The Working Man: A Discourse on Neckties

by Rachel Yeomans | July 28th, 2011   

By Alan Neff

Richard Pryor famously/ruefully said that, “Cocaine is God’s way of telling you you have too much money.”

Neckties are the dry-cleaning industry’s solution to my “too-much-money” problem.

Picture 18 The Working Man: A Discourse on NecktiesAll you need to know about neckties is that the Ancient Mariner wore one: in his case, it was a dead albatross, the cause of the curse under which he labored.  And that is what men’s neckties represent – a curse.  Men suffer slow strangulation by tightly knotted band of fabric over buttoned shirt collar because, well, we must – unlike women on whom neckties worn by choice look both eccentric and hot.  (Thank you, Marlene Dietrich and Diane Keaton.)

There are civilizations, perhaps even entire alternative universes, where men do not wear neckties in the office, and they are none the worse for it.  They – the civilizations and their office-folk – might be better or worse off for other reasons, but that’s not my point here.

Confession: despite opposing ties on principle, from time to time, I like to wear loosely knotted skinny ones, because I think they make me look cool(er)(ish).  For the same reason, I wear woolen scarves at times, and also to keep my neck warm.  Then again, I wore mirror-lensed aviator sunglasses indoors and out throughout my adolescence because I thought they made me look cool, so don’t trust me on what’s cool, eh?

Picture 23 The Working Man: A Discourse on Neckties

Like Darwin, we’ll start with origin of the necktie species and use it to explain evolution.  We’ll finish with care and feeding.

The Origin of Neckties, in Case You’re Interested

According to Wikipedia, “The necktie traces back to the time of Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648)[,] when Croatian mercenaries from the Military Frontier in French service, wearing their traditional small, knotted neckerchiefs, aroused the interest of the Parisians. Due to the slight difference between the Croatian word for Croats, Hrvati, and the French word, Croates, the garment gained the name “cravat”. The new article of clothing started a fashion craze in Europe where both men and women wore pieces of fabric around their necks. In the late 17th century, the men wore lace cravats that took a large amount of time and effort to arrange. These cravats were often tied in place by cravat strings, arranged neatly and tied in a bow.”

That’s right: a military-clothing choice “…aroused the interest of the Parisians.”  There’s a red flag right there.

Anyway, other sources available on The Google are in agreement with Our Crowd-Source Encyclopedic Overlord.  They also mention – just to be comprehensive, I think – neckties on a terracotta army buried in 221 B.C. with China’s first emperor (which I think I saw re-animated in one of the Brendan Frasier Mummy movies) and neck-scarf-wearing Roman soldiers, servants, and/or orators.  See for, example, http://www.abcneckties.com/necktiehistory.html and http://www.nicetiestore.com/tiehistory.html.

Enough history.  Onward.

The Evolution of Neckties

If you’ve watched movies made in the last seven decades, you’ve seen that neckties have been, by turns, long and short, wide and narrow, pointed and squared, knit or woven, dark or light-colored, solid, patterned, plaid, and even madras.  (I just remembered that, for a period of time, I owned, and wore publicly, a madras necktie.  Wow.)

Picture 33 The Working Man: A Discourse on Neckties
While men in traditional offices have worn the same basic suit throughout the last 70 years, give or take a button or two, an occasional vest or cuff-ectomy, and, for several years in the 70s, lapels wider than the wingspan of a condor, neckties have functioned as the epicenter of the male workplace-fashion earthquake.

In short, neckties are the male hemline.  Like the hemline and the moon, it’s likely they’ll cycle through these phases forever.

Now, neckties are..middle-ish.  Not too wide and not too narrow.  Not too brightly colored, but not only funereal black.  Muted, modest, and moderate.  How long this will last is anyone’s guess.

Selecting Neckties

In an earlier post, I recommended starting with solid-color neckties.  They’re easiest to match with suits and shirts.  And darker ones will hide the all-but-inevitable stains best, too.

Picture 44 The Working Man: A Discourse on Neckties
Speaking of stains, one way to cut your tie-cleaning budget is to flip your tie over your shoulder before you start eating.  However, I recommend against doing this with Heads of State or even the head of your department, until you’ve seen at least one subordinate do it in his/her presence.

I also recommend thinner and lighter weaves and knits in lieu of thicker ones.  This is because the laws of physics operate on neckties: all other things being equal, a lighter and thinner fabric will produce a smaller knot below your neck than a thicker and coarser fabric.

There are at least three advantages to smaller knots: (1) they fit under and between the points of your collar more easily; (2) they present a smaller target to the solids and liquids that might just fall from your eating utensils on the way to your mouth; and (3) they do not draw attention to themselves.

On the last point, don’t take my word for it.  Consider this observation from The Mighty Wikipedia: “A large knot can distract attention away from the wearer’s face…”.  This point is not, however, sourced to any science, so take our opinion on this issue for what it might be worth to you.

Next we’ll talk about Tying the Knot (the non-marital kind that affixes your tie to your neck).  Stay tuned!

