Please Dress Better Tip #16 - Ties
Though they’re not the most comfortable accessory, no piece of clothing symbolizes man at his best more than a necktie. They are an essential element of military uniforms, formal wear and office attire, and their presence can escalate even an otherwise-naked bear to above-average status. Ties can also deign casual with jeans and a sport coat to create a stylish-and-only-somewhat-douchey outfit that’s good for an outing to a swanky gastropub or speakeasy. Whether a necktie is a daily wardrobe staple or only worn occasionally for court dates, choosing the right one is paramount to looking good and below are some tips to aid in this process.
Though the risk wearing a tie with a clashing shirt may seem like the biggest fashion hurdle to overcome, in actuality the most common mistake is one of faulty sizing. The proportionally appropriate tie width for most men is 2.75” to 3.00”. Unfortunately, the standard of most bread-and-butter department store ties is 3.25 inches*. This is just too broad for anyone not built like Chris Christie or Jared pre-Subway.
At the other end of the spectrum are skinny ties. These are typically 2.50” wide and are loved by hipsters everywhere because of their sleek minimalism. Regrettably, their super-slim design can make the average bro look a bit tubby and therefore should be approached with a bevy of caution. Most stores only denote their tie widths online so a good rule of thumb when shopping in the real world is to check the widest point of a tie against a credit card. If it just covers the numbers across the front, it’s good to go.
Tie length is usually a less tricky characteristic to deal with. Most ties measure around 58” long, which with a basic Four-in-Hand knot** should leave the tie tip right at the belt buckle. Tall men can easily deal with shorter ties by reeling in the skinny end, but diminutive dudes are f*cked. The best thing for them to do is to have a tailor shorten the tie by taking a couple inches off the back. This is a relatively simple alternation and shouldn’t cost more than ten dollars.
Along with size variations, ties range in the fabric they are constructed of as well. Silk is the preeminent material and its medium weight allows it be worn year round. Linen and cotton ties work best in the summer months due to their unstructured, whimsical nature. Ties made from heavier fabrics such as flannel and wool possess the heft required to look apposite with layered outfits in the winter. Bolo ties are crafted from leather rope and metal and are only recommended for Texas oil barons and Beverly hillbillies.
As far as matching ties to shirts, the safest rule to follow is busy tie/plain shirt or vice versa. A solid colored tie looks best when it picks up on one of the undertones of a tattersall, gingham, or micro-check patterned shirt. The diagonally striped repp tie pairