Taking on the tyranny of the tie

Opinion: It is, for a chap, now fantastically easy to demonstrate that you are ‘making an effort’

If it's late summer it must be time to discuss issues concerning the upper half of presenters on Newsnight.

Last year, we were diverted by the controversy surrounding Jeremy Paxman’s beard. Now, we must discuss Robert Peston’s shocking decision to appear on the BBC current affairs show without a tie.

Of course, there wasn't really any sort of furore. Even the Daily Mail's most loyal readers will have realised that when that paper uses the phrase "draws criticism from viewers" it means that one or two wiseacres on Twitter whinged.

That social medium acts as a kind of Rorschach inkblot for journalists. Peer long enough and you will discern apparent support for any attitude, however outrageous.


Anyway, the very fact that the Mail regards the absence as worthy of comment allows us to ponder that durable item of neckwear.

Alongside marriage, soft drug prohibition and suburbs, ties were one of those things the 1960s thought themselves to have done away with. If contemporaneous speculative science fiction was to be believed, we would, by 2014, all be wearing Lycra jumpsuits and enjoying sexual intercourse in the form of green pills.

As it happened, though suits did become a deal less essential, the tie’s reign of terror heightened in ferocity and intensity. By 1972, the items had become the size of foresails and the colour of LSD nightmares. The matching tie-and-shirt set cast a glare across dazzled relatives on Christmas Day.

They got a bit thinner when punk came along. They became shinier in the 1980s. But go away they did not.

‘Making an effort’

In some ways, men should be grateful. It is, for a chap, now fantastically easy to demonstrate that you are “making an effort” when attending a funeral or less mordant semi-formal event. Fifty years ago, the donning of a tie indicated nothing of any significance. Now, such a gesture confirms the wearer is conscious that some degree of respect is due.

Women, alas, are offered no such binary division. Between the ragged turtleneck and the elaborate ball gown there exits a vast grey area of uncertain formality. If you normally dress like Elly May Clampett then it is, perhaps, easier to telegraph a smartening up. The properly chic woman has more of a challenge.

This is not to suggest that all rules for tie use are easily understood. Some things we do know. Wearing a bow tie without a dinner jacket is, for anybody under the age of 40, evidence of an aspiration to eccentricity unlikely to be supported by any genuinely original achievements. The only people permitted to wear cravats are elderly actors touring one-man shows about rep theatre during the interwar years.

Novelty ties depicting cartoon characters should only ever be worn in the presence of the child who gave it to the owner for Christmas.

It is more difficult to assess what circumstances, away from funerals and criminal trials, now require the wearing of this strip of cloth.

Even within journalism, the rules are slippery. Financial reporters, eager to appear responsible and trustworthy, tend to button up when appearing on telly or sitting for a byline photograph. Arts journalists would seem absurdly affected if they dressed in that fashion.

The late Christopher Hitchens was a master of ironic tie usage. His crumpled garment was invariably loosened about an open-necked shirt to demonstrate eagerness for combat and disdain for barely honoured convention.

General practitioners still tend to wear ties. Psychiatrists often do not. And television presenters? Well, here, the BBC’s economics editor finds himself in a tricky position. Male newsreaders are definitely expected to wear the fabric on grown-up channels.

Presenters of late-night current affairs analysis are in a significantly less formal place. Mr Peston is, nonetheless, to be congratulated for taking the courageous step into sartorially unexplored territory. This is what happens in August.

Sexist pigs in cyberspac


In The Irish Times letters page, there has, of late, been some kerfuffle about the ill-tempered fights that, apparently, go on anonymously between the likes of Fester McSmallbone and Splendido Horsedung beneath the online versions of articles such as this.

It seems that decent folk with reasonable comments find it hard to be heard over the virtual barroom brawls.

Oh well. Better that than the rampant abuse that so many female writers suffer in the digital sphere. Last week, Stephanie Zacharek, distinguished film critic at the Village Voice, dared to file an unimpressed review of the tolerable space opera Guardians of the Galaxy.

Hell hath no fury like an aggrieved nerd (who hasn’t seen the film yet). “Her opinion is 100% worthless, as is any woman’s for that matter,” a typical comment read. “Go kill yourself,” somebody else suggested.

There are reams more of this stuff. And this is at the perennially radical, reliably inclusive Village Voice. Who'd be a woman in the digital bear-pit?