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Biden, Obama and Clinton Gather, Tieless, for Campaign Fund-Raiser

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Simultaneously historic and perhaps a big nothing, the shot was snapped on Thursday in New York City when President Biden and former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton gathered, before a Democratic fund-raiser, for the taping of “SmartLess,” a podcast hosted by the comedians Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes and Will Arnett.

With his beard and rumpled corduroy pants, Mr. Bateman was clearly the odd man out in a group of radiantly healthy alphas dressed in crisp blazers or suits. As one social media quipster put it, Mr. Bateman, the “Arrested Development” star who is soon to appear in a limited series with Jude Law, looked as if he was celebrating his release from the hoosegow. The other dudes were on hand to help cut the cake.

It was not Mr. Bateman, though, who generated online buzz with his attire. It was those three presidents appearing without ties. (Messrs. Arnett and Hayes also skipped the neckwear, and as it happened, the three presidents remained without ties straight through the evening’s event.) Were we once again at the precipice, as some commentators seemed to suggest? Was civilization nearing its end? Or were we yet again being reminded of the inexorable march from casual Friday to casual everyday, and to a world in which chief executives dress like field hands and the only people who can be relied on to sport a suit and tie outside a courtroom are bodyguards and limo chauffeurs?

Pity the poor tie. Pundits are forever writing its obit. Back in 2022, the doomsayers piled on when, at a G7 summit in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, world leaders including Justin Trudeau, Emmanuel Macron and Boris Johnson “declared the end of the necktie,” according to Women’s Wear Daily, by posing for a group photo in suits and open-neck shirts.

Women’s Wear Daily, citing the pandemic and the corresponding boom in athleisure and active wear, noted that the formal suit — with that sadly diminished phallic accessory, the necktie — “no longer yields the intellect and vim it once did.”

Just as with Mark Twain, reports of the necktie’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Not only is it debatable whether, as a New York Times newsletter asserted last year, “neckties have been out of fashion for so long that even articles about neckties being out of fashion have gone out of fashion,” but they have in truth enjoyed a robust resurgence.

For proof, check out the recent runways of New York, Milan or Paris and collections produced by industry leaders like Prada, Gucci and Armani. Scan the style blogs or the pages of GQ, Esquire or L’Uomo Vogue and you will quickly conclude that the issue is not whether the necktie is dead but how politicians’ stylists fell so badly behind the curve.

For presidents or anyone else with “some stature in the suit game, the tie is the thing that finishes it off,” said Jim Moore, the creative director at large of GQ, who once persuaded Mr. Obama to change the tie he was wearing for a magazine feature. “We love to dress the suit down but, in the end, respect the suit and wear the tie.”

Failing to do so is, he said, “a bit of a lame attempt.” — to have one’s cake and eat it, too.

For Colm Dillane, the founder of the New York cult label KidSuper, best known for its streetwear, functionality is not the point of a tie. “It’s not much more than a neck belt,” he said. Still, in terms of symbolic value, a tie “does a ton.”

The politicians who gathered tieless for the photo this week looked less casual and relaxed than “a little disheveled,” Mr. Dillane said. That’s something his coaches would never have condoned back when he played soccer at New York University.

“Whenever we traveled, we had to put on a coat and tie for the plane,” he said. “It wasn’t that comfortable, obviously, but it showed that we took whatever we were doing seriously — that this was a bigger deal than just practice.”

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