|Illustration by Caty Bartholomew.|
It might seem to be a petty matter to write about, but my old heart is so jumping with joy today that I cannot pass by the magnificent story I spotted on the BBC website last night that the most prestigious upmarket tie shop in England has closed down due to a plunge in sales.
It seems that at last the menfolk on this side of the Atlantic have come to their senses and that the blasted ties with which we have been forced to throttle ourselves for over a century are at last gone out of fashion. I thank the Almighty for that.
It is still the case that what happens in England on a Monday happens in Ireland about the following Wednesday so, even in a recession where jobs are precious, it is my earnest hope that the sales of bloody ties of all shapes and hues and sizes plunges here in Ireland too as soon as possible, and that we men are freed at last from a sartorial abomination which has plagued us all our lives.
I think American men were largely freed from ties over recent decades but we were not and, sadly, we still may not escape despite the developing English situation.
I will believe it has happened when I see a gaggle of assorted politicians at some major ceremonial occasion in Dublin soon, and not a single one of them equipped with a tie. That will be one of the best days of my entire life for sure.
Where did the fashion for wearing ties originally come from? I have not the foggiest notion but I rather suspect that it, like everything else that is negative for Irishmen, was originally foisted upon us by the English.
A consequence of the fashion has been that all the major occasions of our lives, from First Communion onwards, have been occasions of semi-strangulation by bloody ties.
It is bad enough when you reach manhood and can make some effort to knot your own tie, but it was dreadful altogether when you were a boy and womenfolk equipped you with your tie.
Women never mastered the skill of making a proper tie knot, so you were left with a tight little knot far too tightly around your throttle and, worse still, it was impossible to loosen it so that you could breathe more easily.
I swear that I was 25 years old before I could properly create the big knot called the Windsor Knot (again the English connection!) which was then the height of fashion for young bloods.
It was an extremely complex knot to construct, requiring many up-and-unders, and the worst element of the process was that very often a short tie was totally devoured by the creation of the knot and you were left with no breast coverage at all. Either that or the thin end of the tie was two feet longer than the front portion.
There is no woman in Ireland even today who can fashion a Windsor Knot and, come to think of it, very few men either.
If you were trading as a reporter in rural Ireland in the 1950s and ‘60s then it was necessary to wear a collar and tie or nobody would talk to you at all. In some obscure way a collar and tie signified that you were at least semi-respectable and less lethal.
Wise old hacks, though, when covering certain stories and events in the deep west, would always remove their ties before conducting investigations or interviews with many subjects.
This was because the “gaugers” or civil servants who were trying to catch out men who were working whilst still claiming the dole or other welfare benefits always wore collars and ties. You might be mistaken for one of them and would make no progress at all on the story.
A wise Sligo source told me once that, for some unknown reason, the gaugers always seemed to wear red ties. Red for danger!
There was a brief period in the late 1960s when redemption from ties, except on very serious occasions like funerals, was created by a fad for cravats. They were much more comfortable, were easy to knot loosely, were worn with an open neck shirt and were quite dashing and flamboyant.
What developed though was that every rogue and conman and rascal in Ireland began wearing cravats, extra lurid ones at that, and they went out of fashion (except for the horsey set at the Dublin Horse Show) even more quickly than they arrived.
There was an even briefer fad for string ties in the west and south but, for some unknown reason to me, those who wore these so often became involved in anti-social behaviors that you were in danger of being arrested by the Gardai (police) on sight and, worse still, girls would refuse to dance with you in the ballrooms of romance. That was a disaster altogether.