Ties- Unravelling the Knot

Back to blog listing

June 2018 News


Unravelling the knot

Fathers’ Day provides the perfect excuse to write for our many male clients and to share my fascination with the twists and turns in the history of the tie.

Recently, Lloyds of London, the world’s oldest insurance market also the Wall Street Bank, J Morgan Chase, both last bastions of traditional sartorial rules, announced that ties were no longer compulsory, making Oscar Wilde’s 1891 pronouncement ‘A well-tied tie is the first serious step in life’ seem totally antique.

So, how has the history evolved and what place does the tie now hold in the wardrobe and importantly in the language of clothes?

Male neck ornament, aka 'jugular protection', has signified status from earliest times, originally as beads or shells. However, the first preserved evidence of cloth tied around the neck adorns the 7,500 Terracotta Warriors sculpted for the Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s tomb in 221 BCE. In Rome the Trajan column of 113 CE also shows neckcloths constituting a badge of honour.

Next, in the 17th Century, neckerchiefs worn by Croatian mercenaries during the 30 year’s war were adopted by the French as ‘cravats’. Cravat mania spread throughout Europe, with Beau Brummell, supreme dandy and dedicated leader of fashion in Regency times, drawing admirers including the Prince Regent, to view his ‘levee’ as he dressed, discarding cravats until a knot was sufficiently perfect to dazzle London society.

The simple Long Necktie’s arrival mid 19thcentury was surely a blessing to the less skilled! Initially a simple straight- ended piece of fabric, its structure was perfected in 1926 by the New York tailor Jesse Langsdorf’s three -piece construction: gusset, end and blade, cut on the cross of the fabric so it could stretch, mould to the neck and hang straight. This badge of status was worn by white collar workers throughout many decades.

Fast forward to the 1990’s when California’s Silicon Valley tech wizards expressed their business culture by dressing down. Other sectors followed, with Dress Down Friday, then Smart Casual dress codes causing confusion for many. Today Apple, Amazon and Ikea request no ties. In 2006 doctors outlawed ties ‘colonised by pathogens’! In 2016 the Speaker relaxed rules and when traditionalists criticised a tieless MP he retorted that an uncomfortable piece of cloth could never add gravitas! Tie etiquette at London clubs remains complex, compulsory in traditional venues, prohibited in the international Soho House group, home to ‘creative industries’.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s signature outfit is grey tee and jeans worn to eliminate choice and wasted time but in 2009 after the recession hit he used the language of clothes and wore a tie as ‘a symbol of how serious and important a year this was.’ ‘I wore one every day to show this’ Last month he also chose a tie and immaculate suit when testifying to the American Senate and European Parliament.

A quality tie is handstitched, with a good weight (hand) of silk; woven or printed, or cashmere or wool. It doesn’t twist when held up by the narrow end. The classic width of 3 – 3.5 inches remains appropriate but in high fashion changes in harmony with lapel and trouser widths. Think 1950’s string ties and drainpipes or 1970’s Kipper ties with loons. Currently high fashion favours narrower ties. It is fun to look out for tie stripes as for historical reasons European stripes go from left shoulder to right hip , whereas American manufactured ties take the opposite direction.

A well- tied tie’s tip reaches the belt buckle with a knot size appropriate for collar spread. Physicists Fink and Mao explain that knots are ‘random walks on a triangular lattice’ and their intriguing book shows ‘The 85 ways to tie a tie’! But competence with the simple Four in Hand knot for a narrow collar or thicker fabric, and the wider Custom Shop Knot or Half Windsor for a semi cutaway collar will suffice though some clients also enjoy the Windsor for a wide collar spread or flamboyant statement.

In 2016 The New York Post pronounced ‘The tie is dead!’ This year The Times suggested the new replacement attention- seeking accessory could be colourful socks, as worn by Justin Trudeau. I don’t think so! A tie draws attention to the face, our communication zone. Ties now are a huge statement signifying that the event, whether business or social is important so there is no reason to wear a mediocre tie.

A House of Colour consultation will determine which colours, textures and patterns will make the wearer look fabulous! Contact your local consultant to find out more about giving a colour analysis or personal style gift this Father's Day.

Guest blog by Fiona Ingham, image consultant for Borough of Camden/ Chalk Farm/ Hampstead. Contact Fiona on 0207 722 1984 / fiona.ingham@houseofcolour.co.uk .