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FROM FIRST AND SPRING

A Job to Break the Ties That Bind

An Editor's Note

April 09, 2006|Rick Wartzman

As I type this, I am clad in the uniform of a magazine editor--or, more accurately, in my notion of what somebody in my line of work should be wearing.

My dress shirt is Johnny Cash black, open collar. My virgin wool Hugo Boss jacket is dark blue, verging on black. My jeans are a boot cut, allowing them to drape easily over my calf-high checkered socks and Gordon Rush loafers.

The idea that "what you wear is who you are," as one of the characters in Daniel Hernandez's story puts it ("'Terrorist Chic' and Beyond," page 34), is hardly novel. Yet I did begin to ponder my choice of attire as I read his piece on "fear fashion." Unlike those in Hernandez's story, who sport kaffiyehs and veils, I am not trying to be provocative or make a political statement.

If I'm honest, however, I am aiming to send a message: that I'm cool without trying too hard, that I'm stylish without being ostentatious.

My get-up says something else too: I simply can't stand neckties.

I have plenty of them. The rack on the back of my closet door is festooned with Joseph Abbouds and Giorgio Armanis. But one of my favorite things about this job--as opposed to my last post as business editor, where I felt obligated to wear a tie every day--is that I don't have to wake up and strangle myself.

My wife has frowned on this decision, arguing that a tie is one of the few "interesting" pieces of clothing a man has. I don't disagree.

Ties, though, are stifling and oppressive. When I have a formal affair to attend, I feel as if I've got on a $200 mauve yoke.

Clearly, I am not the only one. The other day, I picked up the paper and noticed a picture of four top executives--Steve Jobs, Ed Catmull, John Lasseter and Bob Iger--celebrating Walt Disney Co.'s acquisition of Pixar Animation Studios. A $7.4-billion transaction, and not a tie to be seen on any of these tycoons.

Hollywood and Silicon Valley have long been strongholds of that category of dress known as "business casual." And now in many other professions, the tie has also "gone by the wayside," notes Dennis Tootelian, a marketing professor at Cal State Sacramento who has researched the issue.

Tootelian says he was one of the last teachers on campus to give up his own tie. He finally shed it about two years ago, when he realized that it no longer conveyed erudition and now suggested to his students this instead: "You're kind of a dinosaur."

In 1986, as manager of Chevron Corp.'s El Segundo refinery, Dave O'Reilly launched the Necktie Rebellion to break down the barriers to communication between supervisors (who always wore ties) and the rank and file (who didn't).

O'Reilly went on to become chairman of the corporation. Coincidence? I don't think so.

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