Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville (1805-1859) the French political thinker and historian said that “In a democracy, the people get the government they deserve”.
One does rather wonder what we’ve done to deserve the current crop of politicians gracing Westminster. Last week there was a small revolution in the House of Commons when Tory MP Peter Bone pointed out to the Speaker that Lib Dem MP Tom Brake was asking a question but not wearing a tie. Mr Bone interviewed on Radio 4 said he was “not really one to talk about dress sense” but he is renowned for his colourful ties and feels that parliamentary traditions should be upheld.
Mr Speaker Bercow, a sensible man, has decreed that MPs should dress in business-like attire but that ties are not necessary. To laughter he declared that there was “absolutely no obligation on female members not to wear ties, if they so choose”.
Blood to the brain
We can only hope that this relaxation of sartorial standards will mean an improved flow of oxygen-rich blood to the brains our politicians. If discarding the necktie leads to better decision-making then we should all be in favour of the decision. Ties are largely obsolete in the average office, still worn in the City, but often only donned for client meetings and formal social events. Our MPs are, as usual, behind the trend in ditching the neckwear during the steamy summer conditions prevailing this year.
The Telegraph suggests that proponents of the tie’s place in the office assert that ties neatly demarcate work and leisure time. The theory is that the presence of the tie serves as a reminder to knuckle down and focus on the job at hand. Conversely, loosening the tie after work signals that one can relax.
Times are changing and Sadiq Khan took his oath of office as the mayor of London in Southwark Cathedral in a navy suit, white shirt and no tie. The previous week, he and his opponent, Zac Goldsmith, were pictured on the cover of The London Evening Standard going to vote in blue suits, white shirts and no ties.
Australia’s Executive Style magazine suggests that the relaxation of dress codes reflects the new economic power structure, one that celebrates the technical entrepreneurial class and the shadow banking sector, both of whose casual style has had an increasing influence on professional dress codes, redefining what success looks like in the popular imagination – think Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg or Richard Branson.
Practicality and standards
I should, perhaps, declare an interest here as I was the author of a one-man campaign to drop the requirement to wear a tie at the Capital Club when I was a member. I notice that the Mayfair clubs have not followed suit, the Carlton Club still warns that gentlemen are expected to wear a tailored jacket and formal trousers together with a collared shirt and tie (no cravats). Exceptions are made for those wearing national costume.
Wikipedia says that the modern necktie spread by Europe traces back to the time of the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) when Croatian mercenaries wore traditional small, knotted neckerchiefs to keep the neck of their jacket closed. The old school tie brigade have a lot to answer for!
It’s hard to imagine that a strip of cloth could do much to add to effective or successful performance at work. The key to success is how we make decisions and making the right decisions; what you are wearing has no real bearing on anything, but perception is everything and looking the part is sometimes important.
I would like to point out that doctors are discouraged, by the BMA, from wearing ties on ward rounds as they may spread disease. Studies have found that about a third of doctors’ ties are contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus bacteria – and that up to 70% of physicians admit to never cleaning their ties.
At which point I could put in a plea for the bow tie – some university professors prefer them because they don’t fall into soup bowls or interfere with the use of engineering equipment. National Bow Tie Day is at the end of August should you feel like trying this smaller, neater option. Don’t wear a pre-tied bow though, it’s important to maintain some standards after all!