Business

Etiquette at work

There are still times where a tie matters

At the start of The Emily Post Institute’s annual Train the Trainer program, one of the men attending greeted me, took one look at my suit and tie, and asked, “Am I underdressed? Should I be wearing a tie?” He had on a blue blazer, button down shirt, and vest sweater, but no tie. I assured him that while a suit and tie were appropriate for me as the instructor, as a participant his business casual dress was just right.

Then I received an e-mail from a former employee citing an article about the demise of the tie. She gave me a link to the article on CNN Money’s website titled “The tie is so old school”, which asked and answered: “Is the necktie dead, or at least dying? The answer is yes, of course.”

Really?

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The article makes its case by citing sales statistics: “Annual tie sales in the US peaked in 1995 at $1.8 billion, according to the NPD Group. By 2008 that number had tumbled to $677 million. Sales have perked back up to about $850 million a year as we’ve emerged from the Great Recession.” But the author, Andy Serwer, managing editor of Fortune Magazine, posits that the increase in sales doesn’t portend a return of the tie. He simply states: “In any event, it’s hard to see the tie biz ever again hitting the levels of two decades ago.”

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I’ll agree that sales have dropped to about half their record high and may not rise to that level again. Today’s more informal work culture means many men go to work without a tie. But that doesn’t mean the tie is dead or that it’s appropriate for a man to forgo a tie in any business situation.

There are times when formality — and ties — matter.

The tie’s value is that the formality it represents demonstrates respect for the occasion and those present. The beauty of wearing a tie is that if it turns out not to be necessary, it’s easy to remove. But if you arrive at an event without a tie and realize you need one, it’s hard to conjure one up (unless you were smart enough to put one in your pocket, just in case).

Don’t be lulled into thinking the tie is dead and then wish you had one. You can always take it off.

E-mail questions about business etiquette to etiquetteatwork@emilypost.com.