Kennedy: Neckties are knot what we need

Mark Kennedy

Neither of my two sons, who are ages 17 and 12, can tie a necktie. If my Army sergeant father were still alive, I would have to answer for this.

As it is, nobody seems to care, least of all my sons, who don't own any neckties to tie.

photo Mark Kennedy

We may be nearing the end of the Necktie Age. The website says the "necktie originated in the 17th century, during the 30-year war in France when King Louis XIII hired Croatian mercenaries who wore a piece of cloth around their necks as part of their uniform."

As fashion trends go, 400 years is a solid run. Much better than bell-bottom pants and Nehru-collared jackets, two short-lived trends from my boyhood.

When I was small, my father taught me his preferred knot, a Windsor, which includes several overlapping loops. With the ultra-wide ties of the 1970s, Windsor knots - no matter how tightly you pulled them - ending up being as large as my 12-year-old fist.

I remember Dad tying his silk ties in a blur of flourishes and taunt arm muscles, resulting in a knot with a plump, triangular shape and a perfect dimple of fabric underneath. But like office ashtrays and wingtip shoes, neckties are disappearing in the 21st century. Here in the Times Free Press newsroom there are several (older) guys who still wear ties to the office every day, mostly on the business beat.

Nowadays, I only wear a tie to work if I'm meeting with a dignitary or representing the newspaper at a social function.

Most of the people I interview are ordinary folks. When I am in their homes, wearing a tie makes me feel like a replacement-window salesman, or a missionary.

When I started in the newspaper business almost 40 years ago, wearing a necktie was a way of blending respectfully with sources in government and business. It made you look like a serious person. I once interviewed John Glenn, the first man to orbit the Earth. Going to that interview without a tie, in that circumstance, would have seemed as uncomfortable to me as showing up in boxer shorts and flip-flops.

Honestly, even back then, though, neckties were sort of a mismatch for journalists, who often paired them with unironed short-sleeve dress shirts and ill-fitting Dockers pants. Most of them looked like your average, rumpled 10th-grade biology teacher.

The "necktie is dead" story has become niche genre in popular magazines. Just a cursory Google search turned up several like-minded articles in national magazines in recent years. For example, Esquire reported, "Like spats and braces before them, ties are becoming a vestige of the past populated by our parents and grandparents."

A writer in Fortune magazine went a step further, "A tie is no longer benign. It's a negative."

The trend is borne out in necktie sales, which peaked in 1995 at $1.8 billion a year before cratering in 2009 to $418 million, according to NPD Group. Even starched Wall Street firms such has J.P. Morgan have reportedly adopted tie-optional dress codes.

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My favorite anti-necktie article appeared in Forbes last year and quoted liberally from a report in the journal Neuroradiology. The scholarly journal reported the findings of a study that showed, using MRIs, that neckties reduce blood flow to the male brain by an average of 7.5%.

Mmm ... why do I suddenly feel like I hear women laughing.

The study doesn't venture a guess as to whether restricted blood flow leads to a commensurate reduction in male IQ points. You be the judge.

The article does, however, go on to point out the neckties also increase blood pressure inside the eyeballs, spread germs and can strangle you to death if they get caught in heavy machinery.

Oh, boy.

Prediction for the 22nd century: The death of tattoos.

Contact Mark Kennedy at [email protected] or 423-757-6645.