly instils mistrust. It’s a look mired in ambivalence. It says: I’m superior to you, but I also want to be your friend. While the expensive suit transmits the message that the wearer is more important than you, the absence of the imperious tie conveys the message that the bearer is a cool kinda guy who cares not for stuffy convention.
The tie-less-suit combination brings to mind Tony Blair, David Cameron, Sadiq Khan and Silicon Valley billionaires. It’s de rigeur for the prole-baiting comedic panellists on Mock The Week. It’s the outfit for people who lord over you and have more power than you, but who also pretend to be your chum and equal. It’s a look for moneyed liberals with a guilty conscience.
But there is hope. Judging by the attire of younger, less financially secure, more hipster-inclined types, there are signs that the tie might be enjoying something of a revival. On my most recent visit to London in May I sat next to a bearded twenty-something on the Circle Line. I was dressed in a black blazer and black jeans, with brown brogues and a brown tie. He wore a herringbone suit with a grey tie. I felt I was with a like-minded-soul, with someone who dressed himself not as an egregious, opulent, false friend, but a man who revered civility and good manners.
I always wear a neck tie during the week, combined with a blazer and jeans (an absence of tie with this arrangement is a catastrophe – you have instantly become Jeremy Clarkson). I wear a tie not because I’m a hipster – I’m too old for that – but because it helps me work. Wearing a tie puts you in a purposeful mood.
A neck tie shows that you have made an effort to look respectable among strangers. You get far better service in shops, restaurants and on public transport if you wear one. On the other hand, men with their opulent suits bereft of ties arouse derision.
Patrick West is a columnist Spiked. His latest is book Get Over Yourself: Nietzsche For Our Times (Societas)