Robert Peston is wrong – wearing a tie is a sign of respect


Robert Peston is wrong – wearing a tie is a sign of respect

Men’s fashion Tuesday 29 September 2015

Henry Conway

The journalist has defended his open-necked interviewing of George Osborne, but ties signify respect for institution and tradition, as well as being a baser symbol of manhood

Robert Peston

Robert Peston shows his age by railing against the tie.

Photograph David Levene for the Guardian

Symbol of oppression and the establishment, or classic accessory essential in the somewhat limited arsenal of the male wardrobe, the humble necktie has again come under scrutiny. Robert Peston, the BBC’s economics editor, has defended his preference for revealing a hint of hirsute chest whilst interviewing. “Last week I got a lot of stick for not having a tie on when interviewing the chancellor. Personally, I think these TV conventions are nuts,” he explained at the Radio Times festival. “I didn’t not wear a tie out of disrespect for the Chancellor, I just didn’t wear a tie because actually I don’t really like wearing a tie. The notion that what makes you a serious journalist is wearing a tie is bonkers,” he continued. Was he right? We all have things we don’t like to wear, but are forced to by convention – is Peston simply doing what many men have wanted to do for generations?

My own relationship with the tie is a fraught one. Having attended a school whose own black ties were symbolic of our continued mourning for the late Queen Victoria (toffs do love eking it out), then entering a world where going to members’ clubs or society events required neckwear, I developed an aversion for them. Caught out several times at the nightclub Annabel’s, I have done everything from wearing a pashmina as a rather unconvincing 70s kipper tie (only to roast, do not attempt it), to simply telling the much-distressed staff that my cashmere wrap instead of a tie and jacket was my attempt to be a force for change, and to leave me alone while dancing to Beyoncé.

There are, however, times when I just have to go with it – Royal Ascot, weddings, Buckingham Palace garden parties. Granted, I am hot and bothered, but I do feel I’m in a “finished” outfit, and more importantly I am happy in the knowledge that I am respecting the relevant traditions and institutions I am there to take part in. For those of you who see this as stuffy, and unashamedly toff – well, yes, I do have a backbone that was bred in institutions with their own songbooks and silly hats, but I am not out of step with the fashion world. Twice a year, I run round London Collections: Men (fashion week for chaps), and ties are in abundance on men from every walk of life.

Toffs at Ascot

Rocking the wet weather look at Royal Ascot

Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

On receiving the commission for this article, naturally I turned to supermodel, superman and fashion god David Gandy for his take on the tie – if he’s wearing one, then surely we all should. I often see him at events in not only a tie, but also a three-piece suit – “I think it’s important to show a respect to the event or situation you are invited to be part of,” he tells me. My thoughts exactly – as Gandy has said, it’s actually about courtesy. Wherever you hail from, going to a wedding or funeral, or being hauled up in court, a tie gives you dignity. You are respecting not just the individuals you are there to see, but also the institutions they represent. In rejecting the tie, Peston is not giving the chancellor the respect he deserves.

In parliament, the new leader of the opposition, not known for his love of convention, was widely expected to go tieless at his first PMQs. Corbyn has in fact always worn a tie in the Chamber, out of respect for the Speaker. It’s about time – in an era of “Call me Tony, call me Dave” and prime ministerial ease in front of the camera, open shirts are fine for press calls and photo ops, but not when on official State business.

Jeremy Corbyn PMQs

Jeremy Corbyn replete with tie for PMQs  Photograph: PA

To Patrick Grant, the BBC star of The Great British Sewing Bee, it’s an easy argument; “It has nothing to do with conformity or individuality or classicism, in my head it’s about showing appropriate respect. Whatever your views on any man or woman and his or her politics I believe we should have respect for office and our parliamentary (or religious, legal or royal) traditions. I like uniform and I like tradition and I think both play an important role within the etiquette of courtesy.”

Besides, Peston shows his age by railing against them. Ties are back with a vengeance: from Essex boys, to braying Euros in South Ken. Generally speaking, my generation (early 30s) are more likely to wear them, as his generation (mid-50s) try to shake them off. My grandfather used to wear a tie even when on the beach – the sleeves would be rolled up, and socks taken off, but he would have considered it a disgrace to remove the tie. A cravat, perhaps, if it were the hottest day on record. His children don’t like wearing ties, but my generation do. Go to Hackney and Dalston and every hipster worth his reconditioned, vintage salt is wearing a tie day or night. Fashion houses big in the Mad Men era have had a revival precisely because of this wish to look smart. As Austin Mutti-Mewse, curator at Hardy Amies, tells me, “the tie was seen this summer in abundance, paired with chinos, crisp white shirts and sockless leather loafers, proving in my mind that the tie is hip and here to stay.”

Mad Men

Mad Men   Photograph:2009 Carin Baer/AMC/Lionsgate/BBC

Fashion’s love of the tie, of course, could be to do with swinging it around – Freud firmly placed the tie as symbolic of the penis. In his Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1933), he says, “In the dreams of men, one often finds the necktie as a symbol for the penis; this is not only because neckties hang down in front of the body, and are characteristic of men, but also because one can select them at pleasure, a freedom which nature prohibits as regards the original of the symbol.” In this light, when you decide to wear a tie again, Mr Peston, choose carefully – we’ll all be watching and judging.

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