The Paradox of the Necktie Resolved
April 13, 2015 3:06 AM   Subscribe

 
I always felt like the tie was the appendix of clothing. It made sense before the widespread adoption of buttons, but now it's only purpose is aesthetic. At the same time, I always wonder at people who put on a suit without a tie. I mean, why not jeans and a tee at that point?
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:19 AM on April 13, 2015


Decoration that’s specific to women (earrings, lipstick, eyeshadow, etc.) tends to highlight the receptive organs. Permissible men’s jewelry—rings, cuff links, fancy watches—tends to accentuate the hands. This is, of course, consistent: it is through the hands that one acts upon the world.

It's an interesting theory but I think a bit muddled in places. In his example above he completely ignores the fact that bracelets, rings and the myriad ways women accessorise their nails also focus attention on the hands, just so he can force a point about men doing/women being. But still interesting.
posted by billiebee at 3:27 AM on April 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


There's a lot of horseshit in that article. I don't wear ties on a regular basis, but when I do, they're not uncomfortable. With a properly fitted shirt and the right knot, you won't know the tie is there unless you look down.
posted by disclaimer at 3:37 AM on April 13, 2015 [22 favorites]


Dude, there are plenty of men who appreciate making themselves pretty through clothing and otherwise. It's too bad the author inhabits a world where nobody is filling those spaces.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 3:57 AM on April 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


#notallmen?

Anyway, as I read the article, his point is that those men who occupy positions of power today almost universally wear the uniform of the dark coloured suit & tie as contrasted with the C17th when men in positions of power wore highly decorative clothing to emphasise their prestige & importance.
posted by pharm at 4:02 AM on April 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


Does he really think that no one else ever noticed that ties were phallic symbols?
posted by octothorpe at 4:02 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think he's talking about and to a very specific group of suit-wearing men, to be fair. That men and women have been subverting all these conventions for quite some time doesn't seem to be on his radar.
posted by billiebee at 4:03 AM on April 13, 2015


Wearing a tie is considered sexually provocative, threatening. It’s telling that this is the only aspect of traditional male attire women have not been allowed to adopt.

I'm busty. If I wore a tie, it would either be dangling from my tits into space or I'd have to pin the tie down all the way to my navel. Not everyone can be Diane Keaton.
posted by sukeban at 4:04 AM on April 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


Couldn’t we say that a tie is really a symbolic displacementof the penis, only an intellectualized penis, dangling not from one’s crotch but from one’s head?

Is this a comp lit undergrad class in 1986?
posted by OmieWise at 4:07 AM on April 13, 2015 [37 favorites]


his point is that those men who occupy positions of power today almost universally wear the uniform of the dark coloured suit & tie as contrasted with the C17th when men in positions of power wore highly decorative clothing to emphasise their prestige & importance.

Which is an interesting point. But he develops it to say that this is because power became that which is hidden, like your dick in your suit trousers, so wear a tie to represent it instead, which idk
posted by billiebee at 4:08 AM on April 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


billiebee: Yeah, that’s the point at which it all becomes a bit of a stretch doesn’t it.
posted by pharm at 4:10 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is a sloppy, amateur's article - there is a huge literature of study & thinking about the history and meanings of fashion, even in Graeber's own field of anthropology, none of which he seems to have read and synthesized. This piece reads like the leftist equivalent of David Brooks' op-ed page amateur sociology.
posted by twsf at 4:11 AM on April 13, 2015 [18 favorites]


I really want to like David Graeber. I really do. He's the intersection of two interests of mine: anthropology and anarchism.

But then he writes shoehorned, quasi-Freudian stuff like this...

He also once wrote that Apple, Inc. was founded by plucky software engineers working on laptops in their garage.

I can't tell if his problem is being too sincere or not sincere enough. Or perhaps just being crazy.
posted by Avenger at 4:17 AM on April 13, 2015 [9 favorites]


Bow ties: some dentists and doctors wear them not because they are twats, but because they can't have a dangling tie getting in the way of what they're doing.
posted by colie at 4:29 AM on April 13, 2015 [9 favorites]


Has this house resolved that David Graeber is full of shit yet?
posted by acb at 4:39 AM on April 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


I agree with the other commenters that this was not really the most novel, or particularly well-written article about this topic. However, it's very topical to me as I've been building a new, more professional wardrobe. It drives me crazy that my husband could wear the same suit he wore to our wedding to other people's weddings, funerals, business professional, really anything formal, and it probably won't go out of style in the next few decades. Whereas, as a woman, I really need to be wearing something different to all of those events. And yes, there are ways around it (some women do get married in a gray sheath dress) but it doesn't let you fit in as seamlessly. I look forward to the day when men can rouge up and bust out their sparkliest shirts without comment and I can wear a completely unremarkable unitard to all of life's events.
posted by fermezporte at 4:51 AM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have to wear I tie to work on Thusday.
I am not looking forward to it.
At work, when people do, they take them off ASAP.

There is nothing good about a tie, apart from the fact it is RULED one must wear one in certain situations, because reasons. The gradual erosion of the socially-enforced requirement to wear ties is the emancipation I have most enjoyed since I started working.
posted by Mezentian at 5:02 AM on April 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


It drives me crazy that my husband could wear the same suit he wore to our wedding to other people's weddings, funerals, business professional, really anything formal, and it probably won't go out of style in the next few decades.

I have three suits but in three different sizes so which one I wear depends on how fat I am at any particular time.
posted by octothorpe at 5:17 AM on April 13, 2015 [8 favorites]


I feel that this essay suffers from a personal dislike of ties and a total forgetting that queer people exist, plus a little bit of Not Quite Reading Enough Fashion History. At the same time, it's a funny provocation. It's very Baffler-y - they seem to have at least partly returned to their celebrated old, sour, I-will-not-respect-your-values-or-be-nice approach from the nineties.

