Do you wear a tie when shooting? Is it a sartorial anachronism or essential kit, asks Charlotte Mackaness
If you wear a tie when shooting you might be bucking a trend. It has been part of the essential what to wear when shooting kit for years. But the closure of Tie Rack’s high street branches last year reflected much more than a business collapsing; it symbolised a sartorial sea change. The wearing of ties, one of the few items of adornment available to men, appears to be in terminal decline. Much of the blame can be laid at the door of Tony Blair, whose man-of-the-people, tie-less image has been copied the world over, leaving events such as the G8 a back-slapping, open-shirted jamboree. Fortunately, there are pockets of resistance, such as the Royal Family. HRH The Prince of Wales is rarely snapped without a tie, sporting one earlier this year when visiting flood victims in Somerset, while HRH The Duke of Cambridge donned a suit and tie for the first day of his course at Cambridge. For those keen to buck the trend take inspiration from our vintage hunting and shooting clothes feature.
WEARING A TIE WHEN SHOOTING
Likewise, fieldsports have always been a bastion of good turnout. Hunt servants, for example, undertake all jobs – be that maintaining kennels or collecting fallen stock – in collar and tie. Field readers are famous for not following the crowd and generally rally around proper dress. Keeping the formal end of evening wear well and truly up. But is wearing a tie when shooting in the line of fire?
“Dress-down Fridays. What rubbish. Fridays should be about dressing up. And shooting without a tie? I wouldn’t entertain the idea,” declares James Mackaness, father-in-law, plain speaker and tie-wearing diehard, who even skied an indoor slope kitted out in cords, sports jacket and tie. But are his sentiments merely a reflection of his generation?
“I have a lone tie in my desk drawer that I pull out for certain meetings,” says 40-something venture capitalist Will Fraser-Allen, who flees the City at weekends for his country home. “Soon the tie will be a dinosaur, a piece of theatre like the morning suit and black tie brought out for special occasions. Guys my age would get funny looks if they went out for supper in a tie but I wear one shooting, without fail, no matter how informal the day.”
For Charles Hepburn, a Warwickshire-based developer in his early thirties, time has stiffened his attitudes towards neckwear. “Until a few years ago I rarely wore a tie when shooting but with age I’ve matured and think about it much more,” he admits. “Above all, it is about respect for the quarry. One old buffer once told me that he was brought up to wear a tie when shooting and if you were going to kill and that included his time in the Army. The latter doesn’t apply any more but the former most definitely does. “Dressing up gives a sense of occasion, respectability and tradition. It’s also a shared uniform that I believe is significant. The camaraderie between guns, keepers and beaters and a sense of continuity and timelessness is important, especially with the ever-present threat of bans hanging over blood sports.”
According to Chris Horne, managing director of GunsOnPegs, ties are a hot topic. “There is some real passion flying around on this one. I run an internet business so rarely wear a tie for work but my personal view is that it should be compulsory to wear a tie when shooting on a driven game day. Eustace Crawley, who ran Chippenham Park Shoot, wouldn’t let you shoot if you hadn’t shaved or bothered with a tie.”
Rather than standards slipping, Horne’s experience is that greater effort seems to be going into attire. “Clothing companies are producing great bits of kit for less money. They look fantastic yet still have all the technical requirements. Dressing up is half the fun. For me, not wearing a tien when shooting would be like going to a black-tie dinner without a bow tie.”
CHANGING TIMES FOR THE SPORTING TIE
John Hoddinott, a partner at Carter Jonas in North Yorkshire, senses some evolution. “These days not everyone has a shooting suit. Chaps might wear the more modern shooting trousers or plus-fours with long boots but wearing a tie when shooting creates that bit of occasion. Also, no matter how muddy you become, you’ll still look presentable.
“That is one of the reasons why, as a practical land agent, I am never without one. Even if your trousers and shoes are filthy after visiting a farm or being on hands and knees examining the drains at a property, you’ll remain smart and professional with a tie,” he says.
While ties are de rigueur at work, Hoddinott concedes this isn’t always the case on the shooting field. “If shooting with a group of mates my age, in their fifties, I wouldn’t expect to see everyone in a tie when shooting. Personally, I like to wear one as, if nothing else, it helps keep you warm on a cold day. Grouse-shooting is another matter. Physically, it can be hard work and I’m sure most genuine countrymen would understand it is more important to be comfortable and blend in than wear a tie. Your neighbour certainly wouldn’t thank you for wearing a garish tie if the birds took one look and flew the other way.”
