I wrote this poll last friday when I found myself in exactly the described situation. I wear a tie to work just about every day and usually get comments when I don't. This isn't because they're required. They're not. It's that I wear them when they're not required and people have grown accustomed to seeing me 'in uniform'.
(white shirt + tie) > (ponytail + earring)
Sad but true. But you have to understand that it's all about managing upwards.
I'm currently working at a fortune 200 company and though as a Solutions Architect I never interact with clients and only occasionally with vendors, I do interact with executives regularly. If it puts them at ease in any way or foolishly impresses them then it's only to my benefit.
I'm not saying it's for everyone - it's just what works for me. In all the time I've worked here no one has ever mentioned my perpetuating the dying stereotype of the grunge-programmer. They only see the 'suit'. (And I don't wear a jacket, so it's NOT a suit...)
But that being said - I wore that stained tie all day - went home & my wife explained how idiotic it was. The following Monday I saw that the poll was up & promptly did it again. (OK no more eating in the truck at lunch time and browsing on my iPhone)
This time I took it off. Had I lived in Japan I might have purchased a one-use paper one. No, I didn't have one in the bottom drawer - yet - but I will soon. In fact, no one said a word to me about it either way.
I also like to print out source code on dead trees and debug with a pencil while at lunch sometimes - which almost always acquires stains... Usually some good ideas too.
Does this just make me a relic? I hated ties with a passion in the 90's. But The Matrix pretty much killed the Nehru thing, not to mention the shiny black leather anything look. Now I have to hunt through hundreds of them to find one that I would actually wear - but I DO find it eventually.
I don't even really like the "wear jeans to work" days - they're just not as comfortable... Man, when did this happen to me? Is this what getting old is? Hey you kids get off my lawn!
Wait! This isn't a Parachute, this is a Backpack!