I think that a lot of Graeber's short pieces are mostly intended as a sort of poking-with-sticks - they seem a little loose with the history and they seem a bit like shaggy dog stories, and they seem to hinge on saying what it is anti-bourgeois and impolite to say - that lots of work isn't productive and this is intrinsic to capitalism, that business attire is not only not serious and respectable but is actually, like, Bahktinian-low. In each case, he's not just saying "this is counter productive or has a bad aspect", he's actually making the thing "ridiculous" in dominant culture terms. Capitalism isn't productive, the necktie not only isn't the Only Individual Touch in business dress but it's about penises, etc.

I think Graeber likes to piss people off, too - none of his recorded behavior anywhere seems to suggest otherwise. He's almost like a slightly more serious Will Self in this regard, except that he does not look like Magneto.
posted by Frowner at 5:21 AM on April 13, 2015 [8 favorites]


If you're the only person wearing a tie, people assume you're the boss.
posted by Segundus at 5:22 AM on April 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


(Also, dude, if you think that ties are bad - I have worn ties, and I have worn womanly office attire, and let me tell you - ties are absolutely nothing on what women have to wear. This is not an argument in favor of ties (although I have a spotted one from Liberty via eBay that is all the go) but really, ties are not nearly as bad as it gets.)
posted by Frowner at 5:22 AM on April 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


Yeah, if you wear womanly office attire, people assume you're not the boss.
posted by Segundus at 5:25 AM on April 13, 2015 [7 favorites]


As someone who hates ties, and who is entirely sympathetic to the gender and power disparities discussed the the article...that was the biggest mess of just-so stories and ad hoc reasoning I've seen in a while. Stuff like this—and one can make a career churning it out, apparently—is what gives "cultural studies" a bad name.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 5:25 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Tie == surrogate penises? No one has ever put that together before.

Then again if a tie is a cockring, think of the mighty man brain erections!

Think of them!

Now stop thinking of them. Too much.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:26 AM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, if you wear womanly office attire, people assume you're not the boss.

But they assume you can organise a birthday cake and brew a coffee like a boss.

Win: win?

Because people value coffee makers over management.
posted by Mezentian at 5:27 AM on April 13, 2015


There is nothing good about a tie

The only times I've ever been hit on in public, I've been wearing a tie.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:38 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have a few friends who can *rock* a tie. The key is that, like Graeber, we have enough social capital and professional status to be the people who don't have to wear a tie.

When you start looking at the world that way, it gets interesting: who has to dress up to get attention and uptake? Who can wear whatever is comfortable and fun? Who is signaling their respectability and authority? Who doesn't need to signal?

At some point, if you're having fun with your clothes you're in power, and if you're hating getting dressed in the morning you're not. It seems like a better heuristic than "haha penis."
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:49 AM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


The key is that, like Graeber, we have enough social capital and professional status to be the people who don't have to wear a tie.

Aren't there companies in the Bay Area that sell expensive Zuck-style executive hoodies nowadays?
posted by acb at 5:50 AM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Anyway, as I read the article, his point is that those men who occupy positions of power today almost universally wear the uniform of the dark coloured suit & tie

Nah, that's what the visible lackeys wear (lawyers, bankers, etc. folks who still need to work for a living), the real power outfit is a jacket and a pair of slacks (not a suit) with a button-down (or dress polo) and no tie.

You wear a suit FOR someone. Those folks don't need to dress up for anyone, so they dress nice comfortable.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:50 AM on April 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


That said, I wear a suit and tie every day and they are super comfortable. Suits are basically PJs in a pretty and soft fabric.

I wear all my suits with braces, so they hang from the shoulder and not the waist (as God intended). This also means no binding at the waist, and no gradual migration south of trousers over the course of the day. I also pair my shirt and socks with shirt-stays so the socks stay up and the shirt stays neat. Everything is battened down and elasticized to where it should be, and I'm comfy all day long.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:56 AM on April 13, 2015 [11 favorites]


There's a part of me that wants to channel the Last Psychiatrist here and point out that REAL power is wearing whatever it takes to own billions and command politicians. It doesn't matter how George Soros dresses, or the Koch brothers: they'll dress for the task at hand, but their power comes from elsewhere.

We look at rich people's fashion and try to emulate it hoping thereby to gain wealth and status, which makes us little better than the Cargo Cult.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:56 AM on April 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


We look at rich people's fashion and try to emulate it hoping thereby to gain wealth and status,

Speak for yourself.
At home I dress like a hobo.
At work, not quite hobo.
posted by Mezentian at 5:59 AM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


There's a part of me that wants to channel the Last Psychiatrist here and point out that REAL power is wearing whatever it takes to own billions and command politicians.

You're proving my point. Here's Soros.

We look at rich people's fashion and try to emulate it hoping thereby to gain wealth and status

Um, no. People wear suits because that's what you wear in the (few remaining) business dress environments. It's a uniform, and it's usually reserved for client-facing folks. Big Law attorneys and I-bankers don't wear a tie unless they're in front of a client.

Rich people wear whatever the fuck they want.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:05 AM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Leotrotsky: Rich people wear whatever the fuck they want.

And so the Communist Manifesto 2.0 began.
posted by Mezentian at 6:08 AM on April 13, 2015


This article would be immeasurably improved by a Find/Replace command changing the word "tie" to the phrase "powdered wig," followed by whatever cosmetic changes would be needed to make it appear as though the author was living in pre-revolutionary France.
posted by belarius at 6:08 AM on April 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


That illustration was not something I needed to wake up to. (Is he doing a hip thrust? ew)
posted by slipthought at 6:11 AM on April 13, 2015


Beauty is a French phonetic corruption
Of a short cloth neck ornament
Currently in resurgence . . .

Disc 2, Scene 16 "Packard Goose", Joe's Garage, Frank Zappa, 1979
posted by lazycomputerkids at 6:15 AM on April 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


There is nothing good about a tie

I beg to differ.

