Man Without Ties by Noah Baird

20 Oct

A great tie can take an average suit to spectacular heights. The rare man can successfully and repeatedly pick a great tie.  Rarer still is the man who can pair the tie with the right shirt and suit.  Men who can do it; flaunt it.  Rightfully so.  Men’s magazines are filled with articles covering the subject.  You don’t find nearly as many articles on picking the right belt or the proper way to lace up your shoes.

My father can pick ties. He came from a time where men typically wore ties.  They weren’t foreign to his generation as I imagined they were to mine.  Ties weren’t rock and roll, and I saw myself as a rocker.  Axl Rose didn’t wear a tie and neither would I.  Not my father’s generation.  They wore ties in their school pictures- something my generation couldn’t conceive of. I also don’t remember my father ever squirming uncomfortably in his suit like I did until he snapped at me to be still.  He came from a line of conservative, sober men who were practitioners of conservative, sober dress.

I remember my first tie; not the clip on- a real tie.  I was 16 and I finally graduated from mowing lawns in the hot Florida sun to a job in the mall- a toy store. The job had one setback: I would have to wear a tie.  The Sunday before I started my new job, my father took me to the men’s department of a local department store.  I stood there staring at the swivel racks of dyed cloth. My eyes glazed as he pointed out the different types.  The pros and cons of stripes and solids. Fashion history of the fat and skinny. Conservative choices between polka dots and art-deco swirls.  He sternly steered me clear of the cartoon characters. Likewise, he steered me away from the rack of bolo ties. Stars and steer horns; the pewter stamped bolo ties were far cooler to my 16 year old sensibilities than my father’s ties.  There was something outlawish about them.  I imagined if Keith Richards were to wear a tie, he’d pick a bolo.

At home, he stood me in front of the mirror and repeatedly demonstrated the basics.  It reminded me of the knot-tying classes I dreaded at summer camp.  I was as helpless with the four in hand and half-Windsor as I was with the square knot and clove hitch.  I can still remember his frustration as he faced me and struggled to perform, in reverse on me, a thing he did normally.  Then the awkward feeling as my father stood behind me and reached around my neck and repeatedly tied various knots.  Me all the while trying to observe his hands working at my throat.  Like trying to watch yourself swallow.  Then to watching our reflection in the mirror at the reverse image of what he was explaining.

He showed me the subtle nuances of a properly tied tie.  How to get the correct length.  How to get the dimple right in the fabric as the silk exited the knot.  To remember to get the knot symmetrical.

The lesson opened the door for a question and answer session between father and son.  What’s with the undershirt?  Why do I have to wear a belt if my pants fit? Why aren’t white athletic socks inappropriate for a suit if nobody can see my ankles? Why are the pockets of a suit jacket sewn shut? He answered each of the questions patiently.  We moved on to when to button and unbutton a suit jacket.  Why I couldn’t keep my hands in my pockets.  We decoded the mystery of getting the proper fit for a dress shirt.  I think it dawned on him how far I was from his world, a man who wore a suit and tie nearly everyday of his life.

I still don’t like wearing ties.  I know I’m supposed to.  I’m more of a jeans and T-shirt guy.  I’ve avoided wearing suits and ties my whole life.  Occasionally, I do have to wear a tie.  Recently, I needed to wear a tie for a meeting, and I found myself picking out new shirts and ties to update my small, out-of-date collection.

I selected a shirt and wandered over to the tables covered with neatly arranged ties.  Picking out a tie is the pop quiz you didn’t know you needed to study for.  Men’s suits range from black, blue, gray; maybe khaki.  Shirts are typically white, blue, or some sort of paisley color.  Shoes: black and brown.  Same thing with belts.  Not a big range in color.  Maybe half a slice of pizza in the color pie chart. To pick out a suit, shirt, belt, and shoes; a man only needs to know the colors from the eight pack of crayons. Black, blue, gray, white, brown; that’s about it. A suit may be charcoal. We know about the charcoal. We barbecue, so charcoal is dark gray; we got it.

Not in the Land of Ties (not to be confused with Thailand). In the Land of Ties, there are more colors than in the paint section of Lowes, and 34 names for one color. White is no longer ‘White’, but ranges from ‘Eggshell White’ to ‘Unicorn Testicle’. Blue can be ‘Peacock’, ‘Navy’ (we know about the navy), ‘Pacific’, ‘Blueberry’, ‘Baltic’, ‘Deep Baltic’, ‘Midnight’, ‘Sound Blue’, ‘Surf Blue’, ‘Sail Blue’, ‘Bluestone’, ‘Deep Navy’ (I think this is for submariners), ‘Deep Sea’, ‘Mediterranean’ (More fun than Baltic!), ‘Harbor’, ‘Stone Blue’, ‘Coastal Blue’, ‘Shoreline Blue’, ‘Oceanfront’, ‘Peasant Blue’, ‘Royal Blue’ (More inbreeding than the Peasant Blue), ‘French Blue’, ‘Montclair Navy’, ‘Cayman Blue’, ‘Light Maritime’, ‘Grey Blue’, and ‘Ink’ (Ha! I bet you thought I was going to through in a blue balls joke. I wrote about my huevos enough in the last buhlog).

The proper tie with a patterned shirt?  Is the shirt pattern bold or subtle?  What colors match?  Which patterns compliment? I have no idea. I usually grab the most effeminate sales person in the store and ask them to pick out the tie. Say whatever you want about homosexuals; those dudes can pick out a tie. They will break all the rules I’ve ever learned and match a striped tie with a checked shirt, but it will look great. I’m thankful for every one them who have helped me out. I’m still annoyed with them about the restaurants. Homosexuals know where all of the great restaurants are, but they won’t tell us. If you want to find a great restaurant in any city; ask a gay dude. Except for barbecue; they don’t know about the barbecue. If I can’t find the effeminate guy, I have to scan the store for a mannequin and buy whatever it has on.

Many things have change since 16, and many more things I couldn’t learn from my father.  I’ve long since stopped fearing I would become my father to slowly realizing I already had.  With one exception. What did I do with my first paycheck from the toy store? I went back and bought a fist full of those bolo ties.

No colors were injured while writing this buhlog.

Noah Baird is the author of Donations to Clarity. If you buy the book, I promise to not use the royalties to buy ties.


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