The future of the necktie

What is the future of staff uniforms, and how will any such changes affect guests’ perceptions or expectations? There’s much to consider in uniform design and what it means for a brand, so for now let’s focus on one piece of apparel: the necktie.

As a Baby Boomer who has spent most of his days living in and around the Eastern Seaboard of North America, I have perhaps a highly traditional opinion on hospitality neckwear. It used to be that anyone in hotel management wore a necktie, with exceptions being few and far between. And, even on those rare holiday outings, it was not surprising to see the general manager sporting a tie. Nowadays, the diminishing presence of the tie — or oftentimes the total lack thereof — in our industry is cause for alarm.

It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly when the tie disappeared from the GM wardrobe. From limited-service properties to trendy boutique properties, this new informality was seen as congruous to these emerging brands’ modi operandi — laidback, approachable and slightly edgy — bringing the conventions of old more or less in line with that of a “West Coast” philosophy where the tie has not made it out of the closet in decades.

Formalities still exist overseas, though. On a recent trip to Europe, I visited eight properties; not one member of senior staff was seen without a tie. On the continent where our time-honored hospitality customs were written into stone, this makes sense. Furthermore, I can report similar results from last year’s Asian foray, where undoubtedly long-held cultural traditions of strict etiquette are a significant factor.

While formal wear remained unchanged in some regions, this still begs the question: is the hotel world a better place without neckties? If it serves your brand to forgo this accessory, then all the power to you, but I urge you to not make this decision lightly. The necktie has tremendous symbolic value, combining both authority and an aura of trustworthiness. Business suits worn without a tie are not as suggestive in these aspects, which can reduce guest service perceptions.

At the front desk, employees without ties command less respect from guests — how can they be important if they are not wearing a tie? Moreover, if a businessperson arrives at the front desk wearing a tie, will he or she think less of the front desk’s capabilities because of the latter’s relative informality?

On the surface, your logical brain might tell you that the absence of a necktie holds no bearing on your opinion of another individual. We live in an age without prejudging, right? There’s a reason why the phrases “Everyone loves a man in uniform” and “Dress for success” are so pervasive; subconsciously, we know that a person who can dress himself or herself properly can likewise handle his or her business in a suitable manner. Need evidence of this? Look no further than military members — they learn to correctly dress themselves and how to stay clean long before they get anywhere near a rifle. A uniform indicates authority in addition to discipline, dedication, honor and prestige.

Call me old-fashioned. My feeling is that the GM should always wear a tie, as should everyone else with seniority or in a line-staff position that deals directly with guests. By wearing a tie, we demonstrate a degree of professionalism towards our guests and to the traditions of hospitality. The evanescence of this fashion statement is yet another in a long list of those lost in what makes being in hospitality truly special.

When I open my closet and stare at the rows of Italian masterpieces created by Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo and Brioni, I can’t help but think that this neck apparel used to form the mainstay of my daily wardrobe. Now they serve as relics of an old-world formality reserved for weddings, funerals, speaking engagements and other such major life-defining moments. Outside of those occasions, I can count the number of times I wore a tie last year. Sad to say, I miss those days.