Why Wearing a Tie May Be Bad Business

For many, the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted our workplaces from offices to our kitchen tables. That’s not been a great change, for many reasons, but for some of the men in particular, there’s been one nice advantage: less formal attire is generally acceptable. Suits have been replaced by sweatshirts, shoes with sneakers (or slippers, if you’re so bold), and the necktie? Almost entirely gone.

And our brains may be better off for it.

If you really think about it, the whole idea of a necktie is rather ridiculous. (Check out today’s “From the Archives” like for more about its history.) It is, literally, a noose that you put around your neck. That is, it’s a device not dissimilar to ones used to kill people. And we don’t wear them for practical purposes; they’re fashion over function. But are they dangerous? Maybe.

In 2018, Robin L├╝ddecke and Thomas Lindner, both professors at the University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein in Germany, co-led a study to determine just that. Specifically, as their paper notes, “negative cerebrovascular effects can be expected by compressing jugular veins and carotids by a necktie.” Or in other words, they wondered if wearing a tie constricted the amount of blood flowing into the wearer’s brain. Seems like a reasonable thing to guess, but being scientists, an experiment was in order. 

The test was a simple one. Per Newsweek, the team “used magnetic resonance imaging [an MRI] to assess the blood flow to the brain in 15 healthy barenecked men and 15 wearing a tie.” And what they found was not surprising, but also not great. Compared to the control group, those wearing ties had less blood flow to their brains. As the Atlanta Constitution-Journal summarized, “researchers found that [blood flow] dropped an average of 7.5 percent once the neckties were tightened.” And wearing the tie in a sloppy, but still perhaps acceptable fashion? Not much better. Ties, continued the AJC, reduced blood flow “about 5.7 percent when they were worn loosened.”

How dangerous is that? Probably not terribly, but it’s still not good. According to The Conversation, “Healthy people are likely to begin experiencing symptoms when blood flow to the brain reduces by about 10%,” which is more than the reported 7.5% drop, so that’s good. But, continues The Conversation, “even with a 7.5% drop in blood loss to the brain, a person could still experience some temporary dizziness, headaches or nausea.”

Not a big deal, but those are also probably not the type of outcomes employers want from their employees. So maybe the sweatshirt-as-uniform isn’t so bad after all?

Bonus fact: In the Star Wars universe, the bad guys have single-pilot spacecraft called TIE Fighters. (You know, these things, unless you’re special, like Darth Vader.) The name, officially, is an acronym — the “TIE” in TIE fighters is a reference to their in-universe propulsion system, “twin ion engines.” But in the real world, Star Wars creator George Lucas gave them their name because of what they looked like. As Screen Rant reports, “Lucas gave the starfighter the name ‘TIE” simply because he thought that they looked like bow ties.” Seems like a copout, sure, but as Screen Rant further notes, “he named the Rebel ship that had X-shaped wings an ‘X-wing,’ so perhaps the origin of the TIE Fighter’s name isn’t that surprising.”

From the Archives: How a Seven-Year-Old Convinced Us to Strangle Ourselves: A brief history of the necktie.