That said, I've still never been a tie person. I, too, have designed my life around not wearing ties unless I want to and I usually don't want to. So as a fellow tie-skeptic, let me add my voice to the chorus. This piece is exactly David Brooks—no, not even David Brooks, Andy Rooney—as performed by a 19 year old Rage Against the Machine fan.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:16 AM on April 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think it's important to be very precise when we talk about who wears what and why - that's part of what Graeber's essay suffers from, too many generalizations about very large stretches of clothing history and too many generalizations about gender. It's an essay whose factual assertions are partly true about certain times and social strata - true enough, I think, to be worth unpacking a bit more.

Also, Graeber is an anarchist, and this is an essay which has anarchist elements. (But I would prefer to believe that "slightly loose with the facts" is a trait we see across the political spectrum.) So Graeber is using a kind of low ridicule - this isn't, like, your sophisticated satire which grants status to its subject by embroidering upon its pretensions. It's ridicule that brings things which are supposed to be Not About The Body But About The Brain And Capital back to the body, precisely because capital regards the body (especially men's bodies) as low and embarrassing. The whole structure of all his work that I've read is saying "the narrative that capital has about itself (and which many branches of the left accept and work from) is both historically incorrect and totally risible". That's what I really like about what he does. I think the type of person who does this type of work tends to be either your Berkman-esque very sincere anarchist saint or a bit rough and tumble, and Graeber doesn't seem to be gunning for sainthood.

Basically, I think a lot of Graeber's work is intended to make people mad because the fulminations and denunciations and so on dislodge us from what we've unconsciously accepted about capital's self-narrative. Could this be done better? Could it be done nicer? Probably. But at the same time, it's pretty easy to see that there's a metric fuck ton of nicely written, nicely reasoned anti-capitalist and anarchist argument out there ( a little bit produced, yea verily, by me) but the world is not yet fair, nor all men glad and wise.

In terms of this article - I think it still leans on the idea that self-decoration is either capitalist or Unworthy Of Serious People, and that's very much a contemporary straight man idea (see that jerk Zuckerberg, et patati et patata). It's an idea you can only hold if you've been assured your whole life that it's not your body but your mind and your personality that attract people, that women really only care about your personality and maybe your ability to provide, that the male body really is kind of invisible with only its function being important - and then the radical gesture that you make is to assume that this is the way everyone can and should experience the world.
posted by Frowner at 6:18 AM on April 13, 2015 [8 favorites]


I do wish Graeber had at least mentioned David Kuchta's 2002 book The Three-Piece Suit and Modern Masculinity, which is where I suspect he's getting most of his historical information (directly or indirectly).
posted by Sonny Jim at 6:20 AM on April 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think that a lot of Graeber's short pieces are mostly intended as a sort of poking-with-sticks ... I think Graeber likes to piss people off, too

Which distinguishes him from everyone else on the internet how?
posted by octobersurprise at 6:22 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, for one, Graeber is probably the one of the most distinguished anthropologists on the planet. So there's that.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:26 AM on April 13, 2015


I understand. As a Noël Coward of the internet age might've written "Our leading writers in swarms do it. Somerset and all the Maughams do it. Let's do it, let's poke people with sticks."
posted by octobersurprise at 6:40 AM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Seconding that good suits are ridiculously comfortable, and are miraculously warm when you want and cool when you want as well.
posted by colie at 6:49 AM on April 13, 2015


If you're the only person wearing a tie, people assume you're the boss

At my work, they assume you've got an interview and may be on an escape trajectory.

So I wear one every now and again, just to fuck with people.
posted by pompomtom at 6:59 AM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Graeber is like the guy wearing a Jos. A. Banks suit in a group of people wearing Brioni and Zegna. He thinks that he is pulling it off.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:00 AM on April 13, 2015


Could this be done better? Could it be done nicer? Probably. But at the same time, it's pretty easy to see that there's a metric fuck ton of nicely written, nicely reasoned anti-capitalist and anarchist argument out there ( a little bit produced, yea verily, by me) but the world is not yet fair, nor all men glad and wise.

I don't get this. First of all, no one asks for niceness for its own sake; we ask for niceness only for efficacy's sake. I'm happy to have people be rude or mean if it is getting the job done, if it is not contributing to the mountain of unproductive work that Graeber attacks but also seems to participate in. So really, all of the emphasis is on "better" not "nicer." And better, here, would be neither "slapdash," nor "inaccurate" and certainly not "ineffective." I don't mind the unoriginal parts: lots of true things are truisms, so originality is overrated. But I do mind the inefficacy and inaccuracy.

It seems to me that an anthropologist's analysis fails if: (a) it's wrong, or (b) it's really polemical and it's wrong, or (c) it's rude and it's wrong. So, mostly, I'd like to see the emphasis placed on being right. You don't see James C. Scott offering such an absurdly small-minded and parochial conception of fashion in Burma, do you? And really, that's the problem: Graeber is too often a kind of low quality mimeograph of James C. Scott.

The best I can say in favor of this article is that it's maybe "not even wrong," in the sense that there aren't enough truth-tracking sentences to really evaluate it for the truth or falsehood of its claims. Maybe it's not trying to be right, just polemical. But I think we're owed an account of how bullshit polemics is efficacious, then. I'm open to the idea that maybe it works for some audiences. But I don't know who those audiences are, and I'd normally guess that we're the intended audience and it's not working here.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:14 AM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


He thinks that he is pulling it off.

Oo er. I believe Mr. Humphries is free if you require a personalised fitting.
posted by Wolof at 7:16 AM on April 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


Seconding that good suits are ridiculously comfortable, and are miraculously warm when you want and cool when you want as well.

Meaning you have one cool suit and one warm suit? Or the same suit is warm or cool based merely on your whim? 'Cause a lot of the dads at my school wear them, and when they come pick up their kids and its 95F outside, they really don't look comfortable. I assume these are 'good' suits because they're mostly very affluent.

