- - Thursday, June 18, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Neckties are to Father's Day what flowers are to Mother’s Day. But the ties haven’t had the clear advantage that flowers-for-Mom have illustrated. From the time of the first national third-Sunday-in-June tribute to dads (thanks to President Calvin Coolidge giving it a thumbs-up), neckties have always had major competitors for gifts. The traditional tie story in 1924 was illustrated by the ad that read: “Dad’s usually so busy providing luxuries for his family that he hasn’t had time to look after his own necessities. And he does need ties — every man does. Surprise him on Sunday morning with a couple of good-looking neckties.”

Countered another ad: “There are better gifts than neckties for Father's Day. Dad has enough around his neck already. So why not buy something different, like handkerchiefs, hose, golf apparel, or maybe a pair of silk pajamas?”

Neckties arose as a popular gift for dads because they were the one article of dress that didn’t require knowledge about size. All neckties were the same in size. Buying socks, shirts or even a hat — all within the realm of reasonably priced items in the early 20th century — necessitated sizing up Dad’s feet, chest and arms or head — no easy task if the gift was to be a surprise. For the same reason, the emerging greeting card industry honed in on ties.

Of course, in the couple decades after 1924, even farmers and blue-collar workers that dominated the work force dressed up at least weekly with shirts and ties for special outings. Then as more young folk went to higher educational institutions in the 1950s and 1960s, they looked forward to “white-collar” jobs that necessitated neckties. So as subsequent fatherhood emerged, so neckties continued to be a major contender for the Father's Day shopper. Moreover, the items wouldn’t devastate a shopper’s budget and, for the most part, could be worn for years because shapes rarely changed (though there was a short-lived phenomenon of skinny ties that emerged in the ‘50s).

Bow ties got a boost from famous persons such as Harry S. Truman and Winston Churchill. They also got an advantage from the fact that the apparel industry quickly provided clip-on versions, making them much easier to put on. Regular ties required training in making an appropriate neck knot as well as the proper resting length on the dress shirt — no easy endeavor for some users.

The association of ties of all sorts with Father's Day was heightened by such activities as marathons. For instance, Beverly Shores, Ind., for eight years has had a 5K Necktie Walk and Run the Saturday before Father's Day, with all participants expected to wear a tie. And some baseball teams, such as the Houston Astros, made history by presenting each male with a team tie on the special day. Charities, too, have produced Father's Day ties for sale.

Although neckties are still popular today, dressing-up for many men has changed, with dress shirts sans neckties the fashion. President Obama is often seen wearing a dress shirt but no necktie. I went to a gala the other night all dressed up in a suit and new tie and found most of my colleagues clad in sports coats and no ties. This is the new cool, which means hard times for necktie fashion.

Fortunately, there are other low- to-modest-priced items for dads other than neckties. An email ad I received recently from a wholesale store I belong to gave a whole range of items, one of which really attracted my attention, namely, shaver kits, because shaving has been upgraded by new technology that makes the daily rite more likely to remove one’s beard with ease and without irritation. The five o’clock shadow has finally been conquered.

However, there’s one problem: The rage today is for men to sport a few days’ growth in dressing up. Stubble, in other words, is cool.

Thomas V. DiBacco is professor emeritus at American University.

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