Should Parliament cut ties with ties? Shaw asks for rule change

From Checkpoint, 5:15 pm on 26 November 2020

In one of the more sartorial requests to the Speaker of the House on Thursday, Green Party co-leader James Shaw asked Trevor Mallard to cut Parliament's ties to ties.

"If you are looking at further reforms I wonder if we could take a look at the rule that requires gentlemen to wear ties," Shaw said.

Checkpoint's Nick Truebridge and Nick Monro visited a long-serving Auckland tie shop and hit the streets to find out whether people think it's time to free the neck.

There is a wide variety of styles in the world of the cravat, from the floral and busy to the striped and enterprising.

"James Shaw looks great in a tie, in fact when he wears ties I really notice them. And I don't think it's just me, he looks great in a tie and wears some great ties," Parisian Neckwear managing director John Crompton told Checkpoint.

Parisian is a fourth-generation family business that makes fine ties and belts at its headquarters near Karangahape Road.

Crompton's great grandfather picked up the three-piece design of the modern tie during a chance conversation with a man on a train while travelling across America.

"He drew that pattern on his napkin, tucked it in his pocket and brought it all the way home to New Zealand, where he gave it to his daughter Ruby, my great aunt. She was a dressmaker in Queen St, and she sewed the first Parisian tie. From there, the history has built over four generations."

Fashion has come and gone over that time, but one element that has endured is the tie.

"Absolutely, it's still there. In fact, it's there more now than I would say it has been in the last 15 to 20 years. It's no news to anyone the corporate world hasn't been wearing ties for about 15 to 20 years… it's been a slow transition to a more casual outfit for work," Crompton says.

"But the tie has remained throughout history, throughout the last 100 years at least, always there as part of men's attire."

So, is the trend going anywhere? Are there others who, like Shaw, say scrap the tie?

"It's always had ups and downs, ebbs and flows, but hey it's always been there and if anything, there's a growing interest in it now because it's no longer an obligatory item for corporate wear," Crompton says.

"You don't have to go and buy a tie every season to look good and change at work… So the guys that are buying ties are really into them. And they want something special, and they recognise what the tie does for how they portray themselves."

Crane Brothers owner Murray Crane has been in the menswear industry for 35 years. He thinks ties still have a place for formal occasions but says tie use overall has definitely declined.

"I think that we live in a country that's very casual. I've been in the menswear industry for 35 years and I think you give Kiwi men an opportunity to not dress up, and they'll take it with both hands. So if you leave the door even slightly ajar, I think they're probably going to take that opportunity," Crane says.

In Wellington, Shaw's fellow MPs were not so keen to ditch them just yet.

"It’s not the top item on my agenda," says Labour MP David Clark.

"It's not something I've given a great deal of thought to but now I think about it, it's probably inevitable it would change," says Labour's Greg O'Connor.

"I'm one of that generation that just naturally gets out of bed in the morning and throws a tie on without thinking too much about it. I quite like being here, when I was in police they were little elastic ones, now at least I get to tie them."

Minister of Education Chris Hipkins says he is on the more tradition end of the spectrum and enjoys the formality of wearing a tie in Parliament.

"I'm a bit of a traditionalist," says National MP Nick Smith. "In my view, the tie is part of treating Parliament with the respect that it deserves."

"It's what the people expect, but also once you start changing the rules then why don't we just turn up in flip-flops," says National's Simon O'Connor.

Back on Auckland's Queen Street, there is less consensus. Checkpoint barely spotted half a dozen people wearing ties as they went about their business.

"Important for a funeral maybe but most of my colleagues have given up wearing the ties, they're gone, they're history," one CBD worker says.

"The worst thing is doing up the top button, I find it quite constricting on the throat, so sometimes I'll undo the top button and put the tie on loosely, that's the bit I find hard," another told Checkpoint.

So it seems ties have been relegated down the list of go-to wardrobe items. But those in the menswear biz insist there's still a time and a place.

As they put it, ties never die.

'I personally loathe them'

The House of Parliament's Speaker, Trevor Mallard, is the person who can make a decision on mandatory ties in the debating chamber. He has asked MPs to send him their opinions.

He told Checkpoint he personally loathes ties, but while in his current role whatever ruling he makes on attire, he will keep wearing them.

"I feel like it is quite dated, I felt like it was quite dated about 30 years ago and it's even more so now.

"I also can't tie them, which causes me a technical problem.

"The rules are such that members must wear business attire. One of the interesting things is up until a couple of decades ago, there were no rules for women. The rules only related to the dress for men, because it wasn't contemplated that women would be Members of Parliament and the rules were never updated for them.

"There are questions around jackets or not jackets, and a lot of business leaders who I meet would be what I would describe as smart casual, rather than in formal dress.

"That obviously allows for a bigger range of colour, jackets are not jackets, and shape of shirts rather than the more traditional shirts with the collars designed for ties.

"I've never mopped my face with my tie, I have the opposite problem, I'm more likely to drop my soup on the tie, I suppose it saves the shirt and it depends on the colour of the tie, whether or not you see the stain or not."

The discussion around MPs' attire is not just about ties, Mallard says. "It's about what business attire is these days, and clearly there's more at stake than just a tie.

"I can remember at one stage a Member of Parliament being tossed out for wearing what was a very expensive leather jacket. One which probably cost three or four times what I was paying for a suit at the time.

"It looked really good, but it didn't fit the definition."

Mallard wants to hear from MPs this year, and he will indicate his decision around Parliament's start in 2021.