To Knot a Tie—Or Not

A few days before “it” was to take place, the prospect of participating began to worry me. When it was still in the fairly distant future, I had reassured myself it wouldn’t be a big deal, that things would be just fine. After all, I wasn’t a novice, a raw rookie who had never been part of such a gathering. I tried to ignore my persistent apprehension, which skulked into a hidden corner but didn’t disappear. Those few days before, it uncomfortably reappeared.

Elaine and I were to attend an event. Not a party, not an informal gathering, not even a shindig, but an “event.” I’d be chatting with people I hadn’t previously met, weaving into and out of conversations relating to topics about which I knew little and cared less. I’d have to look pleasant and genuinely involved, a challenge I’d handled fairly well in the past because of frequent practice rather than innate talent. Now, after two years of sitting not discontentedly on the bench, I was about to be thrust into the game again.

I’m nowhere close to Elaine in social adeptness. I’m not that deficient when mingling is in order, but doing it doesn’t come naturally. It demands additional expenditure of psychic energy. During COVID, of course, exercising good sense meant going into semi-hermit mode, which really, I confess. didn’t displease me. As sequestration time expanded, I actually found the style rather agreeable. Still, as COVID ravaged on, I began to chafe a bit at the restrictiveness of compulsory lockdown, but not to the extent of yearning for social re-immersion.

Then, the disease abated and the challenge of the “event” loomed. Predictably, I reflected about which was preferable, undemanding boredom or imposed socializing. As the designated evening drew near, a bet on the former would have been a winner, but now I had no choice. So I revisited the old steps I once followed in my preparation process. To my surprise, they proved harder than anticipated.

What about appropriate attire? Not long ago, this decision would have been easy. I had a dress code of sorts I never actually tried to put into words but followed scrupulously: be neat enough to pass casual scrutiny but not “stylish” enough to attract attention. In other words, blend.

Rarely had I worn suits in the past because they struck me as fussy and formal. As for sports jackets, the obvious choice, what designs remained in vogue? I didn’t know for certain, but a hunch told me to forget the plaid ones. Were blue blazers still the unimaginative but acceptable choice for conservative dressers? If so, I had one ready to go, but again, feeling uncertain, I ended up choosing an unobtrusive light gray number, which, I hoped, would allow me to blend easily.

Choosing a dress shirt offered no problem. White ones always struck me as unimaginatively formal, so I opted for one of my old standbys, a light blue one, which would, I reasoned, agreeably complement dark trousers. So far, so good. Maybe the dress decisions wouldn’t be the problems I had anticipated. But then, totally unexpectedly, I was blindsided, and my growing confidence disappeared.

It started innocently enough as I auditioned tie choices for my blue shirt. After some deliberation, I settled on an old favorite, an abstract muted design that, I felt, reflected good taste, which, because of sartorial insecurity, is what I wanted to reflect. Then, doubt hit me. After a few years of not having to tie a piece of neckware, would I still be able to do it? That was an ironic thought, because there was a time I was so smug about my knotting prowess that I instinctively critiqued the relative skills of other tie wearers. Believe me, I was one strict judge.

Shirt on, I stood before a mirror and inserted the tie under the collar. I made one loop, then, suddenly doubtful, had to stop. I could imagine my fingers asking plaintively, “What next?” For the moment, I had no answer. Racing through my mind were cliches about “muscle memory.” I didn’t want to be the discoverer of “muscle amnesia.” No Nobel Prize there. Resolving to be patient, normally something alien to me, I concentrated on mirror images as I tried various hand movements in desperate search of success. At one point, I had almost resolved to go tieless. After all, that seems the current style even for men wearing sports jackets. But I was wary of being eyed sideways by people who’d mutter to their companions, “Look at that guy without a tie!”

Eventually, after considerable effort, I achieved semi-respectable success. It wasn’t the quality tie knot I’d want evaluated by the kind of maven I used to be. But it would do, even if, at the “event,” I’d want to deliberately position one hand constantly at throat level.

I know with the coming of other events will arise additional challenges. I concede now that since hermitdom isn’t a realistic behavioral option, I have to take them on one at a time. Who said getting back into the social swing would be easy? But it’s worth the effort. I guess.