Written by Dotty Winters


All tied up

Women’s dress codes are in the news at the moment but for heaven’s sake, asks Dotty Winters, will nobody think of the men?

Tie, shirt and jacket
Much has been made of the ways in which dress codes penalise women. Companies which expect women to pay for manicures, wear high heels or do their makeup in particular ways have all hit the headlines in recent months.

But while we are exploring the ways in which a patriarchal society limits all of us, we should also examine a very common dress-code restriction: the requirement for men to wear ties.

Imagine aliens landed. Now imagine trying to justify a society that expects a large number of people to wear a purposeless, uncomfortable fabric noose as a marker of the quality of their work and their position in society.

I think it is important to be specific. I don’t think we should focus our attention on people who choose to wear ties. All of us to some degree or other are socialised to the symbols, customs and shorthands of the society we live in. Untangling these internal value systems is complex and often fruitless.

Sometimes I feel more confident when I wear heels and this is likely some combination of the influence of the images I’ve seen, the people I admire and behaviours which I’ve seen rewarded previously in myself and others.

However, I am adamantly opposed to requiring women to wear heels, recognise that when I wear them it is a choice (and one which I sometimes challenge myself not to take) and work hard to improve the way in which I make judgements about others based on their own choices.

We should acknowledge that in some settings being required to wear a tie will be an explicit matter of dress code or rules, while in other settings the requirement will be more implicit: if you only ever see people who wear ties being promoted, what would you learn about what was required for promotion?

“If I am interviewing someone for a job, I’d rather recruit someone who can demonstrate that they are professional than someone who can merely dress as if they were professional.”

Ties serve no purpose. In fact they are restrictive, uncomfortable for some people and often impractical. In healthcare settings they can increase the risk of infection, and they aren’t a great idea around machinery, animals or children.

I’m sure if we looked hard enough we could find a few stories where a tie was used to fix a fan belt, or as a life-saving emergency tourniquet, but on the whole, I think we need to accept that ties are merely a visual cue. Lots of our clothing and accessories operate primarily as pointers to the type of person we are, or want to be, but few are as pervasive as ties.

When challenged on its tie-requiring dress code by a civil servant who is taking their case to court, the Department of Work and Pensions claimed that the dress code was, “part of a drive to provide improved services to the public.” This a laudable aim, one which few people would disagree with, but I can’t help think they might have been better to improve the services they provide to the public by, say, improving the services they provide to the public, rather than through the medium of dressing up.

Aren’t we beyond an age where we want to make and impose decisions based on such lazy shorthand? If I am interviewing someone for a job, I’d rather recruit someone who can demonstrate that they are professional than someone who can merely dress as if they were professional. Looking smart and presentable is important in lots of jobs, but requiring (or expecting) a tie isn’t a very nuanced way of ensuring this.

At the risk of stating the obvious, a tie is such a widespread item of clothing that its usefulness as a marker of status, personality or quality is pretty compromised. For example, Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump are both politicians, both have surnames beginning with T, are male and live in the same continent.

However, to make a judgement on their suitability, aptitude or attitude for almost anything (politics, deal-making, fake-tan, yoga, sums, suitability for inclusion in the emergency wank-bank) I’d need to know a bit more than whether or not they can confidently sport a natty fashion noose. Wouldn’t you?


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Written by Dotty Winters

Nascent stand-up, fan of fancy words, purveyor of occasional wrongness, haphazard but enthusiastic parent, science-fan, apprentice-feminist.