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The policy of the “colonial knot” tie, male marker or symbol of the status of silk?

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Ties made world news last week, when Maori MP Rawiri Waititi was kicked out of the New Zealand Parliament debate chamber. He refused to wear a tie, describing it evocatively as a colonial knot.

It’s not that Mr. Waititi avoided ties. On the contrary, he explained that the traditional to get the green stone pendant he wore instead depicted for him both a tie and a connection to its people, culture and Maori rights.

In the intense debate which followed, ideas around acceptable work attire based on Western dress codes were challenged against the expression Indigenous cultural identity. Ties are no longer needed in the men’s setting appropriate professional attire in the New Zealand Parliament.

Man in hat with jade pendant.
Maori MP Rawiri Waititi said his hei-tiki wore the formality of a tie and a cultural tie.
AAP Image / Ben McKay

In Australia, MPs were allowed to drop the tie in 1977 when safari suits were officially considered work clothes. Since then, however, Parliament’s dress standards have changed informally, with our politicians uniformly wearing ties in the chamber.

The ties got tangled in controversial here as in New Zealand. This narrow strip of fabric has many meanings for its wearers.



Read more: The Binding: Unraveling the Thorny Question of Political Protests and Mori Cultural Identity


From throat to groin

Shells, feathers, gold and fabrics have adorned the necks of peoples for millennia. The origin of the tie is most often attributed to 17th century Croatian mercenaries who wore clothes around their necks. One of the purposes was to protect the neck of the sword blade.

Ties, draped or tied in knots, and stocks of stiff cloth tied at the nape of the neck were worn in Europe for centuries afterwards, and by Australia’s first colonial administrators. They were made of lace, linen, silk and muslin.

The bow tie and tie in a recognizable form today were more and more visible in the 19th century.

The symbolism of links attracts particularly lively discussions around the style of the male body. While the suit jacket creates a V-shape from the shoulders to the waist, the tie catches the eye from the throat to the groin in the same way, some say, like the codpiece did.

It has been suggested that this overcompensation explains former US President Donald Trumps preference for long ties, with an observer comparing them to the codpiece.

Donald Trump in a suit and tie
Donald Trump wears a very long tie.
Photo AP / Evan Vucci


Learn more: Research Check: Do ties reduce blood supply to the brain?


Wearing a tie in Australia

When Captain James Cook landed on the Australian coast, he was dressed in a uniform with linen tied to the neck or so many paintings suggest it.

The early administrators also wore neat and clean ties, while the convicts had scarf issued as part of their uniform.

Influential Indigenous people, on the other hand, sometimes saw themselves pectoral to wear around the neck.

Artist ST Gill illustrated life on the Victorian gold fields in the 1850s, with some of his assiduous diggers tie handkerchiefs around their necks. But the wastrels and dandies he drew have splurged on flash clothes, including brightly colored silk ties worn with gold pins in a gentlemanly fashion.

gold fields men's fashion illustration
All the accompaniments. While goldfield diggers of the 1850s wore neckerchiefs, some men splurged on ties with bling.
ST Gill / State Library of Victoria

At the beginning of the 20th century, as manual workers took off their jackets and ties, wearing a three-piece suit and a tie becomes synonymous with authority and professionalism.

As the business suit became a staple in men’s fashion around the turn of the 20th century, the popularity of ties skyrocketed. In 1950, when the Sydneys Sun newspaper published the Everymans ideal wardrobe, the long list recommended only 18 links.

However is suitable and ties were hot, if not oppressive, as Australian climate reformers have insisted. When Ray Olson photographed New season fashion David Jones in 1939, he captured two men in contrasting attire walking along a city street.

One wore a trendy double-breasted suit, a casual hat and a fitted tie. The other was dressed in a short-sleeved shirt without a tie and tailored shorts. Radical for the time, this look was adopted decades later, with South Australian Prime Minister Don Dunstan leading the charge in casual dress standards.

Two men walk down the street in 1930s fashion suits.
Ray Olson captured two approaches to menswear in 1939.
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales and courtesy of ACP Magazines Ltd

In 1967 The Bulletin described the Dunstans set of shorts, long socks and a short-sleeved shirt worn without a tie as a summer example for government and bank employees.

Skinny, wide, strong or patterned

As attitudes towards ties have transformed over the decades, the styles have become and out of fashion. The skinny tie popularized by bands such as the Beatles in the 1960s was favored by young Australian mods.

The wide tie, too, has had its moments. In the 1970s loud, wide patterned ties were the height of fashion. For the flamboyant politician Al Grassby, wearing wide colored ties signaled a passage to a colorful new Australia.

Anthony Albanese shows off his red and blue tie.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese signals his allegiance to the Rabbitohs NRL team.
Image AAP / Mick Tsikas


Read more: A scarf can mean a lot of things but above all prestige


Nowadays, politicians can wear certain colors to mark their allegiance: the coalition has widely commented on its preference for blue, for example, although this is not always obvious.

Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt often chooses a tie with an Indigenous design to signal his heritage.

Tie with native art design
Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt, in Indigenous costume and tie.
Image AAP / Lukas Coch

Ties do a lot of things. Although they express their identity, they can just as easily serve as a uniform for their wearers. They give power to some, while taking it away from others. Does Rawiri Waititis’s critique of the colonial noose suggest that Australia may also be heading towards an account with the place of ties in our history?



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