I've never owned a suit, and at 45 it's unlikely I ever will. No way I'm wearing a tie to wrangle first graders; jeans and t-shirts seem to work just fine. You don't need a suit to impress first graders.
posted by Huck500 at 7:22 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've worn good suits, and I've worn crappy suits. In my experience, not wearing a suit and tie is always more comfortable than wearing one. In my opinion, ties are nothing but fancy nooses. I don't care if it is comfortable or not. One of the things I love about my job as a scientist is that I almost never have to wear a suit or tie, and even on those rare times that something more dressy is required for my job, a sports coat and a nice shirt with no tie more than suffices. When I walk by all the corporate schmucks sweating in their suits the summer while I am wearing shorts and a button-up shirt -- perfectly acceptable wear most summer days in the old, poorly climate-controlled building I work in -- I think happy thoughts.

I thought it was an amusing article.
posted by fimbulvetr at 7:35 AM on April 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


Well, for one, Graeber is probably the one of the most distinguished anthropologists on the planet. So there's that.

Greaber did do some interesting work on Madagascar before he started devoting most of his energies to becoming the David Brooks of the Jacobin set, but that's hardly a universally held opinion of him in anthropology.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 7:37 AM on April 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


the David Brooks of the Jacobin set

shots fired
posted by brennen at 7:51 AM on April 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


Love my bespoke suit. (Big lashout when I finally started earning decent money.) Absurdly comfortable, luxury wool, stupidly nice.

Work at home these days. I never wear it!
posted by Wolof at 8:00 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


@MisantropicPainForest:
Well, for one, Graeber is probably the one of the most distinguished anthropologists on the planet. So there's that.
You wrote 'distinguished' but I think you mean 'notorious' -- though perhaps you have evidence you're keeping close to the vest?
posted by waxbanks at 8:47 AM on April 13, 2015


Not for the first time do I wish women had a standard business outfit equivalent to the suit and tie. It would be so much cheaper and easier if I could cycle through 2-3 suits with different shirts and ties each week like my male colleagues can. But people really pay attention to what women wear, so I need to own, store and wear a much more diverse wardrobe than I really want. And I haven't even gotten to shoes.
posted by longdaysjourney at 9:07 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think that a lot of Graeber's short pieces are mostly intended as a sort of poking-with-sticks

So...just like his long pieces, then?
posted by yoink at 9:14 AM on April 13, 2015


(Just as a point of clarification - I'm not strongly emotionally engaged with Getting People To Like David Graeber. He's an anarchist, I've read some of his essays that I really like, I found his memoir-ish stuff pretty interesting because it's about my general political milieu....basically, I feel about him a lot like I'd feel about any other grumpy, reasonably intelligent anarchist person from around town, this sense of interest and social connection, but not really a sense of I Care Very Strongly That No One Dislike Him. For all of me, you're welcome to read him as the David Brooks of the Jacobin set.

(Although those Jacobinites are pretty hard-line Marxists-with-a-five-year-plan and they may not, ultimately, want him. "Just like Kronstadt," that's what we'll all be saying when they're in charge.)
posted by Frowner at 9:19 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Hedberg quote about turtlenecks applies to ties too. It's like getting strangled by a really weak guy all day long. Why would a person invent such a thing?
posted by mrbigmuscles at 9:23 AM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


hhhhhm:
Couldn’t we say that a tie is really a symbolic displacement of the penis, only an intellectualized penis, dangling not from one’s crotch but from one’s head, chosen from among an almost infinite variety of other ties by an act of mental will?
You could argue that, but for some reason you didn't. You just left that... dangling... out there... like... like... like something. Can't put my finger on it right now, though.

acb: "Has this house resolved that David Graeber is full of shit yet?"
Seconded.
posted by boo_radley at 9:27 AM on April 13, 2015


To protect your immaculate shirt from food and stuff, like a little narrow vestigial bib (did someone say appendix?) that slow chokes you day in and out.
posted by aydeejones at 9:27 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I guess basically I'm ok with a dude saying "Hey, I just don't like wearing ties". You don't have to get all discredited-Viennese-psychologist about it.

aydeejones: " that slow chokes you day in and out."

Seriously, you're doing something wrong with your tie man.
posted by boo_radley at 9:32 AM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


In my opinion, ties are nothing but fancy nooses

this first occurred to me when I was in my late teens, and struck me as so obvious as to be beyond debate. Yet there's no mention of it at all in the article and only one so far in this discussion.

So to be clear. The mystery of necktie is simple. It's a noose, a slipknot that very many (mostly men) wear around their necks pretty much every day. The obvious question is why? The obvious answer -- so that their bosses, kings, overlords etc can strangle them if they deviate too much from what is expected.
posted by philip-random at 9:35 AM on April 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


So just to make sure i have this all clear, we're all in furious agreement that a) of course the tie is a phallic symbol and that's too obvious to even say out loud, but b) he's also wrong about everything?

Agreed that there were plenty of places where he didn't really develop his argument, but I thought there was plenty of interesting stuff in the piece all the same. In particular, this part was pretty thought-provoking:

[Women] wearing a tie is considered sexually provocative, threatening. It’s telling that this is the only aspect of traditional male attire women have not been allowed to adopt.

Why is that, anyway? It's generally true, with some exceptions for queer fashion (which makes perfect sense). As someone mentioned previously, ties are tough when you're busty but that's true of plenty of clothing that is still bog-standard among women.

For example, picture Hillary Clinton wearing a tie with one of her pants suits - doesn't that just seem totally, utterly wrong? Why should that be?
posted by dialetheia at 9:38 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Graeber is probably the one of the most distinguished anthropologists on the planet.

