As I’ve gotten farther into my fifth year here at Tech, I find myself putting on a necktie in the morning more frequently. Whether it be for a career fair that day, a presentation that has to be made or just to impress someone with how dressed up I can get. But with that frequency increasing, so is the question as to why am I choking myself with this thing. I know you’re thinking “this guy just doesn’t know how to tie a tie,” and if that were the case, I’d still be asking myself the same questions. But truly, where did this cultural norm come from? I just won’t be convinced that these are any form of comfort for anyone as it’s too much of a relief to take them back off.
The etymology dictionary traces the origins of the actual word to old English meaning “cord, band, thong, fetter or literally that with which anything is tied.” According to An Uncommon History of Common Things by Bethanne Patrick and John Thompson, the modern day neck tie has been attributed to many different origins. China’s first emperor, Shih Huang Ti, who was buried with his Terracotta army whose more than 8,000 life size soldiers replicas shared the common theme of wearing a wrapped neck cloth or variation of a neck tie.
Variations of the tie are also seen in Rome, Italy, where Emperor Trajan ruled the Roman Empire from 98 to 117 AD and his military conquest of Dacia were depicted in Trajan’s marble column and displayed thousands of soldiers wearing various styles of neckwear. Examples of neckwear in the military setting continued into the early 1630’s during the Thirty Years War in which Croatian soldiers who were supporting France wore colorful, knotted neckerchiefs as a part of their uniform which was later picked up by King Louis XIV when they became fashionable in France and began to be regarded as the Cravat or the first true mention of ties. French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte even frequently wore the cravat in the early 1800s.
The Industrial Revolution led to the necktie that many of us know today as “white collar” workers sought comfort and simplicity over various elaborate styles which had no place on the factory floor.
It was also this time that the first schools such as Oxford University began incorporating ties tied four-in-hand into various affiliations.
And the 1920s saw the tie evolve most dramatically at they began the fabric began to be cut at a 45 degree angle using a three piece construction which allowed the tie to drape evenly without twisting when tied in standard knots and is the look that many of us know today in various colors, sizes and designs.
With the tie having been around in so many variations for so long, I can see why it’s still regarded as an essential piece of menswear. But to me it will always go back to being nothing more than something my Dad told me to put on for Church because it looked nice. From there it’s only ever been about dressing up and perceptions from others as to the reasons I wear ties.
The perception as I see it comes mainly from a sort of confidence that our culture regards to men wearing full suits and the professionalism this brings with it. Beyond that though, I have observed many workplaces changing the ways in which they operate with much more casual dress becoming the norm. This is a change I can definitely stand behind.