The Ties that Fabulously Bind

Alright. This one is for the men. Well, not exclusively. I’d hate to create a zone that excludes anyone. But it is about ties, how to wear them and with what. Men, we need to talk about this. People who do not identify as male, you might find this interesting.

The single biggest mistake people make about ties is thinking of them as the noose that must be worn on formal occasions. This is a version of the truth. But it is a counter productive version of the truth. The productive version of the truth is this: ties are a pretty ribbon that society allows men to wear.*

This isn’t really clear from the way modern Americans wear ties. Going back to the Victorian era, however, makes it abundantly clear what’s going on. Ties are a direct descendant of the neck cloth. Today they have been formalized into a few different styles (skinny, regular, or bow), and there are basically only 2 ways to secure them (Double- and half- Windsor). Properly worn, a tie is a great accent to an outfit.

The biggest complaint most people have with their ties is that they’re too tight. Interestingly, this isn’t really a problem with the fact that you’re faceting a knot around your neck, so much as it is a function of the shirt being too small. The top button holds the neck closed, and if this opening isn’t large enough, you’re pretty much going to have problems breathing.

The first solution to this is simply to buy a bigger shirt. This will probably leave you with a shirt that’s too large in every dimension except the neck. I will usually throw a sweater on over this to pull everything back in. Add a pair of nice slacks to a V-neck sweater and a button down white shirt for a classic look that goes well in pretty much any situation that doesn’t demand a suit.

The next solution is to but a shirt that fits you well (other than the neck), and either move the button yourself or have the shirt re-tailored to fit your neck. Doing the simple sewing required to fix the shirt yourself is an incredibly useful skill**. Having it tailored shouldn’t be very expensive, and will make you feel fancy. So either option works.

The third solution is perhaps the easiest: wear your shirt with the top button unbuttoned, and tighten the tie just enough that it holds the neck closed– but not so much that it chokes. Place the knot properly, and it will the small gap in your shirt caused by the undone button. This look demands the insouciant*** look of a half-Windsor knot.

This brings us to another complaint: a lot of people don’t know how to tie the damned things. I learned how to do it way back in the 20th century when it was an arcane art passed on from father to son. Or, possibly, from guy-at-men’s-warehouse to customer. I then had to teach my sisters. Lucky person that you are, though, get to learn the 21st century: the internet!.

A tie is supposed to be decorative. For whatever reason, a person might have “have” to wear one. But society lets us cut loose a bit. There are some rules (I’ll get there in a moment), but this is where our personality is allowed to shine through a bit. What colors sing to you? Red shirt and red tie blend in, but silver stands out. Skinny tie for the classic 1960s professional look. Bow ties should only be attempted once you’re really comfortable with what you’re doing.

A couple of rules: ties should be a different shade from your shirt. Ideally a whole different color, but that’s more of a strong piece of advice than a hard and fast rule. A tie must be of a different pattern from your shirt. Otherwise it just makes the shirt look off color. A tie pretty much must be on the outside of a collar. This means it can’t be worn with a t-shirt, and probably not with a mandarin collar. I’m not really sure why this is true, but it seems to be.

So. Those are some simple do’s, don’ts, can’ts, can’s, and most importantly: why’s of wearing a tie. Was that helpful? Still have questions? Leave a comment!

*Society generally allows people who do not identify as male to wear a whole lot of other kinds of pretty ribbons. People who identify as male are pretty much just limited to ties.

**Fun fact: stitching clothes and stitching your own wounds are the exact same skill! When the zombie apocalypse comes, you’ll be glad you learned this.

*** Pretentious use of French FTW

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