Opinion | Where Have All the Neckties Gone?
I own 252 neckties. Pity me.
Neckties have been out of fashion for so long that even articles about neckties being out of fashion have gone out of fashion. The pandemic made a bad situation worse. Soon the necktie will be worn only by “eccentrics, dictators or eccentric dictators,” Jonathan Miller wrote in The Spectator in 2021.
We necktie wearers are cruelly derided: “You know who always wears a necktie? Salesmen, attorneys and politicians — all professions based on trying to gain trust from people,” Stephen Johnson wrote last year in an article for Lifehacker titled, “Throw Your Neckties in the Damn Garbage Already.” He added, “Unless you use it to wipe your mouth, a necktie has no function.”
The economic angle on this topic is that my neckties threaten to become a “stranded asset,” in utility regulation lingo. A stranded asset is something like a coal-fired generating plant that is no longer useful because of changes in regulation or technological obsolescence. Unless I wear them, defiantly, my necktie assets will be stranded in my closet, yearning to see the light of day but profoundly obsolete.
I waited to write this piece until things were relatively quiet on the economic news front, but I’m sure I’ll still get letters saying this is a frivolous topic in a world beset by countless crises. Well, frivolous to you maybe. I’m the one with 252 neckties (and eight bow ties).
In their age of obsolescence, neckties have been made into throw pillows, quilts, dresses, fabric flowers, an apron and even one Jewish wedding canopy that I know of. I guess it’s good that they’re serving some purpose, like an old shirt that’s cut up for rags. But I’d so much rather see them do what they were made for: adorn.
Before I start telling you about my own neckties, I just want to assert that I’m not a hoarder and definitely not a fashion plate. The only other clothing item I have a lot of is T-shirts. (Ask me about those sometime!) My sense of style has been likened to that of a 1970s middle school science teacher. Which is very mean to someone, probably the teachers.
I got my first necktie at age 8 for my first Holy Communion, but it was a clip-on. My first knottable tie was a red tartan plaid that went with everything, or so I thought at the time. In high school we were required to wear ties on days of home cross-country and track meets, so I borrowed my father’s. He was an aircraft engineer so — the less said about those ties, the better.
In college a business school student named Girish Reddy, who went on to fame and fortune in finance, bequeathed me a black-and-orange camouflage-y tie that he had brought from India. I wore it until it frayed at the bottom and my wife made me throw it away.
My next great neckties came from a retired journalist named Neil Maloney when I was writing for The Waterbury Republican in Connecticut. He saw in me a kindred spirit. The pale blue number from New Mexico that he gave me frayed over the decades, so I had to throw it away, too. But I still have a dark green knit tie with diagonal lacing around the edges that came either from Mr. Maloney or my grandfather. (Documentation is lacking.)
More ties came to me over the years as people unloaded what they thought of as the ugliest ties in their closets on me. Others I bought. Ugly, I insist, is in the eye of the beholder. Some people think a clear plastic tie filled with tiny metallic hearts is tacky. For me, it was romantic. There’s also a time and place for a tie with penguins in red bow ties skating on an ice floe.
I have a tie with a map of Manhattan and another with the constellations, both of which I claim to use for navigation. I have two ties of the periodic table, one of which even marks out the lanthanides and actinides. This week I wore one that looks like diffusion cloud chamber tracks. Naturally I have a DNA tie with a large double helix. (This is probably where the “middle school science teacher” gibes come from.)
I have a hinged wooden tie that I bought in the Adirondacks. A shockingly yellow rubber ducky tie. One of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidential campaign signs. A sweet black-and-white number of Elvis Presley in different sizes. Several Jerry Garcia neckties. A tie from the Guggenheim Museum with a detail from Wassily Kandinsky’s “Several Circles” oil painting.
Wait, there’s so much more. I have a tie of frontiersmen canoeing the rapids, which during the Clinton administration I called my Whitewater tie. I have one with a little sailboat called the Q.E. III that works as a monetary policy joke. There was an emerald green tie with a dragon appliqué that I used to call “my silk tie made from Thai silk.” Alas, it is gone.
Last year an American retiree in Spain who subscribes to this newsletter offered to sell me a bunch of his vintage ties, having seen me wear some on Bloomberg TV before joining The Times. He sent pictures. I bought several, including a brown one with a lion tamer theme.
This list probably gives the impression that I’m all in on novelty items, but most of my 252 ties are not that at all. I have gorgeous ties in black, brown, red, gold, blue, purple, green, orange — really almost every color but white, which shows stains. In my research for this newsletter, which consisted of counting my ties, I came across several beauties that had gotten covered up. I can’t wait to wear them again.
I guess there’s a little Imelda Marcos in me. I should have stopped acquiring ties during the pandemic, but I did not. I bought several online during the shutdown. They gave me hope that someday the virus would go away, and life would return to normal. Unfortunately it hasn’t, not fully. Sweatpants, not neckties, are the new normal.
Women’s Wear Daily lamented last year that all seven leaders of the Group of 7 nations posed tieless for their photo at a summit in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Heads of state have rarely been known for their style, but the enforced drabness was, to me, depressing. I wear ties every chance I get to unstrand my stranded assets and to inject a little color and freshness into life. And what’s wrong with that?
The Readers Write
Concerning your newsletter on patriotism, religion and money, my wife and I like to fly the American flag, but in recent years I reserve it for national holidays like the Fourth of July and Memorial Day. This change has occurred because several people incorrectly assumed that flying the flag meant that I was supporting right-wing causes.
San Mateo, Calif.
It strikes me that the decline in desire to be involved in one’s community is correlated with the marked decline in local news media, especially newspapers. The hypothesis here is that the void in local news coverage leaves people less informed about what is happening in their communities and thus less able or inclined to get involved.
I don’t see how raising interest rates will reduce this round of inflation, which you wrote about. It doesn’t solve the cost of gasoline. It doesn’t solve food price increases due to bird flu, the loss of Ukrainian grain on the international markets. It doesn’t solve the housing shortages and increased rent. If anything, it inhibits the building of additional housing units. I realize it’s the only weapon the Fed has, but it’s the wrong one. And, finally, this 2 percent target for inflation is off base. I hope the Fed works toward a 3 percent goal.
Quote of the Day
“What a computer is to me is, it’s the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with. And it’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.”
— Steve Jobs, in an interview for the documentary “Memory & Imagination: New Pathways to the Library of Congress” (1990)