Last year I highlighted an interesting article from the International Herald Tribune about how employees at Eni, Italy’s largest power company, agreed to shed their ties and cut back on air conditioning in an effort to help fight global warming.
The company’s Rome and Milan offices called the sartorial experiment, “lighter and cooler office attire.” By all accounts the trial wardrobe change was a success, though employees made it very clear that expected to return to proper clothing as the weather cooled into autumn and as far as I know they did just that.
Italians ditching their ties; those fantastic, large-knotted creations that men the world over vainly attempt to duplicate, gone for an entire summer? What is the world coming to? Regardless of the cause, you can be sure that the loss of a mere neck tie did not send office standards into a sartorial tailspin. Tie or no tie, Italians have standards.
What brought that article to mind was another, more recent one from the Wall Street Journal. Last week, it ran a story – front page below the fold, no less – about the shuttering of The Men’s Dress Furnishing Association. Founded in 1948, the association represented manufacturers of neckties. Back in the roaring 1980s, the decade of the suit-as-uniform and corresponding power tie, there were more than 120 members. Today, that number dwindles to a paltry 25.
Through an interesting juxtaposition of market condition, the general trend of men wishing to dress more stylishly has not translated into an increase, or even stabilization, in the wearing of ties. The use of a neck tie in day-to-day office wear has in fact been in steady decline since the mid 1990s.
As someone who spends his days in the trade association world, I feel a particular pang of sadness at MDFA’s passing. While these organizations serve an obvious business function, they also act as an extended family of sorts. Members know each other and can touch base with others in the same boat. Now that boat has sunk.
The trending away from ties in many business environments was not un-noticed, certainly not at MDFA’s annual luncheon two years ago at which many members showed up tieless, including the CEO of JA Apparel. No, the writing was on the wall even then. Still, there is no particular reason to run off and toss all the ties from your closet just yet. Dressing well is still a growing trend; the difference now is that there are fewer rules governing the definition of “well dressed.”
Ties are a victim of these new rules because they are no longer the required article they once were. Now an option, many guys are looking to interesting and unique tie makers to add some flair to what many now see as a special occasion accessory. Ashley Ashoff, who I recently highlighted, is an excellent example of this. She makes lovely handmade ties, sourcing her silk from one of the finest mills in Italy. They are expensive but beautiful and fall right in line as something you wear for that special meeting or interview.
In the big picture, ties as an accessory aren’t going anywhere. Many men still wear them regularly, or at least make a point of putting one on every couple of days to feel more put together.
The real shift, as the article points out, is that men now have more power when it comes to dressing for work – and power means choice. They are choosing to make the tie optional. And with summer temperatures expected to break records across the country and across the world, expect to see that option exercised on a regular basis.