There’s the old joke about why firefighters wear red suspenders (to keep their pants up, of course). Now add to that the query on why police officers wear clip-on neckties.
Why, indeed, when Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly himself favors resplendent tie-it-yourself (a perfect Windsor knot) Charvet, Brioni or Kiton brands, which shun the ready-made variety.
The question is occasioned by an advertisement on Thursday in The City Record, the official government journal, seeking bids for 15,000 to 30,000 “ready made neck ties with metal clip (female and male)” for the Police Department. The bids are due Jan. 30; would-be vendors are advised to enclose a sample of their wares.
Why neckties at all, for that matter? Police fashions have changed, sometimes drastically, over the years, with the current look dating to 1994, when Commissioner William J. Bratton switched the uniform shirt back from a more mellow light blue to navy. “We’re getting rid of the Mr. Goodwrench look,” he declared.
Hats have included cork helmets as recently as the 1930s and baseball caps in the early 2000s. But the sober blue or black necktie, with only minor bows to contemporary variations in length and width (no tie-dye versions in the ’60s), has been a constant since at least the early 20th century.
“For most officers in big cities, especially Northern ones, wearing ties has been standard for a long time,” said Thomas A. Reppetto, a police historian whose “American Police: A History, 1945-2012” was recently published by Enigma Books.
For a paramilitary force, these are ties that bind. Even a plain cravat, said Michael Solomon, a professor of marketing and director of the Center for Consumer Research at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, “reinforces the social distance between law enforcement and the general population.”
Nowadays, said Paul J. Browne, the chief police spokesman, “as per the N.Y.P.D. Patrol Guide, a ready-made tie is worn with the authorized, long-sleeve uniform shirt. They’ve been in use for as long as anyone can remember. The ready-made tie is part of the official uniform for which police officers receive a uniform allowance of approximately $1,000 annually to cover expenses and purchases associated with uniforms.”
The city buys uniforms and accessories in bulk and passes on the savings to officers, who purchase them from the Police Department’s equipment section.
While the ties cost a modest $3.99 each at A.D. Meyers Uniforms in Brooklyn, a productive officer can’t have too many.
“They break, they get dirty,” said Kevin Winters, a manager at the store.
As to the why of clip-ons — which city officers have worn since at least the early ’60s, according to the New York City Police Museum — under ordinary circumstances, their advantages are obvious. “Do you find it hard to always tie the perfect knot?” an ad for ABC Neckties asks online. “Are you usually in a rush to get ready for work or typically running late for a big date? Our Clip On Ties make is easy for you to look your best without spending time and energy creating the perfectly tied necktie.”
For police officers, who routinely stick their necks out on the public’s behalf, the clip-on offers an added plus.
“Ready-made ties are specified for police as a safety measure because they break away when pulled, depriving a suspect of the opportunity to choke or otherwise injure an officer in a confrontation,” Mr. Browne said.
Or, as Mr. Reppetto, himself a former Chicago police officer, put it: “We were advised to have a clip-on because a regular tie you could get strangled with.”