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Should Men Wear Ties to Work?

When was the last time you wore a tie to work? Increasingly in Canada, the answer for many men is “years ago.”

I recently attended a high-level business conference and noticed that the only man in the room wearing a tie was the presenter. That brought to mind a question: is the era of wearing a tie as over as the era of wearing a hat? Most of us working in the business world today have never bought a hat to wear with our suits, and can’t conceive of bringing that particular item back.

While the suit is still with us, let’s explore the meaning and purpose of the tie.

The tie began with soldiers wearing a coloured cloth around their necks to denote their loyalty. Some historians date this back to early Chinese warfare, while others credit Roman emperors. The most credible sources, though, say the custom arose with the 17th century French king Louis XIII, who hired Croatian soldiers as mercenaries. They wore neckwear to declare themselves. Louis loved the look and brought it to Paris, naming the neckwear “la cravate”, which was a corruption of the word “Croate”. He made the wearing of a cravate mandatory for the French nobility at all court functions.

Some decades later, the English and Scottish upper-classes developed their own patterns and colours to display their education, heritage or military regiment.

The tie, then, evolved to be a status symbol. It also helped to keep the top of one’s shirt closed (most shirt collars were detachable).

Wearing a tie announced that one did not work in the fields or the factory and conveyed a strong message about one’s social position.

Did you know that doctors in Britain no longer wear ties? In 2006, the British Medical Association strongly recommended that doctors stop wearing ties on ward rounds. “The wearing of non-functional items can spread disease, because these items (ties) are seldom cleaned and frequently worn”, the BMA stated in its guidance on infections acquired in hospital.

Policemen and security staff wear clip-on ties for a good reason – if they get into an altercation, the tie pulls off easily, rather than being used to choke them.

These days, wearing a tie in business might well be a signal that a fellow can afford to ignore convention – he may be the company leader, doing work that is so cool he can dress informally on every occasion.

In our business as a search firm, our team of Consultants is continually meeting with key decision-makers across Canada. We are also interviewing candidates on a daily basis, and those candidates come from diverse backgrounds – they’re looking for new careers as marketers, managers, even as executives. In other words, we see it all, and observe both company culture and candidate suitability. And as it’s been said so many times, first impressions matter.

Under what circumstances, then, would wearing a tie be a good idea? If you are a candidate going on an important job interview, will wearing a tie have any bearing on the outcome?

There’s no question that an investment in business wear can give you a polished, professional look. That may or may not include a tie – but remember that the tie should be an accessory that provides interest, not the focal point.

It’s more important to pay close attention to your entire outfit. A suit that fits you well and flatters your frame is the first step. A tailored shirt, with some interesting detail (check out the designs from Ted Baker as an example) will make a memorable impression. Socks matter too. Socks from designers such as Paul Smith can give your wardrobe a real lift. Finally, give careful thought to your shoes. They make more of a statement about you than you might suspect.

There’s no harm in being the best-dressed guy you can afford to be. It shows you care. The right clothes give you a degree of confidence that allows your best qualities as a business leader, or a candidate, to shine through. A tie? – totally optional!

Ben Lamarche

Ben has the privilege of being the “chef d’orchestre” or “conductor” of the Lock Search Group team.