The neckwear industry may be dying. Wearing neckties has long exemplified formality, fashion and respect for institutions. Why the sartorial shift? The case of America’s disappearing neckties may be a mystery worthy of Perry Mason.
As portrayed by Raymond Burr, Mason was a confident attorney taking on hopeless cases, and yet winning as new truths emerged. Mason’s weapons were his instincts, intelligence and wit. Mason’s outfit never varied from his ever-present fitted jacket, white shirt and dark tie.
Perhaps the necktie’s downturn began when patterns became wild and musicians such as Jerry Garcia and Carlos Santana started their own collections. Maybe it was disruptive right-wing tie-brand owners like Donald Trump and Rush Limbaugh. The pandemic further diminished most men’s desire to buy or wear neckties.
Sean Payton, Broncos 20th head coach, has a job far different from most men. He wore a Broncos orange tie on Jan. 29 while commentating for Fox, and fanatics correctly perceived Payton signaling his desire to coach for Denver.
Explaining his necktie symbolism last Monday, Payton further detailed coordinating his more recent orange tie with a perfect pocket square. An upward tilt reflected Payton’s desired trajectory for the Broncos. Mysteries solved.
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, rocked his own obvious necktie symbolism at last Tuesday’s State of the Union speech. Belying his Moscow Mitch moniker, the Senate Minority Leader twisted the plot when he wore a blue and yellow tie signaling support for Ukraine.
Pity Ukrainians suffering from Putin’s War and non-support from MAGA-Republicans. Witness the dreadfully dressed Marjorie Taylor Greene. No male necktie could have salvaged MTG’s all-white “Chinese spy balloon” Cruella DeVil outfit.
Calm and cool at the House Chambers’ podium stood President Joe Biden. He sported a handsome Democratic blue tie. Behind him, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s necktie was solid Republican red. No mysteries there.
Neckties are required in Colorado’s legislature. That suits Denver mayoral candidate and current state Sen. Chris Hansen. Hansen enjoys dressing like Perry Mason when the setting is serious. Besides, while growing up in Goodland, Kansas, Hansen’s father was both his role model and high school teacher. Never once did Wally Hansen fail to wear a tie while classroom teaching.
At last week’s fascinating 16-candidate Denver mayoral debate, Hansen selected a solid tie, white shirt and dark suit. Former state Sen. Mike Johnston went tieless with a blue dress shirt beneath a blazer. Lone Republican candidate Andy Rougeot wore a blue dress shirt, and neither jacket nor tie.
John Hickenlooper long ago resisted donning non-utilitarian clothing. He’d not worn ties while running the Wynkoop, so why was it necessary at the Denver City and County Building? Hickenlooper also incited a fashion rebellion at Colorado’s Capitol. Nowadays, Colorado’s junior senator regularly wears neckties.
I’ve worn countless neckties to the City and County Building and other Colorado courthouses. Neckties are fundamental to any male lawyer’s uniform. Nice neckwear can be pricey, especially for 6’5” men like me, paying for extra fabric.
My long ties were purchased from expert clothier Sam Kaufman. For many decades, Sam successfully ran Kaufman’s Tall and Big Store, opened in 1958 by Sam’s immigrant father, Fred Kaufman, a blessed memory. Kaufman’s Englewood store was frequented by famous oversized athletes and celebrities, but closed for good during 2020, sensing difficult times ahead in the men’s retail clothing business.
But what a run it was. The neckwear industry is not dead yet, with some necktie industry analysts forecasting worldwide sales growth. Lawyers, legislators and broadcasters are still making neckties part of their wardrobes. Perry Mason is coming back on HBO.
When asked about the utility of a necktie, Sam Kaufman told me, “There is no utility. But a nice tie is the exclamation point on an outfit. It shows the panache and personal style of the man wearing it. Anybody who’s worn ties on a regular basis knows that when you cinch that tie up, you’re ready to go. It’s gametime. You’re a professional.”
Based on tradition more than anything, I feel naked if I enter a courtroom without wearing a tie. You can enter any courtroom without neckwear, although you’d never know that from watching Perry Mason. Not only were Mason and hapless prosecutor Hamilton Burger always wearing neckties, so was every male witness and every man in the gallery.
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In real life, Raymond Burr was obese and had difficulty walking in his later years. As he filmed Perry Mason made-for-TV movies in the 1980s, he rarely moved around and was normally seated.
Several of these movies were filmed in Denver’s then-bustling City and County Building and one of our most beautiful Denver courtrooms. The courthouse lacked air conditioning then, which was an apparent problem, with Burr regularly sweating through his clothing.
No mystery solving that problem. Kaufman’s was the perfect place to shop. Raymond Burr and Fred Kaufman got along famously. Following a lunch of copious amounts of saki and sushi, Burr selected dozens of extra-long ties, easily replaced once soaked.
I’m thrilled knowing I purchased neckwear from the same store as Perry Mason. I’ll keep wearing my neckties forever.
Craig Silverman is a former Denver chief deputy DA. Craig is columnist at large for The Colorado Sun and an active Colorado trial lawyer with Craig Silverman Law, LLC. He also hosts The Craig Silverman Show podcast.
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