Even if true, that and a buck-fifty . . .
 
posted by Herodios at 9:40 AM on April 13, 2015


Sorry, some people are more obsessed about comfortable clothing and I'm almost on that spectrum of "highly sensitive" where my mom had to focus on specific fabrics, any little bit of tag hanging off (or hand cut tag) was a problem unless I fully ripped it off, etc. The "slow choke" line was riffing off Herberg but I do think people that like suits are quite privileged if they can afford a miracle suit that is never hot or cold, and would literally like to try that on. But anything near my neck including the delicate touch of my wife is asking for automatic protect ya neck kung fu reflexes
posted by aydeejones at 9:45 AM on April 13, 2015


Women wearing a tie is sexualised (at least in the UK) because it's traditionally part of the school uniform, and is still worn by many girls at school. St Trinian's etc.
posted by colie at 9:45 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'd wear a suit around the house if I wasn't worried about wrinkles.
posted by yeolcoatl at 9:48 AM on April 13, 2015


And as someone who would live in pajamas if given the choice, comparing a suit to pajamas is quite charming and gives me the visual of someone trying to induce self hypnosis. No a suit is not comfortable like pajamas because pajamas don't involve belts and ties and such but it can feel quite comfortable like a gentle all day hug to put on a suit. I just can't move or must crank the A/C to avoid overheating
posted by aydeejones at 9:49 AM on April 13, 2015


I have a belted hunting suit in check tweed that responds with disdain to all weather conditions.
posted by colie at 10:04 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


So just to make sure i have this all clear, we're all in furious agreement that a) of course the tie is a phallic symbol and that's too obvious to even say out loud, but b) he's also wrong about everything?

"Wrong about everything that isn't blindingly obvious" isn't a great space to lay claim to, though, is it?

Leaving that aside, though, phallic-symbol hunting (and, really, does anyone with any serious claim to intellectual credibility even do that anymore?) is one of those pointlessly circular games. Lots of things in this world are longer than they are wide--and that's pretty much all you need to qualify as a "phallic symbol." So we basically ignore the 99.99% of things that would qualify as "phallic symbols" except when they happen to be useful as props in a particular story we want to tell about certain kinds of men. Thus sports cars bought by middle aged men are "obviously" phallic symbols--even if they are basically flat and rectangular ("consult your physician if the condition lasts for more than four hours"), but, say, ketchup bottles aren't--even if they're round and fit comfortably in the palm of your hand and liquid (eventually) comes out of them when you shake them--because, well, what nice, culturally relevant story are we going to tell?

So when we "analyze" a "phallic symbol" we pretend that we're learning something about the object that "reveals" something to us about the people who use it, when in fact we're working entirely the other way around: we're reading into the object social facts and relationships that we have derived from the context in which the object is located.

How is a tie any more "phallic" than the heel of a high-heeled shoe? But we don't talk about those as "phallic objects" (or, at least, if we do it's in a Freudian penis-envy context and not a "look at those men flaunting their power" context) because they're no longer something that men wear.

If the tie were to go out of fashion tomorrow, the total effect on gender relations and gender equality would be nil. After all, before the rise of the tie European men wore neckcloths, cravats, ruffs, stocks etc.--none of them particularly "phallic"--and all without posing the slightest threat to patriarchy.
posted by yoink at 10:10 AM on April 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


When I was an impressionable youth, an older hippie-type assured me ties were invented to keep the head and the heart separate. Nonsense, but it still smells better than this. Sometimes a tie is just a tie.
posted by quinndexter at 10:17 AM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


So just to make sure i have this all clear, we're all in furious agreement that a) of course the tie is a phallic symbol

I don't see the tie as a phallic symbol. The article has made me want to read more about the actual reasons ties became such a symbol of male dress - and formal male dress in particular - after the invention of buttons. I don't think "fabric cock replacements" is very convincing.

But I agree that the part where he writes that women wearing ties never really took hold is interesting, and I'm not sure why that is.

The other thing that struck me is the kind of mirror point to what he's saying. I don't really understand why the penis is concealed so completely in men's suits given that our society is built on penis-worship. I'm not sure I buy the "powerful things are hidden" part - your ass is covered too. But you'd sort of think that a high-powered business suit would emphasise the package rather than be deliberately cut to make the wearer look like a Ken doll.
posted by billiebee at 10:29 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I tend to eschew tie usage as much as possible, and when I do wear one, I eventually tend to go with the loosened up, collar button undone, so I can channel my inner jaded '40s detective.

But, when I do wear ties, it's not because I want to look more attractive or professional, but because one of my employees once saw me come to work in a suit and tie, and announced to those around him "Oh shit, he's got his fuck-some-shit-up clothes on today..."

And ever since then, whenever I have to wear the tie, I can't help but think of that. And that is fucking awesome. Because there is no better boost to self esteem than walking into a meeting with your boss' boss' boss and knowing that you are dressed in the clothing that others have come to associate with you being a badass.

I don't know why my coworker thought that, but I've been grateful for it ever since.
posted by quin at 11:09 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I always thought of the tie as a "I don't do anything physical" status signal. Like having light skin in some cultures signals that you don't have to work in the sun, and mehndi signals you don't have to work with your hands. Wearing a tie would be dumb if you were a manual labor type, so when you do wear a tie and look comfortable doing it, it signals you're not one. But then it wraps back around to no tie again to signal "I'm so important, I don't need a signal."

Like cell phones. Somewhat important: cell phone. More important: cell phone on silent ("I don't answer calls; I make them"). Most important: have people for that.
posted by ctmf at 11:53 AM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


"It’s telling that this is the only aspect of traditional male attire women have not been allowed to adopt."
And yet, even this isn't actually true. He remarks on the ill-starred 80's trend of women's bows, but a cursory google will also turn up pictures of and advice to the fashionable woman who wants to wear a man's tie. You could say that women do not face the same expectation to wear ties as men do and you could say that a woman's choice to wear a tie comes with its own gendered norms and expectations, but either of those statements are a long way from "women are not allowed to wear ties."

FWIW, the other observation that seems both especially lazy writing and evidence of not thinking too deeply about how people actually wear fashion is the following:
"And this is still true. Just recall the bifurcated fashions at the sexual battleground of your high school prom. The guys all dressed identically. They were, in effect, sporting a uniform. But if two girls wound up wearing the same dress, then oh, what a scandal."
The point here, I take it, it that while the uniformity of men's attire is meant to efface the wearer's individuality, women's attire is meant to highlight it. Maybe. But while the two-women-dressed-alike is a staple comedic cliché, a room full of Kate Spade or MK bags, metallic sandals and/or tights and boots (not to mention the ubiquity of the LBD) starts to call into question the usefulness of that cliché for anything but comedy.

