This month I've been gathering clothing and other items to donate to Goodwill. Last year I finally got rid of my suits, and this year I'm donating most of my old neckties.
It's turning out to be harder to part with them than logic would dictate. After all, I only own one suit -- only one appropriate shirt even -- so I rarely would wear a tie. Plus there aren't nearly as many occasions for wearing ties as there used to be, what with everything turning casual. I could keep five or six and have all the ties I'd need for the rest of my life.
But I used to be a tie fanatic. While most of my co-workers wore the typical solids, paisleys, and stripes, my ties were how I expressed myself. I had a bunch of ties that represented Beatles songs. I had half a dozen Christmas ties. I had Coca-Cola ties, Route 66 ties, World Wildlife Fund ties, Big Dog ties, John Lennon ties, Peanuts ties, Chicago ties, diner ties, gas station ties, and even a Beavis and Butt-head tie. I had some ties that were subtle -- a pattern of raccoons wearing little ties (tycoons) -- and many that were over-the-top: a purple tie with a big red heart shot with an arrow (the Beatles' "P.S. I Love You"), a Scrabble game board, a map of the Chicago "L" system.
My time in the corporate world wasn't that long, and even then the dress code was transitioning to some form of "business casual", so my ties represent a distinct period of my life. Going through my old ties yesterday was like revisiting my 20-something, unmarried self. Most of my interests from that time have faded for one reason or another. The city that was exciting and new to me at 23 has lost some of its luster at 41 (I still love Chicago -- can't really imagine living anywhere else -- but I probably wouldn't wear it on my chest). I still drink Coke, but I wouldn't wear a tie shilling for any brand nowadays. I still like the Beatles and John Lennon, of course, but I "discovered" them 25 years ago, and it's been a couple of years since I even listened to a whole album. My interest in Route 66, diners, gas stations, and other roadside things has mostly dried up, but in my twenties I was on the Board of Directors of the Society for Commercial Archeology (I'm not even a member anymore).
But what about the Route 66 tie that I lent to the Newberry Library for an exhibit in 1994, the one that not only got me an invitation to the opening of the exhibit, but eventually led to a late-night round of cognac at the Knickerbocker Hotel bar with keynote speaker Michael Wallis, author of Route 66: The Mother Road? That was one of the most memorable nights of my life. I doubt that I'd ever wear it again, but I can't part with it.
Who would have thought that sorting through ties would be so nostalgic? Even some of the plainer pattern ties, while not as visually striking, remind me of important occasions. Should I give away the tie I wore for my first day of work at a "real" job? What about ties that I wore to interviews, or to weddings? I'm getting less sentimental with age, but it still seems wrong to discard tokens of those memories.
Finally, I found a reasonable compromise. Since my primary goal is to reduce clutter, and I have to keep some ties, I decided that I can keep whatever I can fit on one tie rack (I used to have three). I wound up keeping 23 and getting rid of 60. I'm proud to add that although I still have a dozen empty spots on the rack, I did not go back and take any ties out of the donation bag. If you're interested in purchasing an item from the David Johnsen Necktie Collection (I can't call it the DJWriter collection because it predates that career change), please visit the Orland Park Goodwill store. If the tie you want isn't there, you'll probably have to wait until I die (hmm, which tie should I be buried in?).