At one time I spent over a year searching through British newspapers and journals of the 1920s to 1950s looking for articles on or relating to Wyndham Lewis. I ended up reading a great deal of other material to relieve the tedium of the chase, and soon noticed that there are standardised stories that recur in all periods, right up to the present day. The most obvious, perhaps, is the Recipe for Long Life: "Mr Toothless celebrated his 90th birthday yesterday by playing a volleyball with his five daughters and fifteen grandchildren. He attributes his long and healthy life to a double scotch and a cigar before breakfast. 'I've done it since I was a nipper, he said, 'it really sets you up for the day.'"
Another such story is the Useless Item of Clothing. It may be this timeless press tic that Wodehouse was thinking of when he made Bertie ask Jeeves "What is the point of trousers?". As ever, the butler's response is the epitome of wisdom: "Patience, sir, the moment will pass."
Be that as it may, the story itself shows no sign of dying out. Jeremy Paxman is apparently refusing to wear a tie on television, referring to it as a "an utterly useless part of the male wardrobe" ("Time to go tie-less?").
What makes this latest avatar of more than trivial interest is the weak ground of its basic premise. To be blunt, the view that the tie has no function is demonstrably wrong; indeed it is an obviously practical solution to an enduring problem confronting adult men. However, as far as I can tell from my own acquaintance and research, this value is almost unrecognised, though it could hardly be simpler. The fact is that the tie protects the shirt from the harshly abrasive surface of the shaved lower jaw by holding the collar close against the hairless portion of the neck and so out of harm's way. With a tie a shirt lasts reasonably well; without one it rapidly becomes a rag. This economic benefit is purchased, of course, at the cost of comfort. Or to put it the other way around, the ease of the open neck must be bought at the expense of your shirt.
It is therefore unsurprising that rejection of the tie is strongest in wealthy periods such as our own, and amongst those on high incomes (Byron, Shelley, Mayfair hedge fund operators, BBC television news presenters). To this list may be added those, such as youths and academics, who are both shielded from economic reality and do not in any case appear to shop for their own clothes.