Gary Salmon is a former gamekeeper of the year and manages the 2,500-acre Ashby St Ledgers shoot. “At a driven shoot like ours, quite frankly the birds will still be going overhead no matter how dazzling your outfit. Blending in isn’t an issue here. You get the
odd gun wearing a bright yellow tie when shooting and matching socks, and that sort of thing. They tend to be the characters. I like it; every shoot needs a bit of colour.”
Although he has no control when it comes to dress code, Salmon prefers to see ties at the ready. “It is about respect. Some might find that ridiculous because a bird is still dead whether you’re wearing breeks, jeans or a tutu but I believe it is important,” he maintains. “Over 99% of guests arrive in ties. Very occasionally we get the odd person, usually on a corporate day, who turns up in jeans and an open-necked shirt. I cringe because it isn’t their fault and when they get here they are usually rather embarrassed.”
LOUD AND PROUD
George Thomas, who is 24 and has been running Dairy House Farm shoot in Somerset since he was 18, ensures there are never blushes over sartorial blunders on his watch. “I am extremely strict about what people wear but everyone who shoots with me knows that,” he states.
“With my syndicate price list I make it clear what is expected. If someone pitches up without a tie when shooting, I lend them one. A particular favourite of mine is bright red with white spots. I like to wear funky colours when shooting. Especially when having a day with friends, ties can be loud,” he believes. “However, if I were paying a lot of money for a day where I didn’t know the other guns, I think I’d err on the side of caution with something more conservative.”
At the Sulby shoot in Northamptonshire, a syndicate of 20 made up of farmers, land agents, local businessmen and landowners, traditional shooting and hunting ties adorned with foxes and pheasants rule the roost. “It’s an extremely friendly shoot, very relaxed and highly sociable with plenty of banter,” says member Jeff Penman. “But for all the informality, everyone dresses the part. There is much good-natured mickey taking if someone turns up without a tie with fines payable to the local Air Ambulance.”
Farmer and keen shot Mark Beaty offers this no-nonsense advice: “If in doubt, so wear a tie when shooting. You can always take it off. At the very least, keep an emergency tie in the car.”
TAKE TIE ADVICE FROM A ROCK GOD
An absolute failsafe is the wool tie, says Hillary Becque from Cordings. “It is inexpensive and looks wonderful against tweed. Alternatively, a silk woven tie with a sporting motif is fabulous with a shooting suit. Eric Clapton, Cordings’ joint managing director, recently bought every single colourway of our March Hare wool and silk tie,” she reveals.
Legendary rock stars buying in bulk may signify the tide is starting to turn for the tie.
Indeed, Holland & Holland reports sales are stronger than ever. “Without doubt, wearing a collar and tie when shooting is a must on formal days but the preppy, ‘dressed-up’ look is also big news in mainstream fashion,” says Niels van Rooyen, the company’s creative director. “We are also seeing a growth in the number of cravats sold and in ladies buying ties for themselves.”
One of Trevor Pickett’s New Year’s resolutions was to wear a suit and tie every day. “I’ve just about managed it,” he announces. “Smartening up is having a bit of a renaissance and shooting is definitely one of the occasions where men can have a bit of fun and be a bit peacocky with all the accessories and trimmings. I have a silk loden tie with a Paisley pattern that I’ve worn for hunting and shooting for the past 35 years. “My feeling is that every man should have at least three types of tie in his wardrobe,” he counsels. “It is essential to have a reserved failsafe; a tie that complements your colouring or eyes; and, finally, everyone needs something a little flamboyant for days when you’re feeling confident and a bit naughty.”
STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD
There are other reasons why all may not be lost for the tie in the wider world. The savvy realise that when dressing down has become the norm, buttoning up and knotting a tie helps them stand out from the crowd.
“It’s very well being all relaxed and Richard Branson-like when things are booming
but the credit crunch has sharpened up attitudes. I worked for a London firm where it was joked that wearing a tie was a sackable offence. Not any longer,” reveals surveyor Alexander Blake.
There are, of course, two additional and extremely good reasons why the tie should and must remain a mainstay of male attire: sprouting chest hair and knobbly Adam’s apples.
THREE TIE-TYING TIPS
- A rough-textured tie is preferable for shooting. Something shiny might catch
the light and spook the birds.
- No matter what your height, the tip of a tie should sit at your belt line. Missing it
by two or three inches looks scruffy and can be unflattering, especially if your
- Secure your tie with a discreet silver pin. It will prevent it flapping around in the wind or dangling in your food later. However, make sure to reuse the same hole each time to minimise damage to the fabric.