Page last updated at 11:05 GMT, Friday, 4 September 2009 12:05 UK

When school ties go bad

A selection of rogue ties (BBC and Joana Christina)
When the knot sets in - a selection of rogue ties (BBC and Joana Christina)

By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine

As schools go back after the summer break they are being driven to adopting clip-on ties. Why? Because of a wave of youthful rebellion that is seeing some very oddly-tied ties in the playground.

Something has happened to the humble school tie over the last few years.

Superfat tie (Picture: DJ Damien)
Very large knot
Wide but very short tie beneath
Can be achieved by traditional four-in-hand style knot
Wider part wrapped repeatedly over narrow part
Narrow part slipped inside shirt

No-one can be precisely sure when the process started - it may even have been decades ago - but it's clear that it's reached crisis point.

The British school tie has gone rogue.

Instead of the neatly tied four-in-hand, or even a slightly plumptious Windsor, tens of thousands of teenagers, and even younger children, are sporting a cornucopia of weird knots.

Pass by a group of schoolchildren on a bus and you will see a variety of subverted ties.

The micro tie, or "bonsai", is in proportion but often only three or four inches long. Rather more common among the nonconforming children is the "superfat", a grotesquely large knot, fatter even than those on display at a footballer's court appearance, above a short tie.

More traditional is a normally-tied tie but loosened considerably. Finally, and perhaps the rarest of the bunch, is a completely rogue tie, where the wide part of the tie is done extremely short, while the thinner part - the "tail" - is long.

Bonsai tie
Perfectly proportioned
But only three or four inches long
Can be achieved by reversing four-in-hand
Narrow part is wrapped over wider part

Sadly, this is no laughing matter for schools. Quietly, it has become a persistent disciplinary issue chewing up precious teacher time. If uniform code is there to provide an atmosphere of discipline, then it must be enforced.

Ruth Harker is principal of Shenley Court Academy in the West Midlands. They have just made the decision to switch to clip-on ties.

"It is basically to ensure consistency in the way the ties were tied. It is also to try and avoid this half-tied look."

It's a trend that has been noticed by the Schoolwear Association, the trade body for wholesalers and retailers.

"Lots of schools are doing it - 14 or 15% of our schools have converted and there are a lot of inquiries," says Philip Linz, operations director at Clive Mark Schoolwear.

"They are fed up with pupils coming in with ties in disarray and not doing their top buttons up. With a clip-on tie, you have to do your top button up. It's about making schools tidy."

Of course, those pupils who like to customise their ties are not going to be happy.

Peanutting: Child yanks other child's tie hard
Tiny knot ensues which cannot be unpicked
Can be avoided by tying tie around two pence piece
Blazer customisation: Jacket lined with bright material then cuffs turned up

"More often than not it is a boy thing," says Matt Whyman, author of Unzipped, and agony uncle for Bliss magazine. "Boys need to subvert the authority. But it's kind of a tribal thing, looking to fit in, in a weird way. On the one hand you are doing it to rebel but also you don't want to stand out in a crowd."

So it isn't just that children want to thumb their nose at authority by subverting the uniform code. They also fear persecution.

"You are leaving yourself vulnerable if you are the only one walking around with a nicely knotted tie. You are opening yourself to abuse."

One way to get around the problem is not to have ties at all. Ben Slade, principal of Manor Community College in Cambridge, does not have ties in his uniform and he has seen problems in schools which do have them.

"Wherever there are ties there are issues. Wearing a tie smartly means wearing it down to your belt and done up to the top. That just isn't what students tend to do.

"They will try to do anything to subvert that requirement. In almost every school I worked with, it seems to be uniformly scruffy."

And uniform subversion is not restricted to ties.

"We've gone to polo shirts. [But] they will turn up in a [non-regulation] Umbro. Almost anything is subverted. It is a sort of controlled rebellion. They might well be behaving very well."

Mr Whyman concurs that clip-ons won't cure subversion.

Zammo from Grange Hill
Zammo was naughty but at least he could tie his tie

"There will just be other ways to rebel. You will always find a way. Look at school bags - they are customised to within an inch of their life. You can probably compare it to gang signs in LA. It's about conforming with your mates."

And some children are willing to fight for their right to have weirdly-tied ties.

