Privilege Blog

Guest Post: My Father Speaks About Neckties

Ties from the 1970s
The Ties In Question

Today we are honored by the presence of Professor C. My father. When I explained that you all had asked to hear from him, he was slightly puzzled. His first response being, “Your style is so…” But I explained that he didn’t need to natter on as I do. We talked, with my sister, about what he might write. She suggested he chronicle his shopping pattern,  in which my stepmother buys all his clothes, and some articles hang in closets until the moths are sated. We laughed.

Then we remembered one of his more shining sartorial moments, involving a new flexibility in dress code for Stanford University administrators. Below is the story.


“Is he going to wear a necktie?” That was the question in an email from an old friend coming all the way from the east coast to an eightieth birthday party – mine.  So I had to decide.  Yes?  No? I said yes.

As a schoolboy I wore a tie every day.  Maybe I’ve not recovered from the experience.

According to Wikipedia – I know, I know, serious scholars don’t use Wikipedia but of course sometimes they do – it all began in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) when the neckerchiefs of Croatian mercenaries attracted the attention of fashionable Paris, and the “cravat” was born.  Cravats, now become “neckties,” are the only conspicuous item in the everyday male wardrobe.  They are largely useless. But nobody seems able to undo their hold.  Did Freud have a theory of men’s neckwear?

A company advertising on the Web offers the “Sigmund Freud microfiber Tie,” sporting “the profile of the renowned psychologist Dr. Freud in a cream tone set atop an all black background.”  “What better place,” the ad goes on, “to put Freud than on top of a long, draping, um, necktie.”  Oh, dear.  Happily the item is “out of stock.”

The 1960s and 1970s were big decades in the necktie story.  Wikipedia again:  the tie “fell out of fashion almost everywhere, except where required.”   OK, but where was it required?  That was not always an easy question.

In 1975, I became a university Dean.  I’d given up neckties long before, as had probably every member of the English Department.  But administrators were different.  They wore ties.  Heading off to my new office on September 1, 1975, I had to decide, as I would once again thirty-five years later: “Shall I wear a necktie?”  Yes? No?  The answer would set the pattern for some years to come.

I decided, no. I wonder now if anybody noticed.

Thank you Dad. All of this is as true as I can make it. Like you, I don’t know if it matters. Wait.  That needs to be said differently. I know that it matters to me, and thanks for writing this for us here at Privilege.

34 Responses

  1. The unsaid? Your father is not a fan of Beau Brummel?

    Seriously – or not – this made me guffaw at least twice. Mr. Lisa’s Dad writes very well.

  2. Oh good, I thought I may have imagined that.

    Thank you, Professor C.!

    Imagine us following Croatian fashion today……..

  3. And it matters to all of us, for it is an apt description of a decision many encounter, much as we once coped with “hose…no hose?”

    With thanks for your father’s visit,

  4. This Christmas I realized Mr Paula owns exactly 1 piece: a paisley yellow necktie. Now I have no clue, what it takes for a necktie to match a suit and shirt but it feels good to have a new field to conquer. Since Mr Paula wears suits and neckties close to never, my best friend got really excited when she saw his appearance. We, the ladies who live with men who where hooded sweaters 7/24 fall for men wearing neckties! If only I could tell what a good looking necktie is. :-)

  5. PS: I remember the decree, one hot summer in Japan, when the public officers were officially allowed to wear shirts without neckties because it was so hot! I wonder if they followed the decree.

  6. I shall have to ask my brother how he has handled the necktie question – both at his home university and as a visiting professor in Beijing.

    Great post, Professor!

  7. Does your writing style truly echo his, or has he managed to adapt his style to “blog style” by echoing yours? Either way, interesting that both Lisa and Reggie are posting on neckties today.

  8. Perhaps it’s because I’m the daughter of a military officer – or perhaps because my stepdad is an Ivy grad who (thanks to my mom) is a very natty dresser — but I like a man in a necktie. Not all the time, of course, but I DO appreciate it when a man has the ability to dress for the occasion at hand. Alas, I fear this is something that many people, male and female, have not mastered.