Re: ties: my favorite line—I've copped it on occasion—still belongs to I.M Fletcher:
"You own a necktie?"

"Sure."

"I've never seen it."

"It's holding one end of my surfboard off the floor."

"I suppose you're serious. What's holding up the other end?"

Fletch looked down at the top of his jeans. "A belt someone gave me."
posted by octobersurprise at 12:23 PM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


All around good criticism of the article here. But also, he acts like ties are useless. They are actually very helpful for making pudgy gentlemen look slimmer. That's the whole point of suits as far as I'm concerned. I wish they'd come back into fashion despite the discomfort, the whole "dress like a cool slob" thing favors the young and slim.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:27 PM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


I always thought of the tie as a "I don't do anything physical" status signal.

It has elements of that, but I don't think it makes sense to read that as it's main function--like the long fingernails of the Chinese mandarin. After all, a lot of police uniforms include ties, but police aren't signalling that they're outside the realm of physical effort.
posted by yoink at 12:30 PM on April 13, 2015


> Does he really think that no one else ever noticed that ties were phallic symbols?

A friend of mine calls them "crotch arrows."
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:30 PM on April 13, 2015


I learned to tie a tie from illustrations and instructions in seventeen magazine. That's right, the fashion/lifestyle magazine for young girls. I don't know what world the writer was living in, but ties on girls was definitely a thing at one point. I raided my dad's closest for some of his (vintage, although that word wasn't in use at the time) skinny ties. They're still in my closet today, and I kind of miss wearing them. They certainly never choked me, and I've never understood people who get feeling.

Oh and since we're bitching about ties, can I just say how much I hate the unbuttoned top button plus tie look. I swear it's in every TV show I watch. If you're going to wear a tie, do up your collar. Simple.
posted by sardonyx at 12:32 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you're going to wear a tie, do up your collar. Simple.

Yes, that is the point of a tie, to support your collar and cover up the ugly buttons. If you have to unbutton your collar, your shirt is the wrong size.

You know, there was a time when even longshoremen wore a fashionable cravat.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:53 PM on April 13, 2015


Ties are dumb as shit.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:32 PM on April 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


A tie serves no function. It doesn’t hold your trousers up or keep you warm.

Actually, it does keep you warm. He should try wearing a silk tie some time; it's quite noticeable.
posted by kenko at 3:43 PM on April 13, 2015


Also, the pocket square is a form of permissible men's jewelry; how does that work? The wallet chain? The watch chain?
posted by kenko at 3:45 PM on April 13, 2015


He's even misleading about the origin of "specific", which comes from "specere" via "species" as in "appearance, form, kind", and anyway relying on such distant, dead etymology is a sure sign of intellectual charlatanry and ugh.
posted by kenko at 3:50 PM on April 13, 2015


With a properly fitted shirt and the right knot

It isn't always easy getting properly fitted shirts. I've owned 3 in my lifetime and they were expensive. And somehow my neck is bigger now despite everything else being the same size so I can't do the top button on them anymore.

not wearing a suit and tie is always more comfortable than wearing one


This guy! I like you.

Yes, that is the point of a tie, to support your collar and cover up the ugly buttons


Can we just get some nice fancy buttons instead? I mean, if I gotta put on a silly costume anyway, might as well give me big shiny buttons with anchors on them or some shit.

For you guys that think it's all a matter of getting the right fit -- does no one hang out in their drawers at home? To me that's comfortable. The more clothes you add, the less comfortable I get. Like, in the winter, where you wear an undershirt, a sweater, and a coat. They can all fit perfectly fine, but it sucks wearing all that stuff. And with a suit, you get the shirts with collars that cover a bunch of your neck and then the tie securing it in place, making it even stiffer, and then you gotta put a jacket and maybe vest over that? I'm OK with a shirt and slacks as long as I can undo the top button on the shirt, but yeah. When I'm done work and walk in my front door, even that shit is off for the night.
posted by Hoopo at 3:52 PM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


I ... veer pretty hard towards the other end of the scale.

I wear ties to work every day of the week, except on Thursdays, when I wear a bow-tie.
posted by The Outsider at 3:58 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


The belt buckle, the shoes.

Don't women tend to wear more rings than men, even if it's not specific to women? Is he counting a bracelet as a watch without further function, or are bracelets not specific to women by him?
posted by kenko at 4:05 PM on April 13, 2015


Women’s formal attire, with its flounces and fripperies, sequins and whatnots

Has David Graeber ever seen a woman in formal attire?
posted by kenko at 4:09 PM on April 13, 2015


It isn't always easy getting properly fitted shirts. I've owned 3 in my lifetime and they were expensive.

It is the easiest thing in the world. I remember one day I was at a department store with my girlfriend shopping, I told her I wanted to buy a new dress shirt, my cheap everyday white shirts were getting a little tattered and I needed a replacement. So we went to the men's department, Perry Ellis shelves, found the Portfolio shirts, looked through for 16.5-36, and took it to checkout, paid about $20 (this was the early 80s, today it's $28). My girlfriend was furious, her face got all red, and she spluttered out, "you.. you MEN! It's so easy for you. You can just get whatever you want, whenever you want, and it only takes a minute."

But that's just basic, everyday work shirts. If you want to look good, you can go to more effort, to see when Barney's puts their house brand on sale, or when Nordstrom's puts Zegna on sale. I bought those shirts for half off. No, that's not expensive. I have 20 year old Zegna shirts that still look great. Perry Ellis shirts are disposable, they fall apart after 20 or 30 washings.

Can we just get some nice fancy buttons instead? I mean, if I gotta put on a silly costume anyway, might as well give me big shiny buttons with anchors on them or some shit.

