Posted on March 4, 2012 by 

BBC’s Radio 4 had a programme on the language of ties last week. As an avowed non-tie wearer (both for physical and ideological reasons), I think the politics of ties are interesting. You can listen to it on iPlayer, or download the podcast. Here’s an interesting snippet especially the bit at the end about the direction of the angles and the difference between American and British ties…

For other people, especially the student revolutionaries of my generation, refusing to wear a tie was not so much a matter of personal convenience, but an ideological statement and a political act: for it meant a deliberate rejection of authority in all its forms.

Che Guevara didn’t wear a tie, nor did Fidel Castro, and Albert Einstein had never really liked them, either. All his life, he had a horror of constraint, be or physical, intellectual or emotional, which he described in the German word “zwang”. For Einstein, as for many of the student revolutionaries of the 1960s, the necktie became the very embodiment and symbol of “zwang”.

There was some justification for this view, well summed up in the phrase “the old school tie”, which was – and in some quarters still is – redolent of snobbery, elitism, connection and privilege.

For ties in their most traditional form, with diagonal stripes or heraldic crests, were closely associated with public schools, Oxford and Cambridge colleges, and gentlemen’s clubs such as The Garrick or theMarylebone Cricket Club, better known as the MCC, and they could only be worn by old boys or alumni or members.

Lower down the social scale, ties had become more widespread from the late 19th Century with a massive growth in the number of clerks and bureaucrats and petty officials who were revealingly described as white-collar workers – and in those days, you couldn’t wear a shirt with a white collar unless you were wearing a tie as well. And after World War I, there was a significant proliferation of striped regimental ties that could only be worn by those who had recently been on active service.

Depending on its design, wearing a tie in Britain might mean that you were a humble office worker, or that you belonged to one of the closed worlds that formed part of the establishment.

In the United States, diagonally-striped ties became the widely accepted dress code for professionals and for those who worked on Wall Street. They were produced in many different colours and many different permutations, and they were especially associated with the firm of Brooks Brothers, which by the 1920s was specialising in outfitting professional American men.

In order to distinguish their product from the exclusive British club and regimental ties on which they were modelled, the Brooks Brothers ties were manufactured with the diagonal stripe going the other way, and to this day, striped American and British ties retain this difference.

Read the full article at BBC News – A Point of View: The language of ties