Life & Liberty: The Ties That Blind


Once upon a time, men who were called before Senate committees tried to hide their Red ties. Now, they wear them.

If you had the good fortune to watch any part of Judge Robert Bork's confirmation hearings on a color television set, you must have noticed the vivid, shocking, ugly red neckties that blossomed on nearly every man within yards of a television camera.

Those were examples of this year's "power tie." Power ties are part of the uniform adopted by corporate weenies of the BosWash corridor. If you dress in the morning wondering whether the boss will like what you're wearing, you'll probably reach for a power tie.

This year's is red. Not maroon, not burgundy, but R-E-D, red. The kind of red hookers wear. The kind of red that is supposed to cause cancer. Nancy Reagan's favorite color.

It's a shade that Capitol Hill image consultants swear makes any man look good on television. God knows senators and most other public officials can't do much about their sundry assortment of dewlaps, wattles, warts, wens, and wrinkles. But it's not tough to change your neckwear. Hence, a sudden Red Tide engulfed those men in the Senate Caucus Room anxious to make a good impression in the boardrooms and laundry rooms of mid-afternoon America.

There was Judge Bork himself, with a red tie tucked under his Burl Ives beard. To his right sat former President Gerald Ford, wearing a red tie. To his left, Senator Bob Dole, similarly attired.

Across the room, no less than five senators strutted their power ties. These included Howell Heflin, the Alabama Democrat whose sole concession to fashion has generally been to tuck whichever end of his tie is longer into his pants. Even Paul Simon's fusty trademark bow tie was red. Senate staffers, hoping for some nationally televised face time, peered redly from behind them.

What is going on? After all, the fashions worn by men of power and influence—as opposed to the leisure-suit crowd—have proven remarkably resistant to sweeping fads. Once a man reaches a certain station in life, he is no longer consumed with the urge to wear something simply because he saw it in a magazine.

But every now and then, a fad rips through the sober-sided male population like a virus. Power ties are that fever-pitch right now.

Power ties weren't always red. Once they were a parchment yellow with small navy-blue dots. Those ties looked silly in the store, but, by golly, they matched every suit and shirt in a man's business wardrobe. Men learned that something that looked silly, not to mention sissy, could be worn with distinction.

Then something went haywire. Suddenly everyone sold short in yellow ties and moved to other hues. Light aqua had its day. So did off-peach. Paisley gained a foothold, though never quite as a true power tie. Then pastels became passé. Aggressive primary colors took over, and red won big. All in the course of about two years.

Does Power America demand this hideous badge be part of the corporate uniform as a way of winnowing the lickspittles from the real men—keeping, of course, the lickspittles?

Or is it that the men who wield true power in this country simply have lousy taste? Are power ties the one consolation allowed men who would much rather go to work in green and yellow pants with spouting whales on them?

In Judge Bork's case, not to mention Howell Hefflin's, the idea was probably to make the boss look good on the tube. But thousands of would-be Senators and budding law clerks probably caught a glimpse of their neckwear and rushed right out to buy a redredred tie.

In such ways the virus spread.

Back when it was still yellow, the power tie was also known as the "space-alien" tie. That was a widely-used put-down based on this premise: If space aliens who looked like humans invaded the Earth, their recognition signal would be an article of clothing so ridiculous that no real Earthling would dream of wearing it.

When senators and Supreme Court nominees are sporting power ties, it can mean one of two things:

Either the whole space-alien theory can be laid to rest.

…Or…They're here.

T. Keating Holland prefers Red Sox.