CASUALLY COOL and a PAIN IN THE NECK GIFT

Back in my working days we didn’t have morale-boosting dress down Fridays. They would have been welcome, not only for the right to wear casual clothes, but to be able to strip down to survival wear in our unairconditioned work places.

I worked in one office where our manager, a kindly enough old man, but physically coldblooded, tried to convince us our one open window was a real benefit in July and August. When Mr. Coldblood left for lunch, we guys took off our jackets and posted a sentry at the door.

Finally, after a couple of clerks collapsed from heat exhaustion, we got a big office fan. It must have been war surplus, probably used to test fighter plane propeller designs. It had two buttons, “Off” and “Cyclone”. We loved it but we had to use horseshoes as paper weights.

And so we survived, but so did one ancient mensware torture item that continues to make formal affairs uncomfortable experiences for many of us. When militant women decided to burn their bras, we guys should have joined them and thrown our neckties into the blaze.

We can blame a 17th century Croation regiment for this sartorial nuisance. They paraded into Paris one day and part of their uniforms, colorful knotted neckerchiefs, caught the eye of Louis IV and other fashion conscious Frenchmen. Cravats were soon the rage in France. As the years passed this throat-threatening ornament went through many variations as stocks, scarves, bandanas, bolos and ascots. The ancestor of the modern necktie was born during the 18th century Industrial Revolution when a safer, easy to tie item was needed for machinery workers.

Easy to tie? That’s debatable. I have a grammar school class photo of me showing what looks like a dark tangled rope around my neck with a knot the size of a golf ball situated near my left shoulder. I struggled for years to master a half Windsor knot.

Cambridge University researchers found there are 85 possible knots for the standard necktie. First of all, who pays for these ridiculous research projects? No wonder college tuition is so high. Secondly, I passed the 85 different knots mark before I got out of high school.

The necktie has many enemies. One critic called it “Pointless and uncomfortable and despised by all but the most inveterate masochists.” The necktie was denounced in Iran as a symbol of Western oppression and British hospitals have banned them for staff members, calling them infection sources. Ikea forbids neckties in its work places.

One reason the necktie lives on is that it’s an easy gift. Women think every man can use at least one more necktie and Christmas shopping can be that much worry-free for the female shopper, not having to fret about spinning reel models and graphite-shafted putter designs. So we smile and say, “Oh, good! A fancy necktie!” But down deep we hope one of the other unwrapped presents contains a turtleneck sweater to hide the monstrosity.

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