DG MARTIN COLUMN: Wearing ties to church

No one is wearing a tie at my church anymore. That is what I saw the other Sunday when I came back a few weeks after a short absence.

D.G. Martin

I had not noticed how tie wearing had been diminishing gradually since the COVID epidemic began. Students, who make up a significant portion of our Sunday worshippers, have been coming tieless for a long time.

But for most older men in the church, a tie was an expected part of the dress.

Until recently.

Something similar is happening in government. Most legislators are still wearing ties in session. Even the flamboyant Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan wears a tie when he takes off his coat. When he was campaigning to be Speaker of the House a few weeks ago, he did keep his coat on most of the time and always wore a tie.

Of course, the Senate got a big dose of dress informality from Pennsylvania’s John Fetterman, who started showing up on a few days in sweatpants and hoodie.

So are ties a thing of the past?

TV hosts still wear ties most of the time, at least on news shows and game shows such as “Jeopardy” or “The Price is Right.” Such hosts still always wear attractive ties.

In response to a reader’s question, “Are men’s neckties gone for good, or will they ever make a comeback?” Vanessa Friedman wrote in the Nov. 14 New York Times that we should be cautious about sounding the death knell for ties.

She writes, “Every generation, it seems, has a way of ‘discovering’ items of dress that previous generations dismissed in triumph, recontextualizing them and claiming them for its own, like anthropologists unearthing buried treasures. Wide ties? Bell bottoms? So ironically cool! Corsets? Neato! Waistcoats? Funky. Spats? Erm … maybe for a costume party.

“Indeed, there is a difference between a garment becoming a novelty item and a garment being a standard part of a wardrobe, and that, I think, is what we are talking about here. The tie as a de facto part of everyday dressing, like underwear, is probably a thing of the past.

“It has been quietly losing ground for years, between the advent of casual Fridays, the general blurring of lines between our personal and professional lives and the working-from-home days of the pandemic.”

All this reminds me of a story the late university president William Friday told. He wore a tie every time he hosted the UNC-TV (now PBS-NC) program “North Carolina People.” He told the story about the first weeks of that show when he got the first viewer response, his first fan mail.

He rushed to open it.

It said simply, “Don’t you have but one tie?”

From then on, Friday was careful to vary his tie selection.

I remembered that when I began hosting “Bookwatch” in the late 1990s. It was a program about books written by North Carolinians or connected in some way to our state.

From the beginning, I did my very best never to wear the same tie on consecutive programs. As I did more to follow this objective, I found myself buying lots of new ties every season. After more than 20 years of “North Carolina Bookwatch,” I have more ties than I can ever use, even if I wear a different tie to church every Sunday for the rest of my life.

What am I going to do? My current plan is to keep those ties in the big drawer in my closet and look them over every now and then just for memory’s sake.

D.G. Martin, a retired lawyer, served as UNC-System’s vice president for public affairs and hosted PBS-NC’s “North Carolina Bookwatch.”