THE CLOSET – Every decade we all need to go through our closet and clean out the unused stuff. My rule of thumb (and waist) is that if I haven’t worn something in the last 10 years I probably won’t wear it in the next 10, so out it goes — to Goodwill, the Salvation Army or the next horde of refugees from Louisiana.
Take this sweat shirt reading “Fred Thompson in ’08.” It goes. And my T-shirt, “Disco Rules!” But not this baby — polyester leisure suits may come back. The same with my Nehru jacket. How about spats? Their days are probably gone, and I only have one, anyway. My Marine dress blues? The way things are going, the Pentagon may get desperate. Levis with holes in them are all the rage, but I’m not sure if this includes buckshot.
Now here is the worst part: neckties. Bow ties, string ties and just regular ties, some with soup stains. Ties are going out of style in many workplaces. Between hungover Mondays, hump-day Wednesdays and casual Fridays, bosses are lucky to get their employees in shoes, much less ties. In the Texas summer heat, ties are seen less and less. Fancy restaurants with a clothing code are bending to tie-less male clients.
Elderly judges have even come around. They once insisted that male lawyers showing up in court must wear dark suits, white shirts and bland ties, looking appropriately drab and nothing fancy — remember “My Cousin Vinny.” The women in court were prohibited from wearing pants suits. Of course, there was no way of knowing what the judges were wearing under their robes, maybe nothing.
Bermuda shorts are following the same path of acceptance in Texas. By April, note in any store, family restaurant or police line-up, Bermudas and sandals are de rigueur (French for white trash). It was not always this way. My mother gave my father Bermudas shorts several years ago, but wouldn’t let him wear them out of the house. Once in high school, as a joke, a few friends and I showed up in Bermuda shorts and were sent home to change. Last month I spoke at that self-same high school. Both boys and girls were wearing shorts.
The Brits, being more clothes-conscious than the colonials — including those cutting-edge white wigs — have long worn shorts, especially in the military. World War II newsreels of North Africa showed all the Brit soldiers wearing shorts, but the Americans were trudging across the hot dunes in complete battle rattle. Even today on the sweltering sun-stroked plains of Iraq and Afghanistan our troops are dressed for the Yukon. Can’t we issue them Miami shorts and Hawaiian shirts?
In tie-land, Americans are so behind the times. Notice photos of cabinet meetings in, say, Mexico or Israel or the Philippines. All those leaders are sitting around a long table covered with the obligatory flowers, pitchers and glasses of water, scattered papers, and – please note — none of the men is wearing a tie. Women like a man in a tie. Of course, women also like a man in a tux. It is payback for childbirth.
My own collection of the ties that bind include these from Hermes, each costing more than my first car. Next is a nice number with Santas and Christmas trees. I get to wear it once a year. This one is tied in a noose. How was I to know the Libyan–American League no longer celebrated Moammar Gadhafi’s birthday? Here is my stable of narrow ties. If “Mad Men” sets a fashion trend, I’m ahead of the curve. The old school tie, which didn’t go well at my Muffle Repair & Manicure Tech 10th reunion. The same with my regimental tie – they still remember the mutiny. This is an extremely wide tie. Oh, it’s actually a bib. Never mind.
It is trendy on TV that guests not wear ties. They all have open dress shirts clearly showing that they came to the interview wearing a tie and were told to take it off before show time. Does anyone on TV but Tucker Carlson still wear a bow tie? Have you ever seen a priest in a tie? No, they take their lead from the Pope, who sets the fashion pace and goes tieless.
Incidentally, do you know how to tie a Windsor knot, or a Half Windsor knot? Then there is the Pratt knot and the Dimple. Can you tie a four-in-hand or a bow tie? Neither can I, so I prefer to wear turtle necks, although they do get a little gamey after a week, depending on the turtle.
Ties have their place in history. In 1548, King Clarence the Impotent decreed that “everyone muss tithe.” King Clarence, obviously the last of his dynasty, had a bad lisp, so all his subjects assumed he meant they must wear ties. This situation lasted until 1549 when the king’s brother, Duke Doofuss the Incompetent, pulled off a coup and sent Clarence (or “Clarenth,” as he called himself) to “the thouth thide of thivilithathun.” Apparently the speech impediment was a family trait.
Around 1900, Texans strolled the Galveston beaches in the heat and humidity of summer. Photos show the women wearing dresses that go from neck to deck. The men are wearing white linen suits, starched collars and – of course — ties. They all look miserable. Oxford Don William Archibald Spooner often sang, “The Ties of Exes Are Upon You.” The students thought he was referring to the neckwear of UT alumni until it was pointed out that Prof. Spooner created spoonerisms. Railroads have ties. Bangkok has Thais. The NFL used to have ties, but now use some implement to break them, which is fine with me.
But neckties are useless — the appendix of apparel. A wise person (me) once said, “A man without a necktie is like a gift box without a ribbon.” Sometimes I’m wrong.
Ashby is knotted at firstname.lastname@example.org