Post-retirement Fashion; Why Are Ties?

The acceptable garb of my former workplace was one step below “business casual”. No suits on either men or women; the Director and Assistant Director (both male) came closest to the suit thing by wearing shirts and slacks without ties. No one wore ties. When you really begin to think about ties, why are ties? They don’t hold anything in place. They don’t keep you warm or cool. They can be colorful or bland. Congressmen prefer yellow or red, depending on which side of the aisle they sit.

Women don’t wear ties, except if they’re rocking a tux or a Brooks Brother. I used to own a few bow ties but that was in the eighties, when bow ties, bolos and other collar ornaments were popular. Women have their own female version of the suit. Open collar shirt, jacket and pencil skirt – or slacks. The jackets can be tailored in multiple ways. Thank Coco Chanel for that.

Until my last lap in the workforce, employed by a major research center, I never had to worry about work clothes. All I needed was a uniform or scrubs. I ditched my nursing cap the moment I moved to back to California where none of the other nurses wore them. (You might also ask the question: why nursing caps? The male nurse didn’t have to wear one. I’m not in touch with current nursing curriculum but I don’t think it includes caps any more.)

I stuck with the white tights for a while, but as most California nurses wore pants, I was quick to adapt. My biggest expense was comfortable shoes, settling on clogs. Scrubs or their equivalent are pretty much the current style. Through the eighties and nineties hospital dress codes were lax, and boundaries were ignored. Hospitals now require a comfortable adaptation of scrubs, only restricted by color. Navy and white for nurses, purple for transporters, green for housekeeping. Luckily the only restriction on shoes is no open toes. Duh.

When I entered the realm of research, I needed real clothes.

While I love looking at fashion, and am keenly aware of trends, I never spent a lot of money on it. My clothing purchases have been on a curve, however, relative to income. I did, finally, buy a pair of boots for over $100. Ten years ago I would have scoffed at this price. One might buy hiking boots for that kind of money but dressy boots? No way. That was a real splurge, that and the REI rain jacket I bought for $80. That jacket has turned out to be tough and long lasting. Under certain conditions, price equals quality.

Over my years in research, my clothing purchases moved from thrift stores to mid-scale catalogs: Sahalie, North Style, Duluth Trading Company, Etsy, Crocs, Zappo. I dislike shopping in brick and mortar for clothes. I entered the chaos of a Nordstrom Rack a few times, and haven’t been back for years. I’m a brave catalog shopper, especially for shoes, but for shoes I stick with brands I know to be comfortable: Clarks, Dansko. A more recent splurge was a stylish pair of Merrill trail shoes that took me through Bryce and Zion.

I think of myself as a sensible clothing buyer. I did, however, own several pairs of shoes, an array for winter and an array for summer. I also love scarves. I own dozens.

Upon retirement, and moving, I had to purge. Away went shoes I knew I would never wear again. I have no occasion for them any more. Away when anything I bought for a single use. Away went anything, dammit, that was never really comfortable.

I had a cardinal rule: when I got home from work, I changed my clothes. Dogs, dust, detritus demanded that my work clothes went straight into the wash. I had sets of comfy “play clothes”, I called them, elastic-waisted yoga pants, stretchy pull-on tops, layers of fleece vests. I had my gardening clothes. I had my Jules Mae Saloon clothes.

Now, features of our living space have changed, along with my expectations. Every other day, I tug on leggings that used to be work-only. I slide tunics and tops that were reserved only for the casual office. I feel happy and proud to have a nice wardrobe transfer from off-limits to wear-whatever-the-hell-I-want-to. In this town, I get so many complements on my red Dansko maryjanes, it adds to my contentment. Those and the silk paisley scarf I bought in Dubai, on my way to South Africa for a research conference.

No pink leisure suit for me, although the AARP ads are filled with older women in hiking shorts or tank-topped exercise gear. I’ll fly my own style, grateful that I can do it without spending money—social security and the odd book sale curtail fashion browsing, except maybe at St. Vinnie’s.




