Complaints about ties and bad pockets

2010-03-31

in Daily updates, Economics, Geek stuff, Ottawa, Rants

Perhaps more slowly than might have been expected, I am making the transition from almost exclusively owning comfortable, functional clothing of the sort that works well for climbing mountains to owning an increasing proportion of the kind of clothes I once owned in singular sets for the occasional wedding, funeral, or high table dinner.

I can’t say I object to the difference between wearing decent dress shoes and wearing $100 shoes I originally bought for a minimum wage position at Staples. Nor, living in Ottawa, can I deny the utility of long woolen coats for much of the year. I must, however, object to two intolerable aspects of formal clothing.

Impractical pockets

Firstly, I object to the pockets. There are too few of them, they are lacking in volume and ability to carry objects unobtrusively, and they are almost always too easy to lose things out of. In an ideal world, I should be able to carry all my day-to-day gear in the pockets of my jacket and trousers: keys, wallet, change, phone, iPod, headphones, point and shoot camera, liner gloves, earplugs (I like reading in silence), bus/security pass, miniature tripod, etc. In this ideal world, all of these things would also be in deep, zippered pockets that do not bulge horribly, when burdened with such necessary objects.

I have never found these desires to be satisfied by formal clothes. Keys seem absurdly capable of sawing through the pockets of dress trousers, leading to the loss of coins, phones, and other things. Jacket pockets are too few in number and too open and horizontal to be trusted. This is especially true when carrying electronic devices.

The silken noose

The other aspect of formal clothing to which I must object most forcefully is neckties. There are a number of reasons why Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a man worth taking seriously, and his hatred of neckties seems to me to be among the most convincing. The things serve no practical purpose whatsoever. Even worse, they inescapably cause frustration, annoyance, and discomfort – not least by obstructing both breathing and circulation.

I am truly glad to have been able to go many months now without wearing one, and devoutly wish to eventually find myself employed in such a place and manner that I will need to wear them only for funerals.

All the above being said, and in keeping with my earlier appeal for quality durable goods, those men who find themselves obliged to wear formal clothes often should subscribe to the blog Put This On, which is a good source of information and advice for those who have never been personally educated in such things.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Neal March 31, 2010 at 6:14 pm

I disagree about ties. I wear them almost every weekday during the winter, not because my work requires it, but because I like them and find them functional.

Firstly, ties are essentially compact, easily tied scarves. When wearing a jacket, they complete an outfit by closing the gap in the middle of the chest and at the base of the neck. A little bit of fabric there makes a big difference. I dislike wearing undershirts, so during the winter, a jacket and tie–and when it’s colder a scarf–keeps me comfortable outside. Also, unlike an undershirt, it is easy to take off a tie if I get too warm, and sometimes even just loosening or tightening my tie is effective in keeping warm or cool.

This leads into my second point, which is they don’t have to be restricting. I like to wear my ties a little loose with the top button of my shirt undone, so the tie just loosely holds the collar of my shirt closed. I find this more comfortable than either buttoning my top collar, or not wearing a tie and leaving the collar open–unless I’m warm, in which case the tie comes off. My general rule is if it’s warm enough to roll up my sleeves, it’s too hot for a tie.

I also like the way ties look, and I enjoy the act of tying them. After a year of practice, I can tie a Half-Windsor in under 30 seconds while keeping it nice and symmetrical with one dimple in the middle. I can tie a Christensen Knot in under a minute (I like this knot for skinnier ties).

Finally, ties are a really cheap way of adding variety to your wardrobe. Because they have in many ways fallen out of favor, and because people who die tend to have a lot of them, there is typically a huge selection of really nice and cheap ties at thrift stores. I have over 20 ties that I regularly wear, and most of them cost me less than $3. Wearing different ties helps avoid the appearance of always wearing the same outfit.

I agree with the point about pockets though. After losing a phone, I’ve gotten used to keeping everything in my jacket and abandoning the useless pockets in most of my work pants. That said, the Gap used to sell decent looking and comfortable wool slacks with roomy pockets that tend to retain their contents. I’m always on the lookout for these at thrift stores. I found one pair last year, in a charcoal pinstripe, and another pair in a solid neutral gray.

R.K. March 31, 2010 at 6:40 pm

This all seems like cause to hope for peace and prosperity in the future, since liberal social mores seem to accompany those things. When times are bad, people seem to turn conservative in dress, manners, and behaviour.

R.K. March 31, 2010 at 6:41 pm

Though I suppose we all have reason enough to hope for peace and prosperity, regardless of the impact it might have on business attire.

emily March 31, 2010 at 7:56 pm

Oh heavens.

I think neck ties look smart. And they shouldn’t be tight enough to asphyxiate you.

Also, I think you and I need to have a chat about murses. :)

Milan March 31, 2010 at 8:13 pm

I have never worn a tie that I found comfortable. Maybe it is psychological rather than physical, but they always seem choking.

Milan March 31, 2010 at 8:14 pm

I like to wear my ties a little loose with the top button of my shirt undone, so the tie just loosely holds the collar of my shirt closed.

This does help, admittedly.

Also, I think you and I need to have a chat about murses. :)

The Hedgren bag you gave me is very useful.

BuddyRich April 1, 2010 at 6:49 am

Speaking from experience, you could always get a job in IT where you can go to work looking like you just rolled out of bed. And if you did so you’d probably still look better than half of the people there!

That said if you want to get to the MG or EX level, you have to start dressing at least at a smart business casual level, with the occasional suit and tie for branch level meetings with DGs and the like.

The wife and I have had this discussion many times, she’s a proponent of dressing to impress, whereas I am a comfort and function over form type of fellow. My argument is, who’s going to be more productive, someone who is comfortable or someone who is not? On the other hand, wearing a tie won’t make you a better manager, but it may, because of old mindsets, change people’s attitude towards you, especially people you happen to be in authority over. It’s completely irrational, but the effect is there.

Milan April 1, 2010 at 8:09 am

There are many reasons for which management positions don’t appeal to me. I think I am happier working at an analytical level.

. November 10, 2010 at 10:38 pm

Put This On Episode 3: Work

Milan November 10, 2010 at 11:10 pm

Put This On is a pretty great site.

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