Does the date December 13, 1928, mean anything to you? That’s the day the clip-on tie was invented.
I know that’s almost a full year before The Crash, but the stock market is a reflection of future— not past— expectations. Take one look at the clip-on and it’s easy to imagine that upon its arrival, future expectations were dimmed significantly.
Academics have long debated the economic causes of The Great Depression. Income inequality. Mismanagement of interest rates. The lavish spending of the Gatsbys.
When I was a kid, we were taught it was the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act that did us in. Passed in 1930, it raised duties on imported goods by 50%. About 60 other countries followed our lead and the world came to a grinding halt.
In an Oct. 28, 1977 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Jude Wanniski argued that it wasn’t the passage of the tariff act itself—but anticipation of its consequences—that made the bottom drop out of the market in ‘29. He may be right, but I’m sticking with the clip-on.
There are no monuments to its inventor. In fact, no one’s sure who came up with the thing. Some say it was morticians who found it too hard to tie a tie on a dead body. Either way, there’s a reason the date is remembered on an engineering Web site.
What were the fashion trends before the clip-on? For women, it was shorter skirts and shorter haircuts. Turned down hose and powdered knees. Evening gowns lost their backs. Chiffon, silk and crepes were the elegant raw materials of the day.
These flappers did show more leg than their Victorian mothers, but the female silhouette also became more masculine. Women actually taped down their breasts to look more boyish. They wore cloche hats and conspicuously put on makeup in public (Ox blood lipstick was all the rage).
Men started the decade wearing knickerbockers, later shortened to “knickers.” Your knickers were either plus-fours, plus-sixes, plus-eights or plus-tens. The “plus” referred to how many inches below the knee they hung. Norfolk coats usually had large patch pockets, a belt, one button and a shoulder yoke.
But by 1925 John Wanamaker’s baggy pants had replaced knickers (and would dominate men’s fashions for the next three decades). They were made of tweed or wool and colors were mostly limited to biscuit, silver gray, fawn, blue gray and pearl gray. For a night out on the town, young men wore Jazz Age suits with tight waists and long back vents.
Compared to these fashion trends, the clip-on tie seems like an anomaly. But for some reason, it had staying power.
By the 1950s, the clip-on was the bane of every parochial school kid. No matter how hard you tried, you always nicked that little flap of skin just below your Adam’s apple.
If you wore one past your 16th birthday, it told the world you didn’t know how to tie a Windsor knot. The only time it was OK to wear a clip-on was to the Junior Prom.
Today you can find clip-on ties on vintage clothing Web sites for $5. But I don’t think Savile Row needs to get its designers busy. Rather, it’s a lesson in why some shortcuts aren’t improvements.
So let the economists continue to debate the fundamental causes of the Great Depression. All I know is that if I see clip-ons making a comeback, I’m getting out of stocks and into long bonds.