Richard Branson, the British billionaire who owns the Virgin empire, hates ties. He wears a jacket out of pragmatism, he admits, but “will only wear a tie under extreme duress.”
In an essay published on Entrepreneur.com this week, Sir Richard writes, “On behalf of the oppressed tie-wearers of the world, here is my appeal to those corporate despots who still force their male employees to put nooses around their necks every day: Please think again.”
Branson’s reaction to ties is like many of his generation. To them, tailored clothing and neckwear were symbols of conformity. He began his distinguished business career as the founder of a record company. His clients were rock stars, and he never fancied himself a traditional executive. He made his billions as a business iconoclast, bucking tradition and conventional wisdom.
But times have changed. When I read Branson’s rant, I wondered if I had stumbled upon something from the 1990s. Has he not noticed that suits and ties are actually fashionable now? That some of those same rock stars he signed early in his career are wearing ties on stage? Had casual Fridays not made their mark on office dress codes in the U.K.? What is there left for him to rebel against? Things have come full circle, and apparently Branson hasn’t noticed.
No reader of this magazine needs reminding that suits and ties—and just ties—are selling again, and to a younger market. It’s not because the economy is shifting one way or another, nor is it because the job market is weak. It’s because when our fathers stopped wearing ties, they ceased to be nooses.
“I have always hated ties, maybe because I’ve never seen the point,” Branson continues. “They are uncomfortable and serve no useful purpose.” Please. Shoes are uncomfortable if you’ve never worn them before. And the purpose of a tie, for those of us who wear them by choice, is to add color and texture to a wardrobe; to reference a long history of thoughtful masculine style and re-express it on a personal scale. Simply put, we like ties because we like men’s clothing. And ironically, as businessmen like Branson go more casual, the rest of us see suits and ties as newly free signifiers of creativity and self expression.