Aw, I already DID a column on the tie thing

In what I can only characterize as a desperate attempt to get me to produce something for the actual newspaper, my colleague Cindi Scoppe has actually suggested that I turn my post about the leading candidates for the highest offices in the land not wearing ties into a column.

Really — Cindi "Gravitas" Scoppe, who normally only has scorn for anything that doesn’t bear on some topic as serious and gray as, say, state budget provisos.

So I gave it some thought, and I haven’t completely dismissed the idea. But I will note that I’ve already written ONE column on the subject. Sure, it was in 1998, and I have the new angle on Obama and the rest, but just how often must this subject be addressed? Here, by the way, is that column from pre-blog days:

Published on: 06/26/1998
Edition: FINAL
Page: A10
Editorial Page Editor

We had come to ask Hootie a favor. The Blowfish, too.

Jim Nichols, Cary Smith and I were at Fishco headquarters on Devine Street to meet with Rusty Harmon, Hootie’s manager. Jim was then the executive director of Central South Carolina Habitat for Humanity. Cary was a past president of Habitat’s board, and I was a board member.

We were there to ask Hootie to help us build a house. As it happened, they did, so the meeting was a success. But what sticks in my mind was something that happened before that point.

Rusty presented something of a paradox behind the desk, surrounded by books, papers, a PC and a laptop both running screen savers – all the usual trappings of the white-collar life. But he looked the way I did in college – hair running toward shoulder length, T-shirt and shorts.

But when he got up and walked by Cary on his way to fetch an associate, his flip-flops slapping against the floor, the contrast was dialed up several notches.

Cary was looking every bit the ex-IBM executive that he was, in a light gray suit. His leather shoes were polished, his hair trimmed close to the scalp, his shirt and tie everything that Big Blue would expect. He was sitting carefully, politely, quietly on the edge of a sofa, every inch of him projecting "trustworthy supplicant."

As soon as Rusty was out of earshot, Cary leaned slightly forward and said, very softly:

"So that’s what success looks like."

His voice contained no irony or disapproval. It was filled with guileless, almost childlike wonder.

Spin forward three years, to last week. Cary is now president of United Way of the Midlands, and he has come to talk to the editorial board about recent changes in the way the community chest collects and distributes money. We meet in what I term "the fancy meetin’ room." It’s the newspaper’s formal board room, with the long, polished table, the leather chairs, the paneling and the portraits of a century of past publishers keeping watch to make sure we don’t do anything they wouldn’t do.

The portraits kept their counsel, but I suspect they were taken aback by the picture Cary Smith presented, in open-necked, short-sleeved madras sport shirt and khaki pants. "You going ‘cazh’ today, Cary?" I asked, expecting him to say he was on his way to an outdoor event. But what he said was, "Oh, we’ve gone casual at United Way." He said it as matter-of-factly as you or I might say, "The dinosaurs are all gone."

Well, this was more than I was prepared to take in. Not that there’s anything wrong with the way he was dressed. After all, this is the way South Carolina’s bourgeoisie has long dressed for upscale barbecues, right down to his loafers without socks. No self-respecting Southern frat boy would ever let hosiery get between him and his Bass Weejuns.

But. But. But it wasn’t even Friday. I was aware that lots of people in lots of offices were dressing down at the end of the week, but this was Monday.

I have to say, with no offense meant to my friend Cary, that I don’t hold with it.

The point of clothing, in my own stuffy view, is to avoid distracting or giving offense, either through nakedness or an excess of individuality. I want people to interact with me and what I have to say, not my clothes. Give me blue and gray and white and khaki (but only with a blazer), and certainly give me blue or black socks – not because they look spiffy, but because they blend into the background.

I have enough things to think about in the morning without having to consider attire. Cary Smith has to remember now to wear a coat and tie on the days he meets with big donors.

Of course, I have little choice. I meet with all sorts of people in the course of a day who would think I wasn’t giving them proper respect if I didn’t wear the tie. They’re in suits – or the bewildering array of outfits that women wear that supposedly equate to suits – and therefore so should the newspaper guy. It’s a tradeoff: You go through life with a silk noose around your neck, but at least it makes things simple.

That’s the way it’s always been. Unfortunately, things are changing.

I still remember the first candidate who came in for an endorsement interview wearing shorts. It was in 1996. I assumed that since he was a Libertarian, he was just asserting his "right" to dress any way he pleased. We asserted our right not to endorse him, for reasons that extended beyond costume.

He was a harbinger. It’s becoming less and less remarkable for folks to come in wearing jeans and even T-shirts. Sometimes they apologize. Others comment upon our ties as though we were the ones breaching decorum.

I still wear the coat and tie, and will until it just becomes so distracting to others that I can’t do my job. That time may come sooner rather than later. I noticed at Rotary on Monday that more and more people were dressing like Cary, who happened to be seated at my table. I mentioned that to him, and he had this advice:

"Get used to it."

5 thoughts on “Aw, I already DID a column on the tie thing

  1. Ralph Hightower

    I used to work at a place where ties were mandatory. One day, I forgot my tie and I had to borrow a tie from a coworker that he kept hanging in his cube that he used as a spare. After that occurance, I bought a generic tie to keep in my cube for when I forgot to put one one for work.
    Now, I only wear ties to weddings, funerals, job interviews, and to formal Toastmaster events or those events above the club level where I am in front of the audience, such as contests. I will also wear a tie when it is part of the “costume” when I am giving a Toastmasters speech; at a corporate club that I was a member of, I brought a coat and tie into work when I gave JFK’s speech to Rice University as a project from the Interpretive Reading manual. Seeing that coat and tie hanging in my cube confused a number of coworkers.

  2. p.m.

    I have not worn a tie since the last funeral I attended, if I wore one then.
    In cool weather, a coat and tie is warm. Otherwise, except that it looks better than today’s ultra-casual mode, they seem insane, especially when I’m wearing them in August.

  3. --

    ***Official Date*** of HillBuzz site boycott:
    September Four, Two Thousand Eight.
    They are pathetic panderers for McCain and have been all along. The Great Whore. He is.


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