Loosen up a bit

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 18, 2004

Wearing your necktie too tight can cause blindness by increasing blood pressure inside the eye.

The thinking is, ties that bind constrict blood flow through the jugular vein, thus causing increased pressure to the head and, thusly, to the eyes.

And here I am with a job that requires me to wear a necktie every day, a symbol of professionalism and respect that has always mystified me. What is it about a piece of cloth twisted around your neck that makes you appear more serious, more professional and more respected?

The history of the necktie is murky, depending upon whom you read. Most people generally credit Croatian mercenaries with introducing the necktie to the French in the 17th Century – about 350 years.

The French, being the fashion mavens of Western culture, quickly adopted the style because decorative neckties were easier to care for than the fancy white, starched collars in style at the time.

The Croatian fighters were dashing and colorful, of course, but one of the appeals of the neck cloths they wore was that even ordinary soldiers could add dash and daring to their uniforms – thus impressing the ladies – with a colorful cloth tied tightly around their throats.

The officers wore silk neckties, but even the lowliest grunt, caked from head to foot in mud and gore after a long day of brutally hacking away at the enemy, would become transformed into a dashing hero, exuding panache, to all the new widows by simply cinching a long piece of cheap, colorful cloth around his throat.

Few of these grunts – foot-soldiers to you non-military types – had to worry about whether or not a tight tie would cause blindness because their jugular vein was pumping blood at 10 times the normal pressure.

Back then, grunts really were cannon fodder and medical technology had not advanced beyond the application of leaches (which, come to think, might have lowered the blood pressure if you had enough of them attached), so they rarely got old enough to go blind from glaucoma.

While Croatian mercenaries get the credit for inventing the modern concept of neckties, researchers have now discovered that these manly tributes to flamboyance have been around much longer than 350 years.

In a 1974 archeological dig, Chinese researchers discovered that neckties go back at least 2,200 years into the past.

Near Xian, China’s ancient capital city, in the tomb of Shih Huang Ti, 7,500 life-sized and exquisitely detailed terracotta soldiers were found guarding the first emperor, who was buried in 210 B.C. While all of these soldiers and officers were unique from head to toe – including hair, facial expressions and armor – they had one thing in common; they all wore neckties.

But that’s not the only ancient evidence that neckties date back far earlier than those sharp-dressed Croats.

The Roman Emperor Trajan built a victory column in 113 A.D. after he defeated the Dacians, who lived in what we know as Romania.

The 2,500 figures carved into that column are all wearing one of three different kinds of neckties – (1) short versions of the modern necktie, (2) simple pieces of cloth that wound around the neck and tucked into armor, and (3) knotted kerchiefs that look an awful lot like bandannas American cowboys used to wear.

Neckties have a rich tradition, probably dating back well before Emperor Shih Huang Ti’s tomb guards sported them. Heck, they probably predate civilization itself. There’s just something about a colored piece of cloth wrapped around the neck that folks have liked for a long, long time.

But we have to give the Croatians credit for starting the stylish trend that hopped to France and then to the rest of Western Europe in the 17th Century.

These days, men are just not dressed up unless they have some kind of cloth tied around their necks. You can go from casual to dressed up simply by securely tying that cloth into place. Try it. Wear the same clothes you wear to work every day (if you don’t already dress up) and put on a tie one morning. I guarantee, several people during the course of the day will either ask why you’re so dressed up or comment upon how good you look all dressed up.

My philosophy on ties was always to wear something as bright as possible (my wife, Kim, was a bit perturbed when I insisted on buying a bright red tie for my green suit). I gather you’re actually supposed to match tie to suit. Who knew?

Anyway, I can already tell that my new neckwear is starting to raise my blood pressure. My eyes are bugging out, getting bloodshot, and are probably going to give me even more trouble than the &uot;after 40&uot; thing, which required that I start wearing reading glasses after enjoying perfect vision for the first 39 years of my life.

Then again, I can always just loosen up a little.