Sunday, 27 July 2014

On neckwear

Prompted by the current heatwave I want to make a confession: I don't like ties. I don't like wearing them and I don't much like public figures who wear them. I don't like the kind of business environments in which ties are seen as necessary. I don't like people who like ties.

By public figures I mean, of course, all male politicians. Despite all the careful grooming by speech therapists and spin doctors and consultants and image gurus and all that, why do politicians, whatever their party, have to go and spoil it all by wearing these ridiculous swatches of fabric around their necks? Look around you - who else wears them? They're heading the way of the wing collar (which may have cut the mustard back in Neville Chamberlain's day but appears to have died out completely, along with the codpiece and the cummerbund.)

When Ed Milliband gave a speech the other day (quite good I thought - humorously self-deprecating and suggesting unexpected degrees of warmth and self-awareness), the effect was ruined by the usual suit, collar and tie get-up, which made him look uncomfortably formal, and visually stilted. His look undermined the form, content and purpose of the speech, to suggest he's just a regular guy and not too worried about his public image.

Ed Miliband was interviewed yesterday for  the BBC by the political correspondent Andrew Marr, during the hottest week since records began. The two men sat in the open air wearing two-piece suits and ties, looking preposterous. Miliband has apparently been advised by Simon Baron-Cohen (the distinguished expert on autism) to emphasise empathy - and Miliband used the 'e' word half a dozen times within a few minutes (and confirms my belief that any quality asserted by a public figure is sure to be the one he or she lacks the most). I don't expect Marr and Miliband to appear in thongs or Speedos  - the world is not ready for that - but is there really no appropriate clothing to wear on a humid summer's day? Perhaps cream linen suits appear too hoity-toity, and thrash metal t-shirts may also be off-message. But why not crisp white cotton shirts and (say) jeans? Of course, in Miliband's case, jeans with a crease ironed into them.

Ever since it was pointed out to me by an anthropologist acquaintance that ties are arrows, directing the viewer's gaze downwards to the crotch (and the tip of a tie is arrow-shaped, unless, like some namby-pamby 1930s poet you happen to affect a blunt-ended knitted tie - you know the sort of thing), ever since then I've been suspicious, and tend to 'read' a politician's suggestive neckwear as attentively as Holmes would study cuffs, boots and fingernails. What, for instance, to make of London Mayor Boris Johnson (below)?

Boris in Liverpool © Guardian Newspapers

The first male politician to turn up in the House of Commons or on Newsnight in a well-cut suit and crisp white shirt but without a tie will get, if not my vote, then certainly my approval. Break the mould fellas, and stop dressing like estate agents.

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