It's not a good sign for an industry when the trade group that represents it closes its doors.  That's exactly what the Men's Dress Furnishings Association did last month after 60 years in operation.  

Men's dress furnishings is a fancy term for neckties and accessories like those silky little handkerchiefs that men sometimes stick in their jacket pockets.

The Men's Dress Furnishings folks could tell there was trouble when, two years ago at its annual meeting, several members showed up wearing no tie at all.  "I just don't like it when a tie becomes obligatory," one member told the Wall Street Journal.  

And neither do a lot of other men, which helps explain why the number of them who wear ties to work fell to a record-low 6 percent in a recent Gallup Survey.  

Quite a change from the days when it seemed like every man and boy who didn't work in a steel mill or coal mine wore a tie on the job.  Even milkmen.  Gas-station attendants.  Bicycle messengers.  And certainly any man or boy with an office job, no matter how much of an uncomfortable nuisance the neckwear might have been.

Sales of ties peaked during the 1980s, after President Reagan popularized the red power tie, and business executives on the rise chose just the right necktie from hundreds they kept in their closets.  Ordinary American men had lots of ties, too; they bought a few, and their kids gave them many more on Father's Day.

Then came casual Fridays at some workplaces, and soon in many of them every day was a no-tie day.  Not good news for those who make neckties!

Associated Press writer Adam Geller referenced the opening lines of Charles Dickens's classic novel A Tale of Two Cities to summarize the ups and recent downs of the necktie business: They were the best of ties.  They were the worst of ties.