A tie to the job
The morning rush hour often yields a flurry of colours as men rushing to work sport undulating ties on their mad dash to be by their masters by the allotted time.
Tied to the ruling class
For the capitalist class, the tie is the very symbol of elegance and power, echoing Oscar Wilde’s sentiments that “a well-tied tie is the first serious step in life” (Wilde joked this at a time when very few workers actually wore ties at all). Indeed, the tie was suitably born soaked in blood. The word “cravat” comes from “Croat”, the nationality of the soldiers who won Turkey (previously in the Austro-Hungarian Empire) for Louis XIV of France, and who marched victoriously into Paris adorned in colourful silk handkerchiefs tied around their necks. The French King soon copied this style and began a similar fashion among the European aristocravats, pun intended. Indeed, Louis XIV called an entire regiment the Royal Cravattes.
In the stiff world of power, English gentlemen were soon wearing cravats so high and tight that they could not even turn their own necks around. Clothes have always been a symbol of the wearer’s status in society, and this fetishism of commodities as embodiment of social superiority was perfectly exemplified by the cravat. Indeed, LeBlanc, a Frenchman who spent his life instructing the elite how to tie a cravat properly, remarked that “the grossest insult that can be offered to a man comme il faut is to seize him by the cravat; in this place blood only can wash out the stain upon the honor of either party.” The official name of the common way in which most men tie their ties today, the Windsor technique, is named after the Duke of Windsor himself.
Ties which both hang flaccidly from the neck to the groin like a penis and also point to it are the very symbol of the phallus, which is so envied by other men and women not for its actual qualities as much as the social meaning attributed to the gender of its owner. The tie is thus a symbol of the domination of men over women, and of power in general.
To those of us who wear it to work (and I am one of them) the tie is a burden, another rule to follow in a workplace dominated by rules and regulations. It represents the very essence of discomfort, as it applies light pressure to the very tube we all require to breathe, reminding us of our life sentence to capital by tie hanging, of how much our lives are owned and controlled by the elite, and how much our very life force is maintained because of our servitude to another class. Wearing a tie, we simply don’t feel free, just as we don’t look free, donning an article required of many workers regardless of their individualities or creative abilities. The very essence of conformity.
Ties come in all colours, symbolizing the endless shades of commodities on the marketplace. Just as we workers identify ourselves by what soap opera we watch, what car we drive, what shade of left or right we adhere to, so our many-coloured and patterned ties mirror these false identities and choices. They maintain a sense of choice and free will (Mickey Mouse tie versus striped tie versus plain coloured tie) in a world in which workers have virtually none other than in such a meaningless domain as that of choosing between this or that object of consumption. They feel like the object of our individuality even while being mass-produced and inevitably laying bare our bondage to the job.
With my tie as chain around my neck I often imagine myself to be the chained factory farm cow, being prepared for the slaughter, raised only as a commodity for sale on the market from birth to death. Indeed, the dress “code” itself, like all codes, symbolizes the world of apparition, what the Situationists termed Spectacle, beneath which lurks the real meaning of our servitude.
I do not “wear it proudly.” It reminds me of a life of slavery. With my tie on, like the factory farm cow, I dream of greener pastures where I too can graze in freedom. I fantasize of a world in which all the paraphernalia of the capitalist system are gone—money, wages, buying and selling, bosses, nation states, meaningless objects of consumption and, yes, ties too – and people will relate to each other directly, without the mediation, status and conformity of the dress code.
In such a world, the feeling of freedom and ease is likely to reflect in our attire, and as the artificial division between “their time” (work) and “our time” is gone, so will the division between “work clothes” and “play clothes” as well. Whether we will all wear something more akin to pajamas or athletic clothes or close to nothing only history can tell, but it is clear from the tie that it acts in the same relation as ideology, maintaining while at the same time obscuring the deeper relations of minority ownership and power.
The very word “tie” speaks to both our actual economic ties to the ruling class as well as to the feeling of being tied to it. I look forward to a time when I will be appreciated for the mind above the coloured collar, and when clothes are admired for their uniqueness, their comfort, and the manner in which they express the freedom of human society.