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The Column: Pandemic is a blow to sartorial splendor

Going on a year now, they have been strictly quarantined. Distanced from the rest of society. Haven’t been out in public at all.

I speak of my neckties.

Wait. Don’t assume the standard coronavirus cliché: I get fully dressed every day. Haven’t worn sweatpants since about 1992 — and only then to referee beginners’ basketball games for young grade-school kids. Shirts-with-collars have remained standard equipment.

But given the COVID-19 reality, that my semiretirement duties teaching a college journalism course are restricted to Zoom sessions, my neckwear continues to shelter in its place. Arrayed there on a downsized version of the dry-cleaners’ rotating racks.

There are scores of ties. Stripes, paisleys, polka dots, plaids, knits, solids. Novelty specials with miniature paper airplanes, license plates, animals. I have ties with stars, flowers, Peanuts characters, images of Beatles lyrics, a much-favored "marathon" tie featuring literally hundreds of little cartoon runners.

All hanging around in three separate closets. Frankly, the majority of them have been there since pre-pandemic days, waiting to become fashionable again — the far-too-wide ones and the really skinny ones. The Fatty Arbuckle kinds and Blues Brothers versions. But thanks to my wife’s good taste, keen eye for style and commitment to keep me presentable, I have plenty of ties that — just to stick with the raiment metaphor — will knock your socks off.

To be perfectly clear: In a half-century as a newspaper reporter, I’d guess I wore a tie maybe 50% of the time, hardly qualifying me as a Beau Brummel. Typically, in that line of work, to include a tie in one’s wardrobe is something of a default position, as with my boxing-beat colleague who told me he did own a single necktie, but kept it in his car in case of emergency. To show up in the newsroom with a tie could bring a sarcastic, "D’ya get the job?"

A friend who spent several years in the reporting business — always better dressed than the rest of us — wound up going to law school and now, as an attorney, not only wears a tie all the time but told me he has a different suit for each day of the week. Which only reminds me that, despite the Oscar Wilde observation that "a well-tied tie is the first serious step in life," I still wouldn’t know a Windsor knot from a Gordian knot.

Anyway, academics always seemed more formal — more grown-up — than us ink-stained wretches, so when I began teaching part time a decade ago, I committed to wearing a tie whenever on campus. And it wasn’t as if that was totally unfamiliar territory. As a child of the '50s and '60s, before T-shirts with writing on them somehow became chic, I was surrounded by tie-wearing as a daily routine. My father would transition from his day at the office to after-work play with his woodworking tools without bothering to ditch the dress shirt and tie; he merely added a pair of overalls to his look.

I must have been about 10 when, expected to don a tie for dress-up occasions, I opted for a Dick Tracy red-with-small-black-stripes model. (I skipped Tracy's yellow fedora.) When members of our high school basketball team were required to wear ties to away games, I briefly undertook the renegade photo-negative gangster look — black shirt, white tie — probably inspired by some forgettable movie about Prohibition.

Fresh out of college, with a job in Manhattan and determined to look professional, I discovered a hole-in-the-wall place next to a Midtown newspaper stand, Tie City, where one could purchase ties for $1 apiece — and splurged on two or three. Hardly fashionista stuff. Nor were later attempts — chintzy clip-ons, psychedelic tie-dyed cloth ties, a pre-tied bow tie — particularly successful at substantiating an especially jaunty appearance.

There is a quote by one John T. Molloy, author of the book "Dress for Success," that proclaims, "Show me a man's ties, and I'll tell you who he is or who he is trying to be."

Actually, if I show you my ties — still in the closets where they have been since last March — they mostly tell you about my wife’s good judgment regarding apparel. And their location reminds everyone that the pestilence — the monster under our beds — is still lurking.

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