  9. Greetings, Professor C.

    Your remarks about the distinction between administration (ties) and faculty (no ties) still ring quite true for the sciences, sadly, where jackets and ties identify administration and funding agency types (or aspirants to these positions) and are viewed with suspicion. It really seems a pity, when one looks at old photographs from the Manhattan Project era–J. Robert Oppenheimer cut such a lean, elegant figure in his three-piece suits.

  10. Judging by your father’s ties, I can make three conclusions:

    A) He’s read books by William Least Heat-Moon.
    B) He’s been to a Dead show.
    C) We’d be friends.

    Do we love your dad? Yes, we LOVE your dad.

    (and P.S. and totally unrelated, I promised to make good on your bidding: sari, bindi, bangles and all.)

  11. I am fascinated by the fact your writing styles are so strikingly similar. Did you learn from him? Did he adapt to your style for the sake of the blog? FASCINATING!

  12. I enjoy reading the things your dad write…just recently I found some little suit jackets for the little boys to play dress up with at a second hand store…then my son gave little man a tie to wear with it…now he wants to wear it all the time…even wears it with him pj’s…lol…say’s that some day he is going to have a job and wear a tie every day. :)

  13. Dear Professor C., I enjoyed your thoughts immensely! In the Health Sciences, a necktie announces Medical Student interview “season”. My favorite faculty member, (Harvard educated ;-D), sports a bow tie. We look forward to the bow tie of the day! Any bow ties in the English Department? Thank you so much for sharing with us!

  14. How wonderful to hear from an academic/administrator who admits to feeling conflicted about the wearing of a tie! My husband made his living as a carpenter and to this day does not know HOW to tie one. On the rare occasions that he is required to wear one, I am obliged to figure out how the dang thing is tied and we have been known to resort to waiters for help in tieing the noose.

  15. I smiled when I read this, because my husband is also an English professor (well, that is, when colleges start hiring again … not a good time for budding academics), and when he is teaching he wears a tie the first day of the semester and then tells his students that’s the only time they’ll see him in a tie.

    He probably wore a tie more in the past year than usual, with me dragging him to weddings and all. :)

    I am actually a fan of the sport jacket and no tie look, moreso than the no jacket and tie look.

    I know, I know, serious scholars don’t use Wikipedia but of course sometimes they do
    So true. :)

  16. You are definitely your father’s daughter!! The writing style similarity is uncanny. What a pleasure to read his post. I imagine that he is a man who always gets a “notice”, tie or not. Thank you to Professor C. for your visit to our blog world today, and thank you LPC for your usual, interesting, extraordinary addition to Blog World. xoxo

  17. Hello Mr. (or is it Dr.?) C: Thank you for this post, and more importantly (or is it “important”?)–thank you for helping bring your charming daughter to this world and to those of us upon it who admire her so! With all due respect, sir, Reggie would be delighted on his next trip to California to accompany you to a reputable men’s store to select a number of ties that you would be more inclined to wear with regularity. If that is not agreeable to you, he would also be happy to send a few of his own via the next post should you supply him with the appropriate address for receipt of same. Reggie

  18. I just checked out the dress-code for a ball in Vienna, held in the imperial palace. And what does it say: Herren: Frack mit Dekoration oder Smoking (schwarz oder dunkelblau), Uniform (großer Gesellschaftsanzug) keine Krawatte!
    hihi. No necktie!
    … because bowties are obligatory. :-)

  19. Thanks, everyone. For prose stylists — Yes, I adjusted my usual style, not hugely, but enough to make it (at least I thought) more bloggish. For bow tie lovers, yes, there’s one old worldly member of the English Dept. who still wears them — and others do at English Depts. elsewhere. For Reggie: you are passing generous but I’m afraid my lot is forever cast with the tieless. Except for weddings and funerals.

    Prof. C.

  20. Sorry that I’ve been so busy and have just now discovered this. Neckwear…the pleasure I get in occasionally wearing them these days is grounded by the fact that on most days–I don’t.

  21. I enjoyed this post. My husband happily gave up ties when he retired. Some are such beautiful works of art, I’ve been trying to find a way to use them myself.

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