The old school tie

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Isn’t it time the idea of children wearing ties was abolished altogether?

An article I read today about UK school uniforms is enough to make you bleat in despair.

The school tie as we know it is about to end, replaced by a clip-on that will be safer for pupils to wear, pulling off instantly if you get caught in machinery or catch fire in the science lab. 

Oh Lord above us. What nobody seems to ask is: why have a tie at all? What the hell does a child need with a tie?

What exactly IS a tie anyway? Are there many people around today who know what this garment is actually FOR?

The truth is, it is vestigial. It denotes rank, not utility.

Five hundred years ago, before buttons were widely used on clothing, the shirt was held closed around the neck by two strings. The shirt was an undergarment – a trace of which remains in the phrase ‘shirt sleeves’ – and at this point in time, as for several more centuries, it went on over your head. 

In the Elizabethan era, the shirt, which had always been slightly visible at the neck and cuffs (pulled through in order to keep your outer, less-washable clothing away from your skin) became gradually more visible, and was decorated with black embroidery (known as blackwork). The strings were also sometimes black. 

Roll on to a century later, and the shirt is being held shut with strings, but is tied over with kerchiefs, then stocks, then finally ‘ties’, all of which help to keep it shut or to hide a front closed by buttons and loops which bring the shirt edges together but don’t overlap them.

By the Victorian era, however, the actual function of closing the garment is done entirely by buttons, the front sections overlap and yet the tie itself continues, much as the open holes of the brogue, originally designed to allow water to run out in boggy peat, are filled in and become a mere decorative device.

The modern-day tie has absolutely no function. It is a tie-sign denoting a shared background (the ‘old school tie’), or a supposedly shared attitude to the workplace. 

But rather than dressing our children in a child’s copy of an entirely useless adult garment, wouldn’t it be better to acknowledge that they are, in fact, children, and allow them some more freedom and comfort?

Pull-on sweatpants, t-shirts and sweatshirts, and trainers are infinitely more comfortable, washable, cheaper and practical than traditional school uniforms with shirts and ties and at least might enable kids to have a few more years of caring more about how they feel than about how they look before they join our bankrupt adult world.

But then God forbid that the little darlings shouldn’t look like our idea of ‘smart’ – along with obedient, compliant and preferably middle-class. Little carbon copies of our corporate selves.

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