With John Bercow ruling that the ties can come off male MPs, is the humble tie dead, asks Alec Marsh
The House of Commons lost its Whigs about 150 years ago, with the founding of the Liberal party and Court dress soon followed. It then lost its actual wigs – or at least the Speaker’s full-bottomed horse hair variety in 1992 when Betty Boothroyd decided it would ruin her hairdo.
Then earlier this year the current Speaker John Bercow decided to axe the wigs worn by the Commons’ clerks in February, partly because they were itchy, bringing an end to 300 years of tradition.
Now Mr Bercow has decided to relax the dress code further by announcing that male MPs no longer need to wear ties – partly, it seems, because no such ruling exists for women and it is therefore unfair. They still need to be dressed in ‘business-like attire’, however, which for now means jackets.
But with the purge of wigs and ties complete, one can only speculate where Mr Bercow’s sartorial iconoclasm will go next – especially if he remains Speaker for much longer. Another few years and male MPs will doubtlessly be able to wear shorts and flip flops on warm days – or bikinis for female MPs if the ambient chamber temperature tops 30 degrees C.
Going without a tie has of course been acceptable in parts of the financial services sector – especially towards the Mayfair, hedgie end – for a while, and trendy and untrendy private members’ clubs alike have embraced tie-lessness and trousers for women. (Interestingly, just three of more than 40 male wealth managers pictured in the latest edition of Spear's are tie-less.) Meanwhile the BBC delights in getting politicians to remove their ties when on camera.
But on camera is not in camera: and watering down the Commons dress code undoubtedly detracts from the essential formality of the occasion. Despite appearances at times, Parliament is a serious business and the act of wearing a tie reminds the individual concerned that they are on duty in some fashion. Would you permit the sentry outside Buckingham Palace to forego his bearskin?
The loss of the ties is also a blow for Jeremy Corbyn, who has only relatively recently mastered how to do a tie up without it sagging at his neck.
More than that it’s a blow for a British tradition and a sartorial industry: they’ll be weeping into their florid handkerchiefs on Jermyn Street, that’s for sure.
Mind you, the writing was on the wall, as the final closure of Tie Rack’s last 44 stores in 2013 made clear. You only have to look around you to see that ties are on the run as our corporate dress codes get the Californian-makeover. But London – and Westminster – are a long way geographically and culturally from San Francisco.
Quite what Mr Bercow’s predecessors would have made of his ruling can only be marvelled at, of course, though my guess is that they will have told him to get knotted. ‘The apparel oft proclaims the man,’ cautions Polonius in Hamlet. Rest assured, even without the aid of a brutish half-Windsor or standard ‘four-in-hand’, members of Parliament will still be able to tie themselves into knots.
Alec Marsh is editor of Spear’s