Do Kiwis wear ties?

FINISHING TOUCHES: John Campbell says there are occasions when he doesn't feel complete without a tie.
FINISHING TOUCHES: John Campbell says there are occasions when he doesn't feel complete without a tie.

Once upon a time, the British menswear chain Tie Rack had 450 stores. Last month the company, whose worldwide network of cubby-sized stores in train stations and airports meant travellers were never far from a new tie, cufflink or scarf, shut its last store, sparking a flurry of UK newspaper eulogies.

If you can believe the reports, the necktie is in deep trouble, brought low by hoodie-wearing dotcom employees and the collapse of workplace formality, and further injured by bare-necked role-modelling from the likes of US President Barack Obama and UK leader David Cameron, who keep turning up to international summits with open-necked shirts.

There are some backing for the the doomsayers: in October the Wall Street Journal reported that ties sales in the US fell from US$1.3b to US$678m between 1995 and 2008.

But according to New Zealand experts, reports of the death of the necktie have been somewhat exaggerated - Kiwi men are still perfectly happy to wrap colourful fabric around their throat.

Murray Crane, founder of the influential Crane Brothers menswear chain, says tie sales in New Zealand are healthier than they have been for years.

They dipped around 2000, as workplace fashion became more casual, but sales have picked up steadily since the Global Financial Crisis , perhaps because workers realised they couldn't take their jobs for granted.

"Everyone [in fashion] is still doing ties: Paul Smith, Louis Vuitton, Gucci."

While some workplaces are going casual, ties are still all but compulsory in traditional professions such as banking, law or accountancy. Crane also said that men who dressed down in the office were making up for it with increased formality in social settings. In the past year alone Crane's stores have seen a 400 per cent jump in sales of bow ties - particularly the real deal that you have to tie yourself.

Crane says the death of the Tie Rack was probably more a sign of the store failing to move with the times than a symptom of a wider anti-tie trend. He also doubts whether a few photo opportunities of Obama or Cameron will affect the wider world of fashion.

If role models matter, Crane reckons the man in the street is probably taking more notice of TV shows like Mad Men, which is set in the 1960s and populated with impeccably dressed, tie-wearing Alpha males.

Even though New Zealanders have a reputation for a casual approach to dress, Crane says there are a few prominent Kiwis who know how to wear a tie.

"John Campbell wears them well - he always looks good and he's always in a tie. John Key is pretty much always in a tie and he wears them pretty well.

"Sportsmen really only wear ties because they have to, but Dan Carter always looks good in a suit and tie."

Not all tie-wearers are created equal though. A major offender is veteran Labour MP Trevor Mallard: "He's wearing them badly."

Campbell, a self-appointed "tie veteran", refuses to front his eponymous current affairs show without a tie strapped to his collar, despite a belief there's no real reason to wear one.

"They are preposterous things, absolutely absurd. You can make no rational argument in favour of ties."

However, for him a simple blue tie set against a white shirt is his security blanket in life.

"Ties are part of the dress-up I need to face the world. I feel slightly awkward and underdone when I'm not in a tie. When I put a tie on, it's the perfect disguise."

From the age of 13 he dressed in a tie, but says his 10-year-old son may never wear one to work.

"If you took stock of men going to work in New Zealand the vast majority wouldn't be wearing ties. I will be among the small number of people who mourn ties, but even I can't be bothered making a compelling case on their behalf.

"The fact that they suit me and I like them is not enough for me to believe they will or should survive."

Radio broadcaster Martin Devlin personifies the tieless future. "I prefer the 1970s open-neck look," he says. "I'm lucky I can wear anything to work and nobody gets to see it."

Sunday Star Times