Ties Are U/S*

Can you imagine how long I’ve been waiting to use that gag?**

A small selection

It’s not as if I even wear ties.

Fashions in menswear change slowly. Fashions in men’s suits change even more slowly than the generality, so slowly that in many men’s lifetimes they don’t seem to change much at all. It follows that fashions in some areas of menswear change with comparative rapidity.

Ties, for instance. In my adult life, the standard shape of a tie has gone from narrow to wide and back again three times that I can remember. There may have been additional fluctuations, overtones on that low-frequency fundamental, when I wasn’t looking. Patterns also have gone in and out of fashion, the most-favoured style varying from a restrained stripe to a set of dancing cartoon characters. The upshot is that you don’t throw away a tie unless it’s worn out; and they hardly ever wear out.

There was a time when I wore a suit to work every day. (This practice started only a couple of years after I’d sworn never to wear a suit at all, which shows how much you can trust a young person’s oath made in ignorance.) Naturally, as the old saying goes, where there’s a suit, there’s a tie. (There was no question of wearing a suit without a tie. Despite my best efforts, I was neither millennial hipster nor rock star.) To ring some changes — because nobody wants to look like they’re wearing the same thing every day, even if they mostly are — I began to amass a collection of ties.

Said that way, in that much detail, it sounds logical. Stick with me.

Ties were popular, not just with me. They weren’t just sold alongside shirts and suits; Tie Rack became a global brand, up there alongside Sock Shop, between IBM and Enron. Even people who never wore ties had a few, bought for themselves to use up their foreign currency at the airport, or last-minute presents from someone who spotted the shop still open and thought “You can’t go wrong with a tie” (incorrectly. See illustration).

Around the turn of the century (! for most of my life, that used to mean 1901!), the wearing of the suit stopped being de rigueur, at least in the company I’d begun to work for. It had been a recent startup, albeit one massively funded by a giant global corporation, and was keen to be hip and cool and voted “Best place to work”. After my first day there, I wore a suit only on the very few occasions that I was part of a raiding party on customers, clients or partners. I almost forgot how.

And yet… my collection of ties continued to grow. Tie Rack was still aiming for world domination, now vying with Microsoft and ExxonMobil (Other similarly-specialised clothing shops didn’t take off, perhaps owing to different transatlantic usages: for instance, in the USA and elsewhere, what I call braces are known as suspenders, which for me means the thing a lady uses to keep her stockings up. Braces Place would have to be called Suspender Source to attract the desired American clientele, and then it would get a totally wrong British one. So Tie Rack stepped into the gap*** and added to their range braces/suspenders to keep up men’s trousers/pants, under which, as we all know, we wear pants/underwear(?). Ladies meanwhile could go to Knickerbox to buy suspenders/<whatever the translation is, I don’t know everything> in addition to the eponymous knickers /also underwear(??). Glad we cleared that up).

When I left that company several years later, one of my unexpected presents was what became known as my Interview Tie. It’s the subdued blue-y striped one, I think (although now that I look, it could be the one I found in an unopened box behind the others when I was setting up the photo. I have no idea where it came from. I don’t know where you’d go to buy a tie in a box). Anyway, it never worked. Every successful interview I’ve had since that date has been by phone. I recommend it.

So there they are. The tie in the middle depicts people making beer, I think. The one immediately to its left once appeared in a newspaper, and seemed to be in colour even though the picture was printed black-and-white. The one with the transit map came from a cathedral in New York. I recommend that too.

One day I might wear one of them again, if I can get into the suit.


*U/S is an abbreviation for UnServiceable, i.e. broken, defunct, nogood, used in some military and engineering circles (i.e. my Dad uses it). Don’t say I’m not willing to educate my public.

**not as long as the age of the knitted tie on the farthest right, which I bought in imitation of the Rolling Stones at a time before they were Bad Boys. That’s how old I am.

***not The Gap, as far as I know.