By Daniel van Voorhis –
You slip your thumb inside your collar and use your index finger to push the button back through the hole. Grab the knot of the tie and give it a shimmy about a quarter inch down. Give both of your collars an equal tug in the opposite directions and then straighten the now loosed knot as it hangs just below your now open collar.
This is a simple pleasure, and one that is only enjoyed in certain contexts. On days that I am wearing a necktie (with a four-in-hand knot or half Windsor) undoing my top button signifies something. It signifies that my workday, or at least the part of it wherein I will be meeting with people, is over. It is also an aesthetic, you want the tie loosened no more than an inch down your shirt (lest it look like a silk noose).
Loosening your tie is also an expression for lightening up, being done with work, and generally relaxing after a day’s work. If your tie and collar are actually constricting your breathing you might consider being resized and trying a new knot.
Maybe you want to roll your sleeves up as well. You can go above the elbow (the marine roll) if it doesn’t cause the sleeve to bunch up too much. You can go intricate with the Italian roll, a kind of shirtsleeve origami favored by John F. Kennedy. You can also go casual. See here for a guide to rolling your sleeves.
“Rolling up your sleeves” is also an expression that comes from the general work attire to suggest a kind of extra difficult work (manual or otherwise). Both loosening your tie and rolling your sleeves up are an art, and you might think about how you do it. But, having written this article for some time now on this site I will beat some of the commentators to the punch by admitting that not everyone wears shirts and ties. You may also choose to come to work in a tie already loosed and sleeves already rolled. Weather will also dictate how you might choose to wear your shirts and collars.
But what about the longevity of these expressions in a culture with diverse work uniforms and fewer homogenized standards? Loosening your tie and rolling up your sleeves mean something to you even if you equate shirts and ties with your dad or squares like me.
I wear my hair with a fade and hard part, but I still understand the expression “letting one’s hair down”. I will defer to others on appropriate hair for the workplace. But I understand the idea of the end of a workday, or week and the desire to shake off a little of the formality in the right context.
I wonder, however, if we generally accept a lack of formality in formal situations what will become of the figurative pressure valves for dressing down to show familiarity and relaxation. If we all “come as we are” to everything, will we be sufficiently relaxed as to not want to go one step down on the notch to signify relaxation? Do you have a level below which you won’t go (e.g. keeping your shoes on, never wearing a t-shirt to work)?
Should “formal” wear be pushed to the very extremities of cultural events (perhaps weddings and funerals)?
I am asking seriously. I am for a limited type of democracy and think that if a people want to change their customs and habits to exclude older forms of formality we should oblige. I am an upper middle class white University professor in my thirties in Southern California. I literally loosen my collar at the end of the day (and, knowing my proclivity for bowties I will tell you that untying the bow and leaving the tie draped around your collar is ok, but does not have the aesthetic quality of the loosened four-in-hand). I roll my sleeves up. Sometimes it is for the sake of weather or manual labor, or the end of a workday. I like the spectrum of a wardrobe that lets me move about from very formal to very causal (I am writing this on my porch in a tank top and athletic shorts having spent my day exercising and cleaning amidst playing with my kids).
Every Monday I put my sartorial cards on the table. Now, I want to hear from you. What cultural signifiers do you have in your own community of formal and relaxed? How do you signify formality for events that demand more than “whatever isn’t wrinkled” as appropriate? How do you signify movement on the scale of formality and familiarity? I ask because these are a few of the first questions that led me to think about how I present myself and why. Perhaps it might be a helpful thought experiment and allow for some of you to interact with this, your Monday afternoon diversion into all things style.
All the Best,
The Man About Town,
Written while listening to: The Tallest Man on Earth- the Wild Hunt (2003)