Friday, 13 February 2015

shirts and ties

After doing something about socks yesterday, I thought I would keep to the sartorial theme today and discuss shirts and ties.

When buying a shirt for my daughter's wedding, I decided to look for a dress shirt with fairly wide stripes. After checking out the usual department stores where I buy clothes I could not find anything with wide stripes, just very narrow stripes. So I went to a large tailor's shop and (at first) was overjoyed to find three different shirts with wide stripes. The only problem was that they were all about $250 each. Now, I have not bought a suit in decades but I think the last suit cost me about that much. I might have paid as much as $50 for a shirt in the past, but having to fork out $250 for a shirt was not part of my reality. I began to wonder if I had stumbled on to some unwritten dress code: only wealthy executives are allowed to wear wide stripes.

It was starting to remind me of ties. The last time I had a job that required the wearing of a tie must have been in the late seventies. I have not owned a tie for years. I don't even like them. I remember talking with my wife about the mythology of ties. I have heard men say that the tie is a phallic symbol. As a mythologist, I just don't buy that at all. A mythological symbol usually contains some clues to its meaning through its usage. I would not expect a phallic symbol to be routinely tied in a slip-knot. Ask anyone what is the commonest use of a slip knot, and they will probably say "in a noose". I remember that office bosses used to get very upset if any of their male employees was not wearing a tie. It seemed to be a real taboo. I mentioned this to my wife and she claimed that the female equivalent was high-heeled shoes. She believed that such things symbolically hobbled women as a symbol of subservience.

When men start to talk about phallic symbols, I start to think about compensatory behaviour. What my wife said about high heeled shoes made sense, and if the meaning of the tie was the same, then compensating, by way of claiming the opposite might be expected. And why would a boss be upset that an underling is not looking macho enough?

I think that Tacitus gives us a clue in the Germania. Speaking of several Germanic tribes including the Anglii, he says (40):
"There is nothing noteworthy about these tribes, individually, but they share a common worship of Nerthus, or Mother Earth. They believe that she takes part in human affairs, riding in a chariot among her people. On an island of the sea stands an inviolate grove, in which, veiled with a cloth, is a chariot that none but the priest may touch. ... After that, the chariot, the vestments, and (believe it if you will) the goddess herself. are cleansed in a secluded lake. This service is performed by slaves who are immediately drowned in the lake. Thus mystery begets terror and a pious reluctance to ask what that sight can be which is seen only by men doomed to die.

You will remember that bog-bodies are found with a noose tied around their neck and Nerthus is sometimes mentioned in the literature about them. Tell that to the next person who claims that their tie is a phallic symbol.

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