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Oliver B. Pollak
photo by Tim Fitzgerald

My Ties and Cliff Hillegass

by Oliver B. Pollak

Cliff "Cliffnotes" Hillegass, an avid art and book collector, died in 2001. An estate auction at Omaha's Old Market Embassy Suites disposed of items unwanted by the corporation, family or friends.

"Ties," a black and white photograph, blue ribbon First Place Prize in Photography at the 1983 Nebraska State Fair, by Doug Striggow of Superior, hangs above my rosewood dresser.

Despite Dress for Success by John T. Molloy (1975) I had gotten out of wearing ties, a casualty of the business casual generation. Recently, perhaps spurred by the down economy and receiving Social Security, I became more formal. Dressing up conveys respect for the people you meet, and perhaps a shield against their importunities. The clincher came when I closed in on 180 pounds and my 16-inch neck created a crinkled stranglehold between the head and shoulders.

My wife bought me half dozen attractive 16 ½ inch-neck long sleeve shirts. Every morning since I enter my just a little too small walk-in closet and choose a tie. Priests, police officers, and other uniform wearers do not consider matching shirt, jacket, pants, belt and socks.

My oldest tie is from the 1960s. Most are pointed, a few square cuts accompanied the passé academic leather elbowed corduroy jacket.

The 73 ties, encompassing 44 labels, (plus 11 bow ties) include international 20th century haberdashery style icons, Giorgio Armani, Burberrys, Pierre Cardin, Oleg Cassini, Kenneth Cole, Lilly Daché, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Liberty, and Oscar de la Renta.

Music co-branding produced Beatles, and J. Garcia of Grateful Dead labels. Woolcrofter by Wembley represented wool, Don Loper, Beverly Hills, provided the sole polyester (microfiber, a marketing euphemism for nylon, rayon). Some are so old and used their provenance has fallen off. No Prada.

Labels evoke decades gone shopping habits, Bullocks, Desmonds, Magnin, and May Co., in Los Angeles; Vaughn at Sather Gate, Berkeley; and Landon's, Linea, and Montage in Omaha. Hang in there Parsow's and Jerry Ryan.

Ninety percent of the ties are silk, imported from Italy and made in the USA, France, Italy, Korea, Spain, and more recently China, considering silk's history, quite appropriate. Tie hazards include fear of the snag, victims of rough skin and hangnails, and of course embarrassing soup, sauce and wine stains, a dry cleaner's delight, and the invitation to wear the forgiving vest.

Ties represent personality, how you want to be seen. That image is controlled by my wife and sister who purchase 90 percent without my consultation, another opportunity for shopping for the alluring bargain and the salesperson's blandishments, "this will go great with that new shirt."

Learning to tie shoe laces is followed a decade later by tying a tie. My thirty something sons occasionally ask me to help. My octogenarian father-in-law had clip on ties. My wife ties my bow ties. An early Alzheimer patient forgot how to fasten his tie tack.1

Ties are an index of taste, dexterity and memory. The portrait of Cliff Hillegass in UNL's Love Library depicts him wearing a bolo tie, and close associates do not recall him ever wearing a fabric tie.2

Dr. Pollak has taught at UNO since 1974. He and UNO archivist Les Valentine co-authored the r photo book University of Nebraska at Omaha.

1. Troy Fedderson, "Living with Alzheimer's," Scarlet, November 12, 2009, 1.
2. Email from Jim McKee, son-in-law of Cliff Hillegass, November 23, 2009.


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