No you may not. One of the reasons you use a tie to cover up the ugly buttons is because nobody wants to see your ugly chest hair underneath your unbuttoned collar or in the gaps between the buttons on your placket.

Most guys wear cheap, ill-fitting, uncomfortable suits and then they wonder why they feel miserable and look terrible. Most guys don't even know how to tie a necktie properly. They are making themselves miserable and then they blame the clothing, when it's their own fault.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:02 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


it is not the easiest thing in the world. I essentially need them custom made or else they don't fit right, and yea, I know my measurements but even with those the fit is widely variable from shirt to shirt despite claiming to be the same size. And just to blow your mind, not everyone has chest hair, and some peoe that do doesn't have it where it shows when the top button is undone.

People buy cheap suits because they can't afford expensive ones. In my experience not even a tailored suit is what I would call comfortable, and ties are comfortable never. You seem convinced that only happens when someone is doing it wrong. They may just not like how a suit feels, like some guys like boxers and other guys like briefs .
posted by Hoopo at 6:19 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Shit, even coveralls take some getting used to. But then once you're used to it, you think, this is what I wear to work, and so it becomes more or less as comfortable to wear as your job is to do.

I think wearing casual clothes to work makes my time off feel like I'm on the clock, the way reading in bed makes it harder to get to sleep.

I like my neckties. My boss told me to stop wearing a suit and tie, because I work with kids and business attire might intimidate them. I think his real reason is that my suits and ties were consistently nicer than his, a real no-no in the bullywise pecking order of the Japanese corporation.

What can I say, I bought my business dress for working at corporate bank headquarters.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 6:52 PM on April 13, 2015


Nobody wants to see your naked chest, or your undershirt either.

You know, I just looked online and I saw a company offering your first custom tailored shirt for $20. You can go to a real tailor and they can take your measurements. For $20, don't tell me that well-fitting clothes are too expensive.

People rarely need custom tailored shirts unless they're a bodybuilder or have a huge belly or some other strange combination of measurements. In good stores, you can even try on shirts before you buy them to see if they fit. If you are really hard to fit and need a larger size for your upper chest and neck and it's too large around your waist, you can take them to a tailor and they can put darts in the back, for cheap. Take a look at that custom tailor and look at their various collars. Some are higher in the back, some spread more in front, there are a lot of different style that might fit your body more, see if you can find a commercial brand with a styles of collar that works for you. And note that a high quality silk tie is thinner and more flexible and breathes more than a $10 polyester tie from Walmart. if you tie a high quality necktie correctly, you don't even notice you're wearing it.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:34 PM on April 13, 2015


I have long appreciated Good Prince Claus for his views on neckties.

At one of the newspapers I worked on, a new managing editor delivered the edict that all of us men on the night shift -- putting the morning's paper together and largely out of the sight of the public -- had to wear ties. I bought a dozen funny neckties of various sorts, a couple of bow ties, and a handful of bolo ties. Showed that dumbass.

From TFA: Hey, this would explain a lot—why men who wear bow ties are universally taken to be nerds, for example. True, a bow tie could be taken for a pair of testicles. But even so, bow ties are small, and they point in entirely the wrong direction.

What does this say about the ultimate power suit: the tuxedo. Bow ties are all but required for these (in my experience).
posted by bryon at 10:16 PM on April 13, 2015


The tuxedo is not a power suit. It mostly makes people look like they are going to the prom or wandered off from a bad wedding.

Neckties are horrible to wear and I am incredibly thankful that I have the kind of job where a tie would be anathema. I am reasonably hopeful that I will never have to wear one again, ever, though there will always be a risk of needing one someday.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:30 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


nobody wants to see your ugly chest hair

That's kind of weirdly body-shaming. Some men have hairy chests, and many people are not in denial about this fact and desperate for all evidence of such to be hidden. Some might even find it quite sexy. *loosens collar*

Most guys don't even know how to tie a necktie properly.

A Public Service from MeFi's own xingcat.
posted by billiebee at 12:19 AM on April 14, 2015


I was about to post a photographic rejoinder to all this "ties are like, the devil's lasso, maaaan" consisting of a shot of my (entirely vintage/thrift/estate sale procured) collection of waistcoats, ties, and shirts. There's a lot of them.

A lot.

I have a tailor. For trousers. Those are often difficult to find in good quality, used. Buy them on sale, make an appointment: nicely fitted pants.

I'm not even a white collar dude. I tend bar for a living, for chrissakes.

Where was i going with all this? Oh yeah, now I remember; I was going to let Joe Jackson speak for me.
posted by erskelyne at 12:24 AM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I thought the Graeber article was fun. I am sure he is aware that there is other work in this area and that this was not the definitive work on the subject.

I have had no experiences with shirts and ties that are similar to those that charlie don't surf describes, other than polyester being a bad idea for clothing.

Currently I am wearing a polo shirt, possibly not because I am so rich that I can dictate what I wear. If I do up the top button it becomes less comfortable and restricts my movement. I can fit my clenched fist between my neck and the collar with the top button done up without stretching the material. The material is also flexible, unlike that of any formal shirt I have worn. If I had to wear a tie with this polo shirt (for arguments sake) it would further restrict me without question. Suit jackets are just ridiculous. Uncomfortable, restrictive and impractical. This is my experience with formal clothing, YMMV.

I do like the idea of braces for trousers mentioned above. Might have to try that one day! If I ever have cause to wear a suit.
posted by asok at 6:02 AM on April 14, 2015


In terms of shirt fit - I think different people have different degrees of awareness of Things Being Around Their Necks, etc. (Children obviously have different responses to sensory stuff generally; this probably carries over.) So where one person finds it easy to get a well-fitting shirt, another will feel choked or constrained even if they're built similarly and wearing similar shirts.