About Jill Zeller

Author of numerous novels and short stories, Jill Zeller is a Left Coast writer, 2nd generation Californian, retired registered nurse, and obsessed gardener. She lives in Oregon with her patient husband, 2 silly English mastiffs and 2 rescue cats—the silliest of all. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination are as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison


Post-retirement Fashion; Why Are Ties? — 10 Comments

  1. Male neck gear has never had practical function. It’s been a sign of status for centuries: before ties, cravats, and before cravats lace collars, and before those ruffs, which were hideously expensive to make and maintain. Sometimes women wore them, but around the time the cravat came in, women wore little or no neckwear: no matter what the weather, they exposed as much bosom and shoulders as possible, and thanks to Coco Chanel, we get that skinny line in the flimsy sheath that had women shivering while men wore three layers.

    • Ruffs were eminently practical because, being white, they reflected light. In the days of candlelight, that was very useful.

      • All the letters of the time I’ve read talk about how much trouble they are at mealtimes, to clean, to keep crisp, to remove stains (from skin oils). I’ve never seen any letters or diaries about how they reflected light. Can you point to a source, primary or primary-translated? That’s very interesting!

        • You might check out Lucy Worsley–I saw a documentary of Queen Victoria’s wedding to Albert where she discovered that at least part of the reason that the wedding dress was white satin was that it almost glowed by candlelight, making itty-bitty Victoria stand out in the crowd. Worsley made a big deal of it in the program, so she might have said more about it in the accompanying book. And there were similar comments in the PBS documentaries, Victorian House and Manor House (living life in 1910 or so), which must be noted somewhere. Also, it’s not a secret among re-enacters that things look completely different in candle- or fire-light than what we are used to seeing, either, so there must be a raft of stuff on the net.

          • There’s plenty of good material right in primary sources. Fiction, too–check out the description of the assembly room in candle light in EMMA, for instance, on how different it looked at night from daylight.

            But I’ve never read anything about ruffs reflecting light, either in English, German or French. So I’d love to see that!

  2. I maintain 1 nice outfit for summer and 1 for winter. All of my professional clothes are migrating toward charity thrift stores. Age and budget have curtailed my travel to conventions where I might were nicer clothes. Most of my life is jeans or capris and tops I buy on sale or at the thrift store. Shoes I do spend money on and I venture toward Sketchers and New Balance. I have to try them on. Catalog shoes always end up being returned because they don’t fit. Gone are the days of “breaking in” shoes. They fit right the first time I put them on or they go back on the shelf. Did I say I love my jeans?

  3. An off the top of my head guess here, is that the western male’s neck wear, now ‘neck tie’, as so much of both men’s and women’s clothing is adapted from military gear, descends from the Roman soldier’s standard uniform item,

    [ “The focale (plural focalia), also known as a sudarium (“sweat cloth”), was a woolen or linen scarf worn by ancient Roman military personnel. It protected the neck from chafing by the armour.” ]

    Also we see sailors, trappers and hunters, and later cowboys, and always farmers, wearing neckcloths, which are so useful for so many things.

  4. Men wear ties to represent the genitalia they would like to show off but can’t. Not kidding. That’s why Donald Trump wears his down to his knees. That’s also why women used to wear ties during the ’80s, when it was more of a struggle for women to gain acceptance in the corporate world than it is now. It’s the same principle that some species of baboon have evolved faces to match their behinds. It’s also the reason humans have evolved noses and cleavage.

  5. A necktie is always a good front-and-center spot for showing off your stuff. Waistcoats used to serve a similar function. Not only is a tie (or a waistcoat) not very demanding of yardage of an expensive fabric. You can use it as a canvas for further bling like a stud or pin or a stickpin, or a watch chain with many valuable dangly fobs. For the past 500 years or so the allowable area for male color and display has steadily grown smaller. I surmise that this is the only reason why the necktie has not gone the way of the codpiece (a similar display venue) or the doublet.

    • But ties were black and white for most of the nineteenth century. Except for school ties.

      I’d say that male color display began its diminishment in England with Beau Brummel and his blue coats and white breeches. Then along came PELHAM and suddenly men could only wear black suits with white shirts for formal or evening wear, though subdued coloring was permissible in mornings, and of course there were the bright hunting coats. However, Regimentals were still glorious through the nineteenth century.