The good noose of ties that bind

Country Roads

Since I retired nearly four years ago I have worn a tie twice: first for Julie’s and my wedding more than three years ago and again for a fund-raising banquet for which I served as master of ceremonies a year ago. Once a part of my daily wardrobe, my ties now hang deserted and lonesome in my closet.

Growing up in rural and small town Iowa, I was a blue jean guy. My first job off the farm was in radio and, sitting behind a microphone, I wore casual slacks and shirts. When I shifted into sales in Sioux City, however, coats and ties were required.

Until then, my sports coats (or suits) and ties were primarily for church-related activities.

After a few weeks of tying on a fashionable noose each day, I became comfortable wearing one. I continued wearing a coat and tie when I became publisher of the newspaper in Creston, a relaxed southwest Iowa county seat, nearly 30 years ago.

The first summer was particularly hot and I recall sweltering during a Rotary Club meeting. I complained to a fellow-Rotarian and he showed me the light of day.

My Rotary friend, a banker, said, “Arvid, look around the room. How many people are wearing a coat and tie?”

I did a quick visual survey of the 20-some people in the room and only a couple of lawyers were so attired. Even my banker friend was wearing an open-neck short sleeve sport shirt. “Take a hint,” he said.

After nearly 15 years of daily enslavement to a coat and tie, I took the hint and for the remainder of the summer wore short sleeve, open-neck shirts to work. When things cooled off I went back to the coat and tie routine. By the time I retired I was tie-tied less often and even wore polo shirts to work frequently.

Eventually I even quit wearing a tie to church. After an initial uneasiness with casual church attire I came to realize that God cares more about our hearts than what we wear to church.

An older friend, however, maintains and defends his formal church wardrobe. “If I had an appointment with the President,” he explained to me years ago, “I would wear a suit and tie. When I go to church to worship Almighty God, I’m wearing a suit and tie.”

During my coat and tie years in sales I often had to wait in a store to speak to the decision-maker. On some of those occasions I was mistaken for a store employee and asked for assistance. It was the tie, I figured, and if I could help I did.

On a few occasions my tie apparently gave folks the impression that I was a clergyman. The scenarios were similar: I was waiting to visit with the manager when a customer approached and asked, “Are you a minister?”

Me? A minister? The first few times this happened I was surprised. This was in the 1970s and I didn’t think ministers wore wide-lapel blazers, houndstooth polyester slacks, a white-on-white dress shirt, a bright, extra-wide paisley tie and black patent leather shoes with 1½ inch heels. All in very large sizes. Just call me Reverend Cool!

Though I was born a smart-aleck, I put aside childish ways and answered the question straight up. No, I was not a man of the cloth. On a couple of occasions, I recall, the question led to thought-provoking conversations about faith.

My father wore a suit and tie to church on Sundays… and to weddings and funerals. Period. Once he left his bib overalls and farm work behind he worked for grain elevators and wore gray work uniforms every day.

When my parents came to visit us in Sioux City for a weekend they often stayed until Monday morning. Most Monday mornings when I bid them good-bye as I left for work my father commented on my tie. “I don’t understand how you can wear a tie all day,” Dad said. I assured him it was just part of my work uniform and that it wasn’t as miserable as it looked.

Though styles have relaxed over the decades I still hold to the philosophy of dressing appropriately. Should the situation require I still know how to tie a necktie.

Men’s fashion guru Charles Hix expressed my feelings: “Looking good isn’t self-importance; it’s self-respect.”

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