May 02, 2013

Untied united

Who the hell decided that pipers and drummers should wear ties? Probably the same Victorian sadist who dressed us in a one-inch-thick tunic, plaid, cross-belt, spats and feather-bonnet.
I’m sure that The Style Guy would have something to say about it, but the necktie is completely restrictive to pipers and a nuisance to drummers. No tailoring in the world can accommodate a neck that gains three inches with every blow, like some giant comical bullfrog. (I bet most of you have witnessed at least once someone in the crowd point at a band and say, “Wow! Look at that guy’s neck!” as a piper overflows his collar with each puff.) The tie flaps around the chanter and sticks while playing. There is no practical reason for it. It is inconducive  to making good music.

I’m all in favour of getting rid of ties, or at least making it more acceptable not to wear them in competition. They’ve been doing it for ages in Australia. And just as kilt-jackets were shucked off a decade ago at the World’s, so too should pipes be unknotted. Some associations even have it in their antediluvian rules that a necktie is a mandatory part of “Highland” dress. Associations are supposed to promote the arts of piping and drumming. They can start by loosening stupid rules like the necktie.

All this said, because I was an inveterate collector of things, I used to accumulate pipe band ties. That was in an era when custom-made band ties were something special, and usually something only the top-grade bands could afford, or make a priority. I still have a decent collection, and I wonder if someone out there has the equivalent of a T206 Honus Wagner trading card – maybe a 1968 Muirheads, or a ’75 Edinburgh City Police.

Trading pipe band ties was always fun and usually happened over many pints. Quartermasters must have gone crazy after big contests when every other player would swap ties. Because custom ties are commonplace through all the grades throughout the world, I doubt tie-swapping occurs much anymore. Custom ties are a dime-a-dozen. Some bands seem to change designs every few years. There’s nothing much special about them.

So all the more reason to call it a day on requiring pipers and drummers to perform while wearing these nuisance nooses. Let us stand united and untie ourselves from the tie.


  1. couldn’t agree more Andrew. I too have a lot of ties at home from the days of tie swapping and a couple of ” great moment, great person” ties at home. Can’t see anything recent comparing to Honus Wagner but I’d be pretty happy if I owned the tie that say John Macdonald of Inverness wore while winning 5 or 6 or 7 of his clasps. That would be cool ! But really, the kilt is enough wool and weight, and the times I’ve been at workshops where it has been better to wear a “branded” polo while playing in the evening, very thankful for that !

  2. The National Dress of Scotland is currently,denim jeans, t shirt/sweater and loafers, I’ll march up to the line with that band!


  3. Hi Andrew:

    I couldn’t agree more! Very few pipers are soldiers now. By the way, the glengarry or balmoral bonnet is another silly affectation, in my opinion – unless the games committee don’t bother to provide any shade over the platform.

    One of those loose-fitting ‘peasant’ smocks prevalent around American Highland Gatherings seems like a far, far better idea.

    Imagine wearing the high-collar blue patrol jacket and hair sporran that Pipe Major (later Major) Gavin Stoddart was wont to sport on the boards!

    Hugh Macpherson

    1. RE headgear:
      The wearing of the Glen? Yes. I hardly even notice it…
      Balmorals? No No No…. they look ridiculous on anyone who wears one! I’d rather see people wearing baseball caps (Field Caps) than Balmorals.
      Fez? Looks better than a balmoral…..
      Pith helmets? Why did they invent those anyway? Are they for formal dress or is there some sort of practical military use? In any case, no!
      Top hats? Only with bow ties and vests.
      Aussie bush hats? Yes, but only if pinned up on the left and vented or meshed for cooling purposes
      Feather bonnets? Not even going there…..

  4. Good call. Ties are like those souvenir teaspoons with place names on them – ‘been there, done that’. As part of a player’s garb, they might make a uniform look sharp and less rustic (why there is a need, I am not sure), but they serve this purpose only as they are the most restrictive and illogical thing a piper could ever choose to wear. I will remark, however that many (read: vast majority) big bands and orchestras share our logic and penchant to wear a ‘throttler’. It appears that the musician has to work around the aesthetics. That said, there are some, who walk amongst us, who never stop looking for more and more things to adorn themselves with, to the point where some look like Italian Traffic Police, or North Korean Generals.

  5. I’m not normally a fan of ties, especially for the work place, so this is bit off of my normal point of view.
    Open collared shirts on their own or with a vest doesn’t provide a professional look for a pipe band. Yes, it’s comfortable, but with the traditional button up shirt, the look isn’t formally complete without some sort of tie.
    I would agree that when wearing a shirt without a jacket or vest, for a piper a neck tie is a distraction having the potential to blow up into your face or interfere with your fingers. For a drummer, the tie is trapped under the harness, so it is a non issue.
    Bow ties with shirts only? No…….sorry…… Because of the potentail to ruin the musical aspect, this should not be an option.
    Wearing a jacket fixes issue of tie movement, but really isn’t comfortable to play in whether in cold weather or hot. So much so that famous player we all know removed most of the material on the left side of the garment to make it easier to play with!
    When wearing a vest, which has become the norm for pipe bands, there really isn’t much of an issue with wearing a neck tie as it tucks neatly underneath the vest. It doesn’t flap in the wind and if you are wearing a slightly oversized collar, it doesn’t constrict the breathing. Additionally, it is realtively easy to keep the bag up under the arm with a vest. This is likely the best “traditional” option..
    Perhaps what is needed is a different type of top that looks good without a tie and is not a distraction to the player. Polo shirts for the heat? Light sweaters for the cold? Definitely not tank tops or tees.

  6. Who cares what we wear on the front of our shirts when we turn away from the audience to perform ! Maybe thats why the back of the kilt look so nice, pleated and all 😉

  7. As it goes, ties are probably the least of our problems. There are too many other options and opportunities for people to get their garb and any remote sense of fashion horrendously wrong. The Jabot, the tartan tie, epaulettes (especially tartan), spats with #2 kit, lanyards of any description and quantity, feather bonnets being worn with short-sleeved shirts (for the sake of wearing it), the waistcoat (they are not “vests”) with a short-sleeved shirt (the London cab driver look), khaki of any quantity (if not military), diced glengarries, kilts being worn below the knees, socks being worn right up to the knees like a soccer player, headwear worn on the back of the head (not just above the brow) and thus displaying a lot of forehead, the snobbish wearing of non brogue shoes and a balmoral (as a way of suggesting one is not a commoner who wears ‘outdoor shoes’), dirks, powder horns, sashes, naval officer’s swords (yes, I have seen this), medals galore (often chocolate-filled, I am sure) and probably for turning sausages at a Rotary fundraiser, horse hair sporrans with anything but full #1 gear, and the half-dressed look that usually involves socks down, runners/sandals, tie at ‘half mast’ etc. It is scary to think that some people look their best with all that rubbish on and, in more cases than not, look even worse when they change into their own clothing of choice – the ubiquitous sports footwear (on usually completely non sporty bodies) and high-pant look, complete with leather belt, with t-shirt (usually a souvenir type from a tattoo and/or quasi military coat of arms etc, or a wolf and a full moon) that is tucked into said high pants, with a cardigan/track top at the ready, for example. Need I go on…?

  8. My brother, for the special occasions, had a tie with an elastic on the back side of it, when he was seven. Useful idea? Giggle, grin.



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