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Novelty ties are the fashion equivalent of bumper stickers, writes Russell Smith. (Aidon/Getty Images)
Novelty ties are the fashion equivalent of bumper stickers, writes Russell Smith. (Aidon/Getty Images)

Is it ever okay to break out the novelty necktie? Add to ...

The question

My dad once wore a polyester Jaws tie to a restaurant. On it, the iconic shark’s mouth was open and racks of teeth surged up its length as if to compete with my father’s mouth for food. I thought it was really cool, but then I was nine years old. Is there any place these days for the novelty cravat?

The answer

One doesn’t want to be against all whimsy and humour in dressing. One doesn’t want to insist on total sobriety all the time. One isn’t a Spanish priest. One isn’t a prude. But where to draw the line?

A purple silk pocket square against a charcoal suit may look like a flamboyant transgression to some. Striped socks appear clownish to the conservative. I have recommended both.

I will even smile indulgently at representational cufflinks – I actually once had a pair of tiny silver turntables that I wore in my shirt cuffs with pride. The thing about cufflinks, though, is that they are small and often hidden. Someone who notices them – a lady, say, seated next to you at dinner – has to ask you to show them to her. They are almost a secret joke, like underwear that says “Sexy Bastard.” (I have some of those, too.)

The shark tie, the tie that looks like piano keys, the tie with the pinup girl on it, the tie with the office-mug slogan on it (“You don’t scare me, I have 4 daughters!”) – they’re as funny as bumper stickers. They’re one-liners. Same with the Christmas sweater with the reindeer head, the suspenders printed with dollar bills, the waxed moustache. Those items will dominate your outfit and turn you into a walking joke.

But what is it about the expressly comic that embarrasses me? Everybody loves a clown. Clowns relax us. I’m a hypocrite, I guess. I love being at a party with a clown, but I don’t want to be him. I want to be able to turn stern or sombre or even maudlin on a whim with some authority.

And I always remember one thing from school: Girls love the class clown. But only as a friend. Besides, aren’t patterned silk ties some of the most beautiful textures and fabrics in your entire wardrobe? Why waste this rare opportunity for sensuality?

Novelist Russell Smith’s memoir, Blindsided, is available as a Kobo e-book. Have a style question? E-mail style@globeandmail.com.

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