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Dress sense or political statement? It's a tie



All of my sons are married, but only the youngest wore a tie on his wedding day. I try to persuade myself that one out of three isn't bad, but I suspect my eldest son does not possess a tie, while the middle son is compelled to own one as part of his army dress uniform. I doubt he has another.

Prime Minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras arrives ahead of roundtable discussions in the Europa Building on the final day of the European Council leaders' summit on March 23, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)Added to this, I observe glazed expressions whenever I mention my school uniform and my ability to tie a half-Windsor knot five times a week for six years. I know my attitude is a dated one (I can remember studs and detachable collars, for goodness' sake!), but to me a tie signals respectability, professionalism, membership of a group, and sometimes the acknowledgement of an important occasion.

I've had to learn that matters are more complicated, however. My doctor cousin now favours bow ties after a patient complained that conventional ones tickle the tummy during medical examinations. James Bond thought the man who favoured a Windsor knot was almost bound to be a cad, while the theocracy of Iran considers the necktie a symbol of European oppression.

We tend to think the removal of ties signals relaxation, but I once knew an old Greek woman who used to upbraid her sartorially elegant teacher son after school: 'Get that tie off, and get started on some proper work.' She wanted him out in the olive groves, not occupying himself with the correction of quadratic equations.

Ties as we know them became popular in the 17th century, when western Europeans decided they rather liked the strips of cloth that Croatian mercenaries wore round their necks. Of course there were popular variations like stocks, jabots and cravats, and in the width, design and colour of ties.

Ties boomed during the 19th century Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement, and are still popular with men who aspire to be well-dressed. The manager of England's football team, Gareth Southgate, for example, is never without a tie, although his waistcoats seem to draw more comment.

Collars and ties, or lack of them, can also have a specific political application. In 2007 Robert Mugabe, fearsome Zimbabwean dictator, was invited to an EU summit in Lisbon. Gordon Brown, then prime minister of Britain, was so incensed that he refused to take part. The flamboyant Anglican Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, was similarly enraged, and cut up his clerical collar in public on the BBC's Andrew Marr current affairs show: he vowed to replace it only after Mugabe had gone.


"Alexis Tsipras, Prime Minister of Greece, vowed not to wear a tie until the Greek financial crisis was over. He has recently donned one for the first time in years, but few Greeks are convinced that the krisi is at an end. "


He was finally able to return in 2017, when he was amused and bemused to find that Marr had saved the pieces of the collar in an envelope, which he duly handed over. The Archbishop improved the shining hour and made brilliant television by saying that he could mend his old collar with superglue, but that the end result would not be satisfactory. 'The same with Zimbabwe,' he said. 'They can't just try to stitch it up. Something more radical, something new needs to happen.' He then produced a new collar he had brought with him.

Alexis Tsipras, Prime Minister of Greece since 2015, and his then Finance Minister Yannis Varoufakis, gained notoriety in EU meetings in Brussels by refusing to wear ties. Tsipras vowed not to wear a tie until the Greek financial crisis was over.

He has recently donned one for the first time in years, but few Greeks are convinced that the krisi is at an end. Pensions are scheduled to be slashed again in 2019, and a reduction of the tax-free threshold is also to take place; it has recently been calculated that the average Greek worker has to put in 198 days per year simply in order to meet tax demands, which means that the average Greek parent has little hope of providing as he or she would like for school-leaver children.

To add to the gloom, a prominent Greek-American academic has forecast nation-wide austerity for another 40 years, and says that Greece will be a debt colony forever.

I am probably not the only person to think that Tsipras should take his tie off again.



Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an expatriate Australian writer who has written several books, stories and articles, many of them dealing with her experiences as an Australian woman in Greece.


Main image: Prime Minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras arrives ahead of roundtable discussions in the Europa Building on the final day of the European Council leaders' summit on March 23, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, Greece, Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe, Alexis Tsipras



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Existing comments

Removing a tie can mean "let yourself go". Nevertheless, there is the expression "clothes make the man". For those in positions of authority or service clothes speak volumes and it can be somewhat difficult for ordinary folk to relate in a relaxed manner. Greece continues in a financial bind and the better expression may be for politicians to "roll their sleeves up". A few hairy forearms might be revealed but also some muscle.