When McAuley Catholic High School in Doncaster recently moved to bring in clip-ons, angry students launched a Facebook group opposed to the measure.

Over at the Shenley Academy, Ms Harker insists the pupils are OK about clip-ons. She says 95% are happy about the idea of ties in general. And they all know how to do one properly.

"Most of the students do know how to tie a tie, it's just that they don't always do it in a way we want."

Below is a selection of your comments.

I can certainly confirm that the short "superfat" tie was in vogue when I was at secondary school in the early 1980s. This "rebellious" phenomenon isn't confined to boys either - I went to an all girls' school.
Helen, London

1. Clip-ons aren't necessarily the answer as pupils are now clipping them on to any part of their person (lapels, trousers etc), replying that they are still wearing their tie.
2. Part of the reason why schools have what pupils consider unnecessary petty rules is so that they can subvert or break them without any real danger to themselves or anyone else. Pupils will always break rules. If the only rules are serious ones then a lot more children will get into real trouble. Minor rules are a buffer to protect children, but at the same time to give them the opportunity to rebel safely. So, rejoice that their energies are occupied with playing with their ties and not doing any real harm.
Graham McNeil, Misterton, UK

I am 46 years old and I went to an all girls school but we still did what we could to make our uniform slightly different. We went through a range of "tie" styles, and we also wore black socks one year, on mass. The uniform code stated white socks but they couldn't send every girl home, so eventually black socks became part of the uniform.
Karen, Loughborough, Leics

I left school back in 1977. We used to get a pin and pull the silver threads out so the tie would become black. Also we used to tie our ties really big knots. I can remember I had a narrow skinny tie so I burnt it on purpose with the iron so my mum would buy me a trendy wide tie.
Maggie, Plymouth

When I was at grammar school in 1956 we used to narrow our ties by ironing in the sides. Our little rebellion was ignored by the teaching staff but we felt great. Good luck kids.
Gordon Law, Solihull, UK

The best way to avoid peanutting in my day was 1) be too cool so people wouldn't do it or 2) for the other 98% of us, use a modified Windsor knot (no 2p needed) that was 100% peanut proof. I still tie my tie like that to this day.
Jeffrey, Bath, UK

Of course, clip-on ties have a bad side, as I found out the hard way. When someone tries to "peanut" you while wearing such a tie, it's actually possible for the clip to come off the shirt and attach itself rather painfully to the skin of your neck - and it's incredibly difficult to remove it if this happens. The design of the clips may be different now to how it was 10 years ago, but it's still something to consider.
Jeremy, E Sussex, UK

Schoolchildren should be allowed to wear their ties as they like. What other way of expressing individuality do we have? We are not allowed piercings, which is fair because of health and safety fears. We cannot colour or style our hair as we would like. We cannot wear the clothes we wish to. Constantly during drama classes, or English or art, students are encouraged to show their individuality. But the same teacher can later be telling you to do up your top button and put your tie on like everyone else. Give us this last little bit of individuality.
Chloe Miller, Bristol, England

We used to wear our ties the wrong way round, with the very thin end on show. We also used to pick at and pull threads with a compass to create extra stripes within the pattern of the tie.
Ruth Williams, Mold, North Wales

We tied ties in a variety of means 30 years ago, and there wasn't any problems. After all, the tie is a poor relation of the cravat, for which books were written about the many and varied ways in which it could be tied. It looks and sounds as if ties are being used to cover for a general lack of respect and poor behaviour displayed by a minority of school children. For those that wish to display a little individuality, let them. Most will wish it to enhance their appearance.
Rob Key, Edinburgh

I can remember having a very short tie by wrapping it round a number of times - back in the mid 70s.
David Williment, Leeds

In the 60s we used to roll the waistbands of our knee-length skirts up to make them minis. At my brother's school, they used to be fined for having too wide or narrow trousers and not wearing their caps on buses travelling to and from school. What is the problem, other that clip-on ties mean that you never learn to tie a Windsor?
Val, Devon

Being Scandinavian I obviously find the British school uniform tradition as something very conservative and irrational indeed. But I have to confess that it is through all of Britain's strict and authoritative culture, that you are - and have been for a long time - the world leader in rebellious youth movements. God bless the Queen!
David Ingemarsson, Walthamstow, London

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