3 comments
ImageGranted
ImageGranted

@AlanNeff @TheWorkWardrobe @rachelyeomans

I agree that neckties have changed vastly over the years and that they have an interesting background and history. The necktie serves no utilitarian purpose in a man's wardrobe. It is strictly cosmetic in its value. That being said the right--or wrong--necktie can make or break a man's outfit. I've said before that boys find wearing a tie unenjoyable while men find it a privilege. Young boys dressed by their elders find a constricting tie knot to be annoying (I did too), but as a man grows tying a tie and creating a beautiful knot is one of the many joys of getting dressed properly.

Most men are uncomfortable wearing ties for one of several reasons: 1. their collar doesn't fit. If the collar is too tight to begin with tying a knot around it will make it worse. If the collar is too loose the tie will never lay or knot properly and you'll look like a little kid in a man's shirt. Ironically the key to a nice looking tie is a proper collar. On that note you mentioned the best knot to be small and inconspicuous. For the most part I agree, but this brings us back to the collar as well as the proportions of a man's face. A wide collar with a large gap requires a wider, larger knot. A narrow collar with a small gap requires a thinner, slimmer knot. One would look ghastly paired with the other. The same goes for facial structure. A wide face needs a smaller knot to create length. A thin face requires a larger knot to create breadth.

Your recommendation for thinner, lighter weaves is warranted under certain situations such as warm climates. However, ties with a heavier, thicker weave are the way to go in colder climates. There's nothing like the feel of a cashmere or wool tie under a gray flannel suit in the winter. Just like there is no substitute for a lightweight cotton or linen tie under a featherweight sport coat in summer. Speaking of cotton, there is nothing wrong with a madras tie. In fact, I have several and wear them often in the Spring/Summer. Most men are familiar with madras in their shorts and/or shirts. Wearing a madras tie is a fresh way to separate yourself from the pack.

On the subject of stains and such, I NEVER recommend throwing you tie over your shoulder even if you’re dining with the CEO and he or she does it. This is the equivalent of stuffing a bib down your shirt. Learn to eat without spilling food on yourself and/or just take off the tie period of the occasion allows it. Dealing with stains is a whole other article. Looking forward to your next piece.

AaromCan
AaromCan

You can certainly believe it's truthfulness, <a href="http://www.christianlouboutinonsale.uk.com/" title="christian louboutin uk">christian louboutin uk</a>though the very case which explains <a href="http://christianlouboutinukshoes.org.uk/" title="christian louboutin uk shoes">christian louboutin uk shoes</a>why he understands the particular usefulness along with Christian Louboutin Shoes Sale. Christian Louboutin boots is top gift for girls, as it can gain and decide to purchase for yourself combined with it really is bet it!<a href="http://www.abercrombiefitchuksale.uk.com" title="abercrombie fitch uk">abercrombie fitch uk</a> Christian Louboutin sale Sandals Sale additionally is feasible Louboutin wedges boots, it simultaneously report form pretty strong christians, anybody ask what is within trends focus? <a href="http://www.ukchristianlouboutinsale.net/" title="christian louboutin sale">christian louboutin sale</a> All over the particular worldwide, folk are generally talking relating to Christian Louboutin wedges boots is wonderful.<a href="http://www.toptoryburchshoessale.com/" title="tory Burch Shoes Sale">Tory Burch Shoes Sale</a> You can certainly believe it's truthfulness, though the very case which explains why he understands the particular usefulness along with Christian Louboutin Shoes Sale. Christian Louboutin boots is top gift for girls, as it can gain and decide to purchase for yourself combined with it really is bet it!<a href="http://www.christianlouboutinukshoes.uk.com/" title="christian louboutin uk shoes">christian louboutin uk shoes</a> Christian Louboutin sale Sandals Sale additionally is feasible Louboutin wedges boots, it simultaneously report form pretty strong christians, anybody ask what is within trends focus? <a href="http://www.mbtshoesuk.uk.com/" title="mbt shoes uk">mbt shoes uk</a>All over the particular worldwide, <a href="http://www.toryburchshoes.uk.com/" title="tory burch shoes">tory burch shoes</a>folk are generally talking relating to Christian Louboutin wedges boots is wonderful.

AlanNeff
AlanNeff

@ImageGranted@AlanNeff@theworkwardrobe

IG: Thanks for the extensive reply. I learn from your comments.

I want to reinforce three points you made, with a qualification on the last:

You said, "If the collar is too tight to begin with[,] tying a knot around it will make it worse. If the collar is too loose[,] the tie will never lay or knot properly[,] and you'll look like a little kid in a man's shirt." I agree.

You also said, "A wide collar with a large gap requires a wider, larger knot. A narrow collar with a small gap requires a thinner, slimmer knot." I agree.

And, you said, "Speaking of cotton, there is nothing wrong with a madras tie." True, but I don't see my colleagues wearing them on non-casual workdays.

Further, your comment on tie-flipping made me laugh (in a good way): "On the subject of stains and such, I NEVER recommend throwing you tie over your shoulder[,] even if you’re dining with the CEO and he or she does it. This is the equivalent of stuffing a bib down your shirt." I live in the heartland, aka flyover country. We like our bibs wide, long, and waterproof. Seriously, I wouldn't flip my tie in a restaurant, but in my office lunchroom, with my peers, I'm an inveterate flipper.

Looking forward to more comments from you!