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.
All 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?
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.)
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.
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.
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!