by Grandin Donovan
Whether found at the throats of office peacocks or trailing down the bird chests of anemic rockers, there is no doubt—ties are back. Despite its military origins, its professional fossilization, and a host of perverting trends, the tie has again become the escutcheon of the "clothes-wearing" man, and the fine wovens produced today offer more expressive options for dignified masculinity than ever before.
Rewind to 17th century Europe, when the "cravat"—derived from "Croat"—was introduced by Balkan mercenaries. Championed by France's Louis XIV in the 1640s, the style became de rigeur in the 19th century, popularized in part by Beau Brummel, the original dandy. Modern ties took shape after the 1860s, when the "four-in-hand"—made from a single piece of silk, folded seven times—was developed in England. New York tailor Jesse Langsdorf invented the contemporary tie pattern in 1924, and quality ties are still made from three pieces of bias-cut silk, a lining and an internal "slip stitch." Hand-stitched ties have the best give, and a lining of high wool/low polyester blend provides the ideal "snap back" for keeping a well-shaped knot.
Tie width cycled throughout the 20th century. Apparently fashion was rationed during WWII, as hideously wide Hawaiian-themed "belly warmers" enjoyed a brief heyday. The postwar years introduced the faux-pas novelty tie, and endured the wide suits, lapels and ties of the "Bold Look." Blades slimmed to two inches in the '50s and '60s, less, of course, if you were a mod stylist, but surged again in the leisure-suited '70s. Dior and Marc Jacobs have pushed the skinny-tie look of late, supported by the pop-clout of bands like Interpol and The Strokes, but the standard has stabilized at 3 3/4 inches wide, give or take.
Casual office dress may have gone out with the dot-com bubble, but the millennial professional can do much better today than the foulard prints and power-tie solids of the '80s and '90s. Andrew Tarshis, president of Tiecrafters—New York's biggest custom neckwear producer—believes we're coming full circle into a new, more expressive formalism. "Woven ties are very hot right now," he says, noting that he has produced more over the past two years than ever before. But, he adds, "No matter how you do it, a woven tie is a more formal tie."
Formal, maybe, but never boring. Today's wovens have better texture, hand and style than any smooth printed ties. Duncan Weistman, whose DHJ Weistman Ltd. has been manufacturing tie silk for generations, says that while rep is the traditional English weave, far more options are available. "An ottoman is a wide rib, which sits diagonally," he explains. "A twill sits vertically or horizontally on the tie." For more complex grenadine weaves, he says, "We use jacquard machines to actually weave the design into the fabric." This creates patterned motifs whose floating warp provides deep, often iridescent color.
Thick wovens are best suited to the slimmer half-Windsor, four-in-hand, and Pratt knots; full Windsors will deform all but the widest spread collars and should be avoided. As always, make sure the blade hits at the belt—never above it—and remember that when wearing a patterned woven with a patterned shirt, the more subdued design should be treated as a solid.
Century 21's tie emporium reveals complicated grenadines from YSL and Ungaro, psychedelic weaves from Kenzo and Duchamp, and a Versace vertical twill with silver embroidery. Some Sean Jean designs use an ottoman weave to flesh out their coy combinations of regimental stripes and subtle paisleys. Whatever you choose to cover your Adam's apple, always remember the wisdom of Wilde: "The essential thing for a necktie is style. A well-tied tie is the first serious step in life."
For custom ties, tie repair or alteration, visit Tiecrafters retail location at 252 West 29th Street, (212) 629-5800, or www.tiecrafters.com
Hang up those lackluster office nooses—the new crop of woven ties puts style back over your buttonholes.