The digerati are open at the neck, traditionalists don ties.
Simple enough, isn’t it? Well, no, actually.
The night before a major property company presented its latest results recently, management and key advisors spent a good ten minutes discussing whether they would wear ties the next day. In previous years the company’s executives had gone for the informal look: would analysts and journalists interpret ties as evidence of a new conservatism, an attempt to cover up bad results, a change of company strategy? Or would they merely think, perhaps, the chief executive looked rather smart? The tie vote won, just.
Sir Richard Branson’s reluctance to wear a tie has long been an element of his personal brand. With the arrival of the internet, a new generation of bosses decided to wear their shirts with open necks too. For many fashion commentators, this is a mistake. They point out that many collars are cut specifically to be worn with ties, that many necks look better covered with a silk knot.
The move to cast off ties has led to other confusion, most notably when Gerald Levin, the 60-year-old CEO of Time Warner, went without his tie for his company’s marriage to AOL. Did he know that Steve Case, the AOL Chairman and CEO, would dress up for the day, appearing next to him on the platform in dark blue suit and red tie? The move has come to symbolize the difficulties that a normally buttoned-down publisher was to find living with a freewheeling internet entrepreneur.
As the property company executives realized, putting on a tie can be as big a statement as removing it. A Financial Times correspondent was fascinated to find the founder of Facebook, a man normally in sandals and T-shirt, looking formal when they met for lunch: “Mark Zuckerberg is wearing a tie.” The piece went on to explain why: “In Silicon Valley, where jeans and open-necked shirt are de rigueur, Mr. Zuckerberg’s neckwear stands out. Mr. Zuckerberg says wearing the tie is a way to send a signal to his (nearly all tieless) 900 employees that this is a critical year for Facebook’s development.”