Monday, November 21, 2011


I went through my clothes closet the other morning intent on purging outdated loose or tight fitting clothing that just didn’t make sense anymore (purpose or fashion) and once again was confronted by my neckties. I have three tie hangers that keep my neckties flat, accessible and always at the ready to appropriately adorn my person for any occasion. Even after a Goodwill run some five years ago, I still have one hundred and fourteen (114) neckties including one ascot, three formal bowties dedicated to specific cummerbunds and one bolo tie. Whilst assessing my collection I realized I still had a few favorites from my college years and several screamers from the sixties and seventies and might still be good for a nostalgic event. Yes, I have several Christmas, one St. Valentine’s Day necktie and, vexingly, no Halloween ties.

I started to wax nostalgic about the ties including a few that once belonged to iconic good Friend and Mentor though now departed Bob Swanson, three 78th Fraser Highlander regimental ties and several that hail the cardinal red (Harvard) and navy blue (Yale) of Ole Miss. Most of those ties have great meaning to me and so I will stand pat, at least for a few more years.

While assessing my collection of neckwear I contemplated the state of the noble cravat and wonder how much longer this tradition can hold out. With assurances from and the urging of notable haberdashers Jos.A Bank, Brooks Brothers and others of that ilk, the tie and traditional clothing will seemingly prevail. Howard Duvall, rest in peace

Some versions of neckwear seem to have been around even since ancient Egyptian, Chinese and Roman times and we all remember from our history books paintings of Gentle Men and Gentle Ladies in big ruffled collars (the Elizabethan Ruff) of the mid 1500's to 1600's. Seems that so many aspects of our lives start modestly and then grow to exaggerated (Aye, foolish) caricature status. The Ruffs appeared to be poor bibs, had to be grossly uncomfortable and were a pain to maintain. Among others, we can thank England and Ireland’s King James I, a Scot, who opted for a more extravagant life style in England (“the Land of Promise”) for getting rid of this monstrosity. Perhaps it was James’ promise to parliament to curb some of his more excessive spending habits or maybe Elizabeth’s passing was enough. At any rate it was the end of an era.

Fast forward to the 1630s, where “unusual and picturesque” scarves worn by thousands of Croatian soldiers and knights, mercenaries to Louis XIII in the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) became the new fashion in France. Seems that the girlfriends or wives (maybe both) of Croat soldiers would give their beloveds a narrow scarf to wear around their necks to remind them of their love. This romantic tradition was noted by none other than French king Louis XIII who caught sight of these dashing neckerchiefs, started wearing one himself and eventually adopted them into acceptable, even preferable, French formal attire. Voila, a new fashion accessory was born. This, the cravat, ladies and gentlemen was the direct ancestor of the modern necktie and far more comfortable that the huge white starched collars and large silk maroon bowties we wore as choristers at St. Dunstan’s in Providence, RI.

Charles II brought this new neck fashion with him when he returned from exile in France to England in May of 1660. Over the next ten years, the use of the cravat spread across Europe and eventually across the pond to the American colonies. The cravat soon proved itself to be an essential part of a gentleman’s wardrobe and even to some historians, “a symbol of loyalty” to the restored English monarchy. Aye, the necktie not just as fashion but as a political statement… This neck adornment with high collars and bows like the ruff before it became more and more elaborate and impractical as members of the English court tried to outdo each other and reflect their status and wealth. These cravats soon joined the ruff on the junk heap of fashion history.

By the early 1800's, the cravat became known as a "tie" and then evolved to pretty much what we know today and was/is tied in a number of different ways/styles, according to the preference, formality and upbringing of the wearer. Options include the four-in-hand knot, the half-Windsor knot, the Windsor knot and the “reversed” Pratt knot, among others. No, we are not going to talk about colors or patterns though you may want to research the very interesting origins of regimental and club ties.

Then, of course, we have that odd though convenient bolo or bola tie that has now become the official neckwear of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas and appears to be fast coming the new/old symbol of the American West. We suspect that like former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson before him we will see Texas Governor Rick Perry wearing some in his cross country Presidential-seeking sorties.

Bolo aside, some folks (especially my Mother) insist that there is a proper and not so proper way to tie a necktie. While Mother wouldn’t not let the three Buxton Boys (Ned, John and Seabury) venture forth to church, school or any other formal function without the proper full Windsor knot, we are not so inflexible here. If you have to wear a tie, do what you like and feels good though understand that (however preposterous it sounds) in some circles someone may be watching. The point is you/we always have the opportunity to impress – or not.

In a world dominated by “Business Casual” most of the younger generation don’t know how to tie a necktie and probably don’t care. For those folks that have no aspirations beyond digging ditches, cutting grass or plowing snow, then this advice probably won’t benefit them though they wouldn’t be reading this post anyway. Just note that we still have business, social and religious events where the wearing of a tie may be appropriate and even required.

In times where jobs are scarce (especially for recent college graduates) the job interview is the one opportunity to create that positive first impression with the interviewer who may make the final hiring decision. If you dress inappropriately, say casually for a sales job or a position with a bank or law firm, the interviewer may think that you aren’t taking the interview process seriously, aren’t motivated to pursue that position or worse yet, you don’t have the social, communication, consensus building or collaborative skills necessary to be productive in today’s workplace. The way you dress reflects who you are and can positively influence those gauging your abilities. Many times the centerpiece of correct dress is the necktie.

And that’s the conundrum we face – it’s all about perception and aside from fashion or keeping our shirt clean or wiping your nose – the tie has no real purpose, save adornment. It is a “convention in search of a reason.” At least with the bolo tie you can tie something up if need be like the now mostly ceremonial French-inspired aiguillette.

In my lifetime neckties have become shorter then longer, wider then narrower, colors and patterns bolder and then more subtle and then back again (save your old ties). Neckwear has passed through the full range of fashion, manipulated to the varigies of that industry and pursuit of the diminishing though still almighty dollar and what is in and what is not. For all that I frankly (my dear) don’t give a damn. I’ll wear what I like and what seemingly goes with what I’m wearing – or not. My advice to those otherwise mired in dismal lives - wear a tie with color and style and see what happens…


Ned Buxton

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