Friday, May 1, 2020

Why I Still Wear a Tie in the Covid-19 Crisis

Working from home this morning on a Zoom meeting with the GDS operations team, Director of
Technology Lindsie Chapman finally came right out and asked me, "Dr. Rankin, why are you still wearing a tie every day?" Several people have asked me a similar question or made a related comment. Summer Fulghum in a Lower School Zoom meeting last Friday observed that I did not have on my tie. Well, that was because it was Friday, and every Friday is a casual dress day for the administration and faculty at Gaston Day. Also, I noticed at my weekly teleconference meeting with all the North Carolina independent school heads that I was the only male head of school wearing a tie.

Even before the crisis, wearing a tie was becoming less and less common in a more casual and relaxed world. For a long time, I told myself that I want to be a role model of professional dress for our students. They will have job and scholarship interviews some day, and I want to give them an example of proper professional attire. I still believe that. But I also realize that wearing a tie dates me. As fewer and fewer people wear ties, only traditional dressers like me maintain older fashion. Does wearing a tie send a false message that I am not open to change? That I am out of step with the times? Maybe so.

Part of my dressing habits comes from belonging to a family of more formal dressers. My father was a family doctor, and he wore a coat and tie all the time. I have vivid recollections of my father coming home and cutting the grass on his riding lawn mower in a shirt and tie. (He also wore hats. So that may explain that clothing choice of mine too.)

Part of wearing a tie is a fashion statement. I think ties are wearable art. If you sift through several hundred ties at thrift stores, you will find a few high-quality, vintage ties for $1.49.

So well before the Covid-19 crisis, I had long deliberated on whether or not I should still be wearing a tie. On the pro side was looking professional, family tradition, and self-expression. On the con side was the appearance that I was outdated and not open to change.

Then came the Covid-19 crisis, and we all found ourselves facing enormous, unprecedented change and challenges. Chaos was swirling. How was I to face these challenges and lead our team of educators to give students everything they needed? On the first day after spring break working virtually from home, I decided that the best way to meet the challenges facing us was to be the same person I have always been. So I put on my white shirt and tie, and I got to work. Wearing my tie has become a constant reminder of who I am and what my responsibilities are. It reassures and encourages me to stay the course.

I have come to understand my tie as a kind of badge. It is the outer expression of an inner resolve to be the best head of school possible during a time of turmoil. I plan to keep wearing it.