By John Pierce

Neckties serve no important function — like belts. At mealtimes, they are eager targets for the slightest stray drop of salad dressing, gravy or barbecue sauce.

Perhaps that’s why we see fewer of them worn in professional work environments on weekdays and in churches on Sunday. Unlike some who get enraged over this fashion shift, I do not have a strong opinion on the matter.

But, as usual, I have some observations.

Finding that uniquely attractive, silk tie among the ugly ones on a sales table has long been an enjoyable discovery for me. And since the old days of selling men’s clothing at Loveman’s at Eastgate Mall in Chattanooga, I have sought to tie a good knot and to match ties properly with dress shirts.

There are a lot of mismatched ties and just plain ugly ones around. And it’s easy to tell which guy chose to wear a tie and which one did so under pressure.

Most offensive are polyester or pre-tied ties. (Law enforcement officers get a pass on the clip-on versions since wearing your own noose when apprehending a criminal is unwise.)

While alert to gender inclusion and equality, this is a male issue. Professional women — including ministers — have their own clothing concerns, I assume. But the wearing of ties is not one of them.

But then it is not an issue for many male ministers or other professionals either. Some have simply decided to not wear ties with as much conviction as others wrap them around well-starched white shirts on a regular basis.

In days gone by, tie-wearing was a common and expected part of church attendance for men — and even boys, who thought their mothers were secretly trying to choke them on the first day of every new week. Yet, today there are churches where open-collared shirts are commonplace and the presence of a double-windsor knot is as rare as a perfect attendance pin.

Often the churches that I visit have a mixture of styles with some attendees and ministers in traditional coats and ties while others require less change time before hitting the course after the last Amen.

Some churches in warmer climates announce a “no ties between Memorial Day and Labor Day” policy. In other congregations, the suggestion is not needed to be heeded.

During the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when supervising interns, I would tell the males: “Professionalism is not wearing a tie, but knowing when to wear a tie.”

Now I’m as confused about the subject as anyone. Going into professional settings today requires asking the youthful question of a colleague or peer: “What are you wearing today?”

Personally, I have learned to go with the flow. Dressing in a formal or informal way depends of the daily schedule. Tie, no tie, whatever.

And while the rack on my closet door is overflowing with ties of various colors and designs, it is still hard for me to pass up a good deal on an attractive new one. So I’m learning to live with yet another irony: I love to pick out new ties as much as ever but don’t enjoy wearing them as often.

The shift toward more casual wear in professional and worship settings is fine with me. I just wish more people could distinguish between casual and plain ol’ sloppy. Yet maybe all of this is just a natural result of increased individualism.

Many years ago I had a friend who didn’t dress as formally on a daily basis as most of his colleagues. Seeing him in a tie one day caused me to inquire — and to discover his unique fashion philosophy.

“I wear a tie when meeting with someone who thinks he’s important,” he said. Then after a pause, he continued: “And I wear a coat and tie when meeting with someone I think is important.”

Since no suit or sports coat was in sight, I followed him a bit to see which office door he entered.


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