Tying one on at Club 29
by Ted Streuli
It’s Tuesday at lunchtime and I’m scanning the room. The usual faces at the usual tables, some deeply engaged in conversation, others contemplating the fate of the blueberry sugar cookies. And I notice, in the least scientific possible way, that only about half the men are wearing ties.
I checked the GPS on my phone. Yes, this was St. Luke’s. Yes, it was Tuesday. So, this must be Club 29. But where were the ties?
Several years ago, I was off work on a Tuesday and planning to spend the afternoon sailing. I didn’t want to skip Rotary, so I showed up in my sailing attire: Cargo shorts, aloha shirt and Topsiders. That drew the sort of glares one only expects after inadvertently wandering into the wrong locker room. Seeking reassurance, I made a self-deprecating remark to a fellow club member who offered no solace. “Yeah,” he said. “This is a suit-and-tie kind of club.”
That has relaxed a little since the pandemic. Seeing everyone in a tie used to be as reliable as seeing Bob Anthony in a navy blazer or Wes Milbourn in a pair of Hokas.
And the bow-tie club, well — that’s a small and special group: Jerome Holmes, Evan Walter and me. If you wear a bow tie, you get to be known by it almost immediately. No matter how long you wore a necktie, putting a bow tie around your neck immediately makes you the guy with the bow tie. I passed Ann Ackerman’s table and had to pause; not only were ties in short supply, Ann — gasp — wasn’t wearing pink! She knew what I was thinking — she does have a doctorate and all, so she’s clever that way — and before I could comment on her lack of pink she pointed out that I was uncharacteristically bow-tieless.
We have the Croatians to thank for the whole tie thing, which they started back in 16-something during the Thirty Years’ War. That’s 400 years of neckwear that evolved from the cravat (from a derivative of the French word for Croat) to the stocks, solitaires and neckcloths. Whether the cravat led directly to the bow tie, then to the necktie, or if they were simultaneous spin-offs is unclear. What’s more curious is that after four centuries of a knot at the neck it might be coming undone.
It’s no sure thing. The Associated Press reported that following the global pandemic and a damaged economy, men were slashing their clothing bills and, if not eschewing neckwear outright, they were downgrading from silk to less-expensive cotton. But that was 1921, and a century later the tie was still going strong. So strong, that in 1995 the Men’s Dress Furnishings Association, a tie manufacturer’s trade group, reported record U.S. sales of $1.3 billion. Thirteen years later, the Men’s Dress Furnishing’s Association folded due to lack of members and tie sales were a threadbare third of their 1995 peak.
Even the bankers — the bankers! — have loosened up. JP Morgan Chase relaxed their infamous dress code in 2015. “More clients are dressing informally, and many parts of our company are already business casual,” the bank explained in a memo to employees. A year later, buttoned-up Goldman Sachs followed suit (sorry, could resist) by dropping the stuffiness to attract more techies.
If any Club 29-er is to be identified as the trendsetter in this regard, it’s the ever-pavonine Byron Jackson, whose wardrobe is full of flair and fun and probably has both of the Brooks brothers doing somersaults in their graves. The shoes alone!
Speaking of the Brooks boys, they’re the ones who daringly countered the British regimental or repp tie, long worn in Commonwealth countries to associate those so adorned with a particular regiment, school or whatnot. The repp tie has diagonal stripes that run from the left shoulder downward, but when Brooks Brothers, the most American of stores, designed neckwear, the stripes brashly ran downward from the right shoulder in order to differentiate them from the Brits’.
Could it be that Club 29’s penchant for ties is waning? My own recent, unscientific observation that half of us have adopted the open collar suggests we’re undecided. At the moment, I suppose, we can call it a tie.
Ted, I have been a member of Club 29 since 1975. I took about a 10 year hiatus from attending Rotary Club meeting but kept paying my dues. . I recently retired, so I have started being a better Rotarian with my attendance. When I attended my first meeting about a year and a half ago, I was shocked to see how few men were wearing neckties. Your comments are spot on. Thanks. Bill Bozalis
Ted-great observations. I have noticed also and glad for less formal format. It makes it easier when other activities would have caused me to miss.
I have long believed that all Rotarians should dress for our meetings like they dress for work. I suppose if work is very informal one might “dress up” a little to show respect for club history, but dress expectations should not deter attendance. Few west ties as part of modern dress. We want to be leaders in the community and should not be seen as the old guard.
Without your historical perspective I still share with you a Bow to the Bow. And would compete with your dedication.
BUT! When tied my knot stays gathered in a wad while yours are smooth and neat, and take twice the tying time as the dangling “Trump” style!
Perhaps you might hold a class on your technique?