I like ties: I really do! I have about 120 of them and I wear them voluntarily to work on average two or three days a week. I get up in the morning and make a decision on which shirt to wear and whether or not I want to wear a tie with it. I imagine that a woman goes through pretty much the same process when she decides whether to wear a skirt or trousers. I treat them like any other fashion accessory, which is their correct status. Unfortunately, there are those who still insist on trying to maintain for the tie an iconic status, forcing men to wear them in a way which would be widely considered unacceptable for any item of clothing for women.
This may have been acceptable in the dim, distant and gender discriminatory past, but should no longer be considered appropriate today.
Fifty years ago, my father would wear an open-necked shirt around the house, but would put on a tie to go shopping. It was part of everyday wear for men, and it was reasonable to expect men to wear a tie for work. My mother would wear slacks around the house (women didn’t wear trousers in those days), but would change into a dress or skirt before leaving the house.
Since then, two things have changed: you can verify this for yourself next time you go shopping in you local town centre. You will see virtually no men wearing ties except for those working in shops, banks etc and forced to do so by their employers. You will see that many women wear trousers, but that a very significant proportion still wear skirts or dresses. Despite the fact that ties have virtually disappeared outside the workplace, tribunals still often describe them as being conventional male dress. On the other hand, it is a brave employer today who insists on women wearing skirts, despite the fact that the skirt is just as “conventional” as the tie, and is still much more widely worn than the tie outside the workplace. As the photograph below shows, there is no objective reason why a woman should be said to look smart without a tie, but a man does not.
They both look equally smart, or not, but to say that one looks smart and the other does not says more about preconditioning and gender stereotyping in the eye of the viewer than it does about the actual appearance of the man and woman.
The tie, for men only of course, is the only item of clothing that is defended by the old guard as being a sine qua non for being smartly dressed. Everyone has an opinion on what “smart” means, but the tie is the only article that is still forced on millions of men, whether they want to wear it or not. It is true that there are still some employers who make women wear skirts, but they are few and far between. There are also a few courageous, but misguided, employers who insist on women wearing make-up. There are even some employers who still insist on men having short hair, whereas women can have it as long as they like and are allowed to tie it up if necessary.
The only answer is to change the law so that gender-specific dress codes are illegal. This won’t, despite the fears of the Colonel Fortescue-Smythes of this world, lead to a large number of men turning up to work in skirts! Why should it, when very few, if any, current dress codes actually insist on men wearing trousers? If one man did, so what, the world wouldn’t end. The banning of gender-discriminatory dress codes would prevent employers insisting on make-up or skirts for women and on short hair or ties for men. The current law is vague and says that neither gender must be “disadvantaged”. This is too open to interpretation: how can a man forced to wear a tie on a hot summer’s day not be disadvantaged compared to the woman working next to him in a t-shirt?
The solution is simple: ban gender-specific dress codes. By choice, many men will still wear ties. By choice, many women will still wear skirts. The difference is that both genders will be treated equally and there will be another nail in the coffin of gender stereotyping.