For instance, I can't wear necklaces, especially short ones - they make me feel choked even if they fit fine. (Ties are okay - they're fabric and they don't sit right on the skin unless you are a Chippendale, which I am not.) Many years of attempting to wear attractive vintage necklaces has taught me that it's a lost cause. And I have to belt things just above my hips; higher waists are not comfortable at all. And yet I know many people of my approximate build who wear cute belts at the waistline and darling necklaces all the time! I can only attribute this to the same level of sensory stuff that makes me really sensitive to noise and unable to ignore lyrics.

My point being, I think that while it's great to try to seek out the most comfortable shirt, experiment with alterations, etc, I don't think that this can possibly categorically rule out the idea that some folks just aren't going to find suits that comfortable, ever, even if their suits are made of the finest italian-milled cashmere and cut by the giftedest cutter on all Savile Row.
posted by Frowner at 6:38 AM on April 14, 2015


Currently I am wearing a polo shirt, possibly not because I am so rich that I can dictate what I wear. If I do up the top button it becomes less comfortable and restricts my movement. I can fit my clenched fist between my neck and the collar with the top button done up without stretching the material.

I am trying to visualize your smock. I think I have it.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:20 AM on April 14, 2015


cover up the ugly buttons

I have no idea where this urban legend got started, but it's one of those weird things you see being asserted whenever the subject of ties comes up which shouldn't survive about two seconds of thought.

No, ties were not invented to "cover the ugly buttons." We know this for all kinds of reasons. One is that ties, by and large, don't "cover the buttons." That is, if their whole design aim was "covering buttons" we wouldn't let them swing loose from the neck. If revealing buttons were any kind of concern (and, let's face it, it's not) then the tie would be either an amazing design failure or a complete tease. Imagine if we covered our genitalia as loosely and intermittently as ties cover the (lower) buttons on a man's shirt. Would we suggest that we were a culture that places any significant importance on covering the genitalia in public?

But more than that: we know that the tie is not designed to conceal the terrible shamefulness of buttons by the facts that a bow tie is considered just as acceptable a piece of formalwear as any other tie; you aren't required to wear a shirt that conceals its buttons when you wear a bow tie. And, indeed, the most formal men's attire (black tie) typically has a black bow tie with a white shirt with it's buttons proudly displayed.
posted by yoink at 9:25 AM on April 14, 2015


That is, if their whole design aim was "covering buttons" we wouldn't let them swing loose from the neck.

Tie Clip
Tie Pin
Tie Chain
Tie Tacks

we know that the tie is not designed to conceal the terrible shamefulness of buttons by the facts that a bow tie is considered just as acceptable a piece of formalwear as any other tie

Black Tie is properly accompanied by a formal shirt with a hidden placket to conceal the buttons.

Here is a more typical clothing ensemble that is appropriate for a bow tie.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:34 AM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Tie Clip
Tie Pin
Tie Chain
Tie Tacks


All of which are optional jewelery, not required for a man to feel properly formally dressed when he is wearing a tie.

Sorry, charlie, but the "ties are designed to cover the hideous shame of buttons" is simply not a tenable thesis. The universal acceptability of the bow tie (whatever might be one's personal aesthetic response to it) simply blows the idea out of the water.

As for covered-placket tux shirts--they're an option, but if you look at what people actually wear to formal events, it is clear that pretty much nobody shares your personal feeling that buttons are shameful and must be hidden at all costs. Try a Google Image search on "best dressed men black tie" for example. Covered-placket shirts are massively outnumbered by buttons (and studs).
posted by yoink at 10:50 AM on April 14, 2015


Just contributing to the debate.
posted by billiebee at 11:32 AM on April 14, 2015


Couldn’t we say that a tie is really a symbolic displacement of the penis, only an intellectualized penis, dangling not from one’s crotch but from one’s head, chosen from among an almost infinite variety of other ties by an act of mental will?

Only if you know nothing about the history of western dress and are too bullheaded to look it up in the Wikipedia (Wikipedia, FFS!) -- which offers far more penetration on the topic than does the TFA.

Only if you are personally so obsessed with sex and gender and markers thereof that you can't see any other causes.

Only if you are determined to 'deconstruct' everything according to a 'theory', rather than find out what something actually is and what might have motivated people that created and adopted it.

Only if you start from "what provocative abstracted things can I say about this cultural artifact?" rather than "where did this thing come from?"
 
posted by Herodios at 12:04 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


which offers far more penetration on the topic than does the TFA

Never bring a sword to a "this isn't about swords" fight.
posted by yoink at 12:13 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I decided it was more fun to keep it than swap it out for another word.
 
posted by Herodios at 12:24 PM on April 14, 2015


Covered-placket shirts are massively outnumbered by buttons (and studs).

And in less formal situations, t shirts massively outnumber button down shirts. But that still doesn't mean it's proper to wear an undershirt in public.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:41 PM on April 14, 2015


And in less formal situations, t shirts massively outnumber button down shirts. But that still doesn't mean it's proper to wear an undershirt in public.

You do realize that this has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that actual people in actual highly formal situations (e.g. black tie gala events) are opting in huge numbers to display either buttons or studs rather than choosing to wear covered-placket shirts and are being singled out for praise for their choices by experts on men's style?

"Yeah, well, in less formal situations people wear t shirts" is bizarrely irrelevant. You are inventing a style "rule" which simply is not recognized by the real world. You are free to abide by it yourself, of course, but it simply is demonstrably untrue that this is what either occasioned the rise of the necktie ("OH MY GOD! PEOPLE CAN SEE MY BUTTONS! I NEVER REALIZED!") or has become the rationale for its continued use.
posted by yoink at 2:34 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm talking about function, you're talking about form. Many people think it is fashionable to abandon function and make it subordinate to form. That doesn't mean the function is invalid. People still wear ruffled tuxedo shirts, the ruffles were supposed to cover up your buttons. Now they're vestigial ruffles that don't serve their intended purpose.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:36 PM on April 14, 2015


The universal acceptability of the bow tie (whatever might be one's personal aesthetic response to it) simply blows the idea out of the water.

But surely if you're wearing a bow tie you're also wearing your pearl studs that match your cuffllinks???
posted by kenko at 3:43 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


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