Pam | 05 September 2018  

Enjoyed the comments on such an White European male appendage. There are equivalents in other cultures you know. But men are so keen to demonstrate that they can conform in superficial modes. Funny how the lower a man's SES the more he is free to dress the way he likes. In Issan, Thailand my host/employer gave me a Parko Ma, a wide piece of cotton cloth tied around the waist. Asking what it was, my host explained it was 'like a tie'. Had Australia been colonized by people from a place with a climate similar to Australia we would have had a more conciliatory culture; siestas etc. But don't get me started on the most boring and slavish of garments ever designed; the male pants!

Michael D. Breen | 05 September 2018  

As always I admire and appreciate Gillian's commentary. However, I think it unfortunate that an archbishop and a politician used a symbolic/tie to express condemnation of Mugabe. In 1981, 7th October, a short time after the Lancaster House Agreement which abolished the obscenity of Rhodesia and Smith's UDI, I arranged for Robert Mugabe to visit La Trobe University where he addressed a very large crowd of some thousands. He delivered a brilliant address entitled, A Perspective on the African Revolution Today. (I have a copy.) He said: "We in Zimbabwe have stated clearly and frankly that our overall objective is...... the creation of conditions that promote the welfare of all our people but especially the most neglected and down-trodden under colonialism." He was, at that time, internationally respected, a hero of the African Revolution. I have not seen any adequate explanation for what happened subsequently. It was, of course, a tragedy for many, many people of Zimbabwe but the early days of heroic protest of Mugabe and is wife should not be forgotten. At La Trobe University, 7th October 1981, Robert Mugabe wore an elegant suit, collar and tie.

John Nicholson | 05 September 2018  

John Nicholson raises a question about what changed Robert Mugabe from a liberator into a despot. Firstly, he is Jesuit-educated, not unlike a prominent number of front-bench politicians on both sides of Australian politics, and who are more often than not flawed and vain men, whose public behaviour demonstrates an absence of honour and integrity on rather a grand scale. As such, there may be much for the administrators of Jesuit schools to take into sober account. I speak with humility as well as candour on the subject, as I attended one myself. Beyond the personal realm of explanation, postcolonial theory has much else to tender in explanation of the Mugabe phenomenon, as Said, Fanon, Spivak and Bhabha have shown. The despised, as Mugabe undoubtedly was - I heard him compared to a monkey in a debate about UDI at the Oxford Union by the British Consevative MP for Louth, Sir Cyril Osborne - turn into self-fulfilling prophecies! This was accompanied by loud applause and no admonition from the Oxford Union President of the time, a Catholic convert called Ann Widdecombe, who herself rose in the ranks of the Tory Party to become an MP as well as a cabinet-member.

Michael Furtado | 06 September 2018  

Thanks Gillian. I think that there still is a time and place for wearing a nice tie, not that I am generally a tie wearer myself. At the same time though, a tie may suggest someone who is impractical with their manual skills. I thing Politicians are now days trying to impress upon our minds the idea that they are not useless with their hands; that they do instead have the ability to roll their sleeves up and assist in what ever may arise,

John Whitehead | 06 September 2018  

Thanks for another interesting article. When I first started teaching I wore a suit and tie in order to make myself look a bit a bit older than the students I was teaching. The need for that has long since passed but I think it illustrates one of Gillian's points. A tie helps to make a person look professional. It shows you care.

Stephen | 07 September 2018  

...and there was I, imagining that this would culminate in a comment on our new PM sporting around in Indonesia, tie-less and with rolled up shirtsleeves.

Julia | 08 September 2018  

Thank you Gillian. As Oscar Wilde said “A well-tied tie is the first serious step in life.” And a tie brightens up a rather dull plain shirt. Mugabe started out as a serious inclusive revolutionary, but fell victim to the drugs of power and wealth and eventually became the essence of all he originally fought against. In one instance "The International Association of Genocide Scholars estimates that the 5th Brigade of the Zimbabwean army murdered some 20,000 Ndebele in Matabeleland. Mugabe became a tyrannical despot using measured force to crush democracy, free speech and to destroy what was once the richest breadbasket of Africa. Hard working white farmers were shot in their beds and their land gifted to his supporters- none of whom had any work ethic. Whatever his legacy will prove to be, it will include corruption, violence, greed, megalomania and the ruin of his country's fortunes.

Frank Armstrong | 08 September 2018  

Fascinating and informative as usual Gillian. I am aware of how fashion changes but hope that men will still be able to find ways, through the way they present themselves, to express their true beliefs even if it is only a gesture.

Maggie | 09 September 2018  

A very entertaining piece: One tie between three sons.. That doesn’t sound very continental to me, ha ha

Stathis T | 10 September 2018  

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