Guys and Ties

The only guys I see wearing neckties right now are politicians, newscasters and newsroom talking heads who hope we won’t notice that they have nothing to say.

I have two tie racks in my closet. I pass them as I reach for the shirts, sweaters, hoodies, jeans and other covid body decor. I know where all ties on those racks come from, starting with the solid black, a souvenir from a trip to China. Some are hand-me-downs. After my uncle died, my aunt gave a bunch to me and said “he wanted you to have these.” Others were acquired from vintage clothing shops, from department stores that have gone out of business, and discount dungeons.

I have expensive ties, too. When a guy goes into a clothing shop to buy a suit, alarms go off. You’re suddenly surrounded by shoes and belts and ties and shirts as white as the beach at high noon. They’re WAY overpriced, but they look cool together so you buy them anyway. To me, the pricey ties are no better than the cheap ones I bought on the Internet, but my wife says she can tell the difference.

What is it with guys and clothes? My father once took my brother and I to a warehouse in Northeast Philadelphia because he thought he’d get a better price on sportcoats and slacks in a building that didn’t have a carpet, three-panel mirror and a place to change in. We wriggled into all kinds of stuff behind racks of plastic-shrouded garments. My father paid for it all, including a tangle of neckties that made people blink.

Could the salesman tell that my father was color blind? Several years later I challenged my wife to search the closet and put together an ensemble for me that would include one of the North Philly Specials. She did. It worked.

Some of my ties are gifts. Guys get ties when people think we have everything. Gift ties tend to have muted colors, polite stripes, subdued patterns, and little motifs that are supposed to suggest a hobby (bicycles, guitars), an interest (a sports team logo, cars, dollar signs) or a career.

One tie I found in a used clothing store that I did not purchase had little hearts on it. These were not the cute red or pink symmetrical symbols of Valentines Day, but the real, lub-dub hearts, with a snarl of thick organic plumbing on top like the wrong kind of pasta.

I guess you would give that tie to a cardiologist. What, I wonder, would you give to a plastic surgeon, or a gastroenterologist?

One of my gift ties consists of randomly printed words. Because it is easy nowadays for people to take offense at just about anything, I have read every single word on that tie to make sure no inadvertant up-down-across–diagonal combinations would blow anybody up. So far, so good, but you never know. Wearing the wrong tie can be more than a fashion sin.

Remember power ties, those arrogant, out-of-my-way-or-I’ll-eat-your-lunch chestplates worn on chilly, air-conditioned battlefields where the goal was to make the other guy sweat?

I have only a few left. I used to wear them at lunches with editors, publishers, administrators, business types and anyone else whose superiority I had reason to doubt. Because the power food served at power lunches can drip and splatter, most of my power ties have perished heroically as they took the bullets that would have killed my shirts.

I said good-bye to those ties because, with ties, things don’t always come out in the wash. You take them to the dry cleaner. You get them back wrapped in plastic. You take the plastic off and notice that the stains are now tiny, ghostly shadows. A power tie with an ectoplasmic blotch is sad. The only thing sadder is a tie that’s badly knotted.

How many mornings have I spent in front of a mirror tying and retying the damned thing because one end was too long or the knot was lopsided or the pucker wouldn’t come out in the center?

Of course, it was a relief when the lockdown descended last year to stuff the uniforms of business, presentability, formality, pedegree, authority, propriety and hierarchy way back in the closet, and just grab a sweatshirt, T-shirt, hoodie or a pair of jeans that, as the isolation continued, began to feel tight.

I fought against my expanding waistline. I ran a mile or more each day. I watched more closely what went into my mouth. I did other exercises. I lost 20 pounds.

And then, one night, I absentmindedly buttoned up my no-iron shirt and stuffed the tails into my looser jeans. I ran my fingers through the tie rack and found one that contrasted favorably with the shirt. I swore I’d put the tie back on the rack if it gave me any trouble with the knot. The knot came out okay.

I added a sportcoat. My wife saw me and told me to wait. She ran up staris and came down a few minutes later dressed like a goddess.

I don’t remember what we ate and drank. I know things felt different, as if those slightly dressy duds that werr so useless during the pandemic suddenly transported us back to a time when things were better.

I began to dress with ties and, wouldn’t you know, I had one of those mornings (or was it an afternoon?) of tying and retying and retying some more.

Neckties can be like spoiled children. If you don’t care enough about them, they let the world know.

But when the knot and the length come as they should, the colors match (or sometimes didn’t–I have a few screaming orange ties that are the equivalent of a morning hangover cure when worn with a dark shirt) and the jacket hangs just so, you begin to understand why uncles leave ties for their nephews.

Ties are really about the future. No matter how wide, short, thin, pointed, blunt or eye-searingly loud they may be, you can trust that a day will come when that tie–yes, even THAT tie–will be the right one for you to wear.

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