Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Loosening of the noose

The British media has been agog with news of a blog post by Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman, where he sounds the death knell for the tie. "Is it time for Newsnight men to stop wearing ties? It has always been an utterly useless part of the male wardrobe," he says. Too bloody right. Such a statement from such a prominent news figure is music to my ears. In fact it almost sounds like a marriage proposal from Paxo, and I'm tempted to shout "Yes, Jeremy, yes. I will marry you!"

The reaction has been quite mixed, with most still in an inexplicable love-in with the corporate noose. The FT (quelle surprise) thinks the tie will continue to strangle us. Nick Foulkes in the Telegraph is another man in favour of the tie. Philip Norman in the Daily Mail, yes, you guessed it, wants us to keep wearing them. Charlie Porter, an associate editor of GQ, is more ambiguous, but seems to be another tie-tan. And, the Indy, does what it always does by doing the opposite to everyone else, and choosing to not give an opinion this time, but print a Q&A. Jon Snow of Channel 4 news supports Paxo, and this isn't the first time they've had to deal with the issue of the dreaded neckwear.

I detest ties. I think I have 4, or perhaps 3. I've worn a tie only once in the last couple of years. And that was because I was appearing on television, and I felt compelled for some ridiculous reason, to look presentable. I don't wear ties to interviews, and haven't worn a tie to an interview since 2003. I cut my hair, wore a suit, polished my nails, bleached my teeth, plucked my nose hairs, and didn't get the job. Since then, I've had much more success attending interviews looking like the Ghost of Christmas Past. More often these days, I wear an African shirt.

One of the main reasons I wear what I wear to interviews and work, is because I can get away with it. In my early days as freelance journalist, I remember being dressed to the nines for a meeting with Channel 4 executives. I looked dapper in a suit, black shirt, and polished shoes, but didn't wear a tie. Neglecting my tie was my way of being an eccentric media type. I walked into the office, and I was the only person wearing a suit. The others wore slacks, jeans, t-shirt, nothing remotely formal. And that was the start of me attending meetings sans cravate.

Ties, for me, represent the noose of the corporate world. And I refuse to spend my life going to work in a noose. The symbolism is too strong to ignore. The tie feeds into the stereotype that people in 9-to-5s are doing dead-end jobs which are stifling. One hops on the tube every morning to make money for the Man, and then have the Man metaphorically choking you with his filthy blood, sweat, and tears drenched hands - in the form of a tie. Why would I want to put myself through that?

The idea that people who wear ties these days exude an air of gravitas is an old school mindset. Andrew Neil, wears a tie when presenting This Week on BBC1 on Thursday evenings, but wears a tie when presenting the Daily Politics in the daytime. The tone of the programmes are different - DP is more gladiatorial, combative fare, while TW is a jovial nudge nudge, wink wink, sofa politics programme. However, Andrew Neil is no less authoritave for not wearing a tie on TW. There are people who think that drafting in Jeremy Vine to present Panaroma is a typical example of the BBC chasing ratings, and attempting to sex up its current affairs programming. But Jeremy Vine used to present on Newsnight, and has long been a "serious" journalist. The open neck shirts he wears on on the programme should be, and are no barrier to serious news and current affairs.

Why do I wear African shirts to work? Why not? In West Africa, the last time I checked, people wore African shirts. It is our attire. When the colonists came to Africa, I don't remember them converting and wearing boubous or kaftans. Instead, they enforced (I can think of no milder word), suits, and the worst sin of all, khaki. Of all the fabrics available to the cotton growing colonists, they made Africans wear khaki... I'd prefer they apologised for that even before apologising for the Empire. When the Brits were in Rome i.e. Africa, they didn't do as the Romans did. And as such, convention alone is too weak a reason to compel me to wear non-African attire to work as a rule. Of course I don't wear African shirts all the time, and that is just a matter of categorising formal and informal wear, appropriateness for the time of the day etc.

Another important nub of the argument is that I work in radio. So in keeping with the saying, "a face for radio", perhaps I have a wardrobe for radio. What would I do if I had to appear on television regularly, a la Paxo? Interestingly, I have thought about this before, thus, the African Shirt would still reign supreme. But, it would have to prove its versatility. African shirts might not be suitable for television, because the patterns aren't good for video cameras and create a sort of hallucinatory Magic Eye-type autostereogram (which I've never been able to see). The problem, therefore, is practicality. I would wear simpler and well defined patterns which wouldn't require a strobe warning before I went on air.

If all else fails, I'd be willing to make a deal with the Man. Which brings us back to ties. So, if I did have to wear ties, then I'll be donning Jon Snow style expressive (read flamboyant) ties. I'd simply wear aso oke and kente cloth ties. Except that the flamboyance of the ties (by British standards) could detract from what I'm actually saying, hence, sapping all my so called gravitas. Ah, well. You pays your money, and you wears your shirt.

Don't even ask what I'd do with the hair...


culturalmiscellany said...

Lucky you. Iknow hundreds of guys who'd love to not have to wear a tie but aren't in a job like yours where they can get away with it. Working in Media for the last 2 years I am continually amazed with what people are able to wear for work, its astonishing! But, maybe I'm an old fart. As for you, I can't ever vaguely imagine you in a proper suit and tie, you'd seem like a different friend I'm sure - lol

Nigerian Woman in Norway said...'s so great that you are blogging again.

most journalists have the luxury of being able to wear whatever the hell they want in the office.

one of the perks of the trade, and why i can never work in a 'normal' workplace.

Anonymous said...

I wore an mid-calf dress to worn once. It was quite open at the chest area, or maybe more so because I was wearing a balcony...anyway, that was the beginning of my rebellion. Last time, I wore jeans, sandals and caftan of sorts.

Hell, I work in print, who gives a fuck?


P.S: If you do not call me eh...