Contest Results: Why do men wear neckties?

Today, appropriately, we announce the exciting results of our Why Do Men Wear Neckties contest, just in time for the beloved holiday that commemorates the night that three Wise Men visited a manger in Bethlehem, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, myrrh and, for the hard-to-shop-for Dad, a necktie.We received entries from hundreds of readers, plus a few from people whose ability to read seems debatable. The entries can be broken down into three categories:

1. Male jokes. (Ties point down. Toward the groin! Har har!)

2. Men-are-stupid jokes, e.g., "So the wearer and viewer know which way is front," in the words of Tom D. of Poolesville, Md. (Our favorite entry in this category came from a gentleman in Chico, Calif., who wrote that men wear ties - this is precisely what he wrote - "because their stupid.")

3. Heroic attempts to accurately explain the phenomenon. ("Histor-i-co-bio-logically, at some point man realized, to his chagrin, that he was not as decorative as his counterparts in the animal kingdom," began Hilary H. of Escondido, Calif., in her ambitious answer.)

We should quickly note that this is a "Why" question that can be read two ways: As a question about the origin of the tie, and as a question about the habit of wearing them.

Most reference books blame the necktie on the French. The tie evolved from the French cravat, a scarf tied around the neck. The French called it a "cravat" in reference to the Croatians, who wore colorful scarves around their necks in battle.

Thus we do commend Kevin M. of San Diego, Calif., who combined some historical accuracy with that special winsome, cloying Why-column tone, only occasionally slipping in Dave Barryisms:

"LONG VERSION: Sometime between the Dark Ages and the Industrial Revolution (the Dark Ages is when the serfs were on farms instead of in factories), the French, the fashion moguls of Europe, were engaged in a battle in Croatia (motto: "Home of the Ethnic Wars"). The Croatian soldiers against whom the French forces were arrayed, in an attempt to overwhelm the French with a major fashion statement, had taken to wearing colorful neckerchiefs into battle . . .

"SHORTER VERSION: Men are idiots."

Dianne R. of Christiansburg, Va., says that in medieval times a piece of cloth was used to prevent armor from chafing the neck. And Patrick of M. of Vienna, Va., explained that in olden times warriors were constantly in danger of being chopped and hacked in the neck:

"These geniuses invented all kinds of leather and metal beaded vests to protect their torsos from sharp objects, but still noticed that a number of their colleagues were getting their heads lopped off during hand-to-hand combat. (`Arrgh! Thoust head rolls in the squalid sully!') A couple nonconformists figured out that if you tie a rag around your neck, and put the knot in front of your jugular, you'd be a lot less vulnerable when the other gladiator swings his saber at you."

Frank F., Mountain Home, Ark., says that a medieval neck protector was called a gorget. It was eventually replaced by a piece of thick leather, called a stock. "The lightweight stock, with time, evolved (devolved?) into bands, wraps, laces, strings and whatever of many colors."

We'll buy that. But why do men feel compelled to still wear the things, despite the decline in beheadings?

Some readers say men are just too stupid to repair buttons and thus need a tie to cover up the missing ones (for the record, the Why staff has used a tie for exactly that purpose). Other readers noted the male desire for conformity and uniformity. They said men wear neckties because other men wear neckties. There's a subservient quality to wearing a tie.

Geoffrey C. of Walnut Creek, Calif., wrote, "The necktie constantly reminds the wearer that his (or sometimes her) employer, the federal government, and significant other all have the wearer by the neck."

Earl W., of Kensington, Calif., wrote, "The necktie functions like the ring in the nose of the bull, the bit in the mouth of the horse. A necktie is a rope around the neck, a choke collar inviting enslavement that is constantly accepted."

On the other hand, ties can be flamboyant. Men wear ties, says Roberta S., of Sun City West, Ariz., "because they're not allowed to wear ribbons in their hair."

We liked this one from Eric M., of Great Falls, Va.: "Men wear neckties because of cleavage envy."

And this weird one from Clay W., of Little Rock, Ark.: "Men have come to appreciate the effects of carotid-massage induced headaches and the lightheaded euphoria of transient asystole of the heart rhythm. The effects are simply achieved by tightening the `noose.' A non-invasive state of aphrodisia if you will."

Margaret Y. of Ann Arbor, Mich., spoke for many: "Men wear neckties because women wear high heels. It's a form of attire revenge that each gender practices on the other."

But the winner of the 1,400-page George Mitchell health care bill, the CIA golf balls and the T-shirt with a cow's skeletal structure is Jack C. of Hambury, N.Y., who was winningly honest:

"I am not a thin person, and when I take off my tie, but keep my suit on, my stomach appears much larger. It may be real or imagined but I look fatter without a tie.

"Because much of the developed world eats well, the large men are in no hurry to lose a piece of material that hides or draws attention away from something that we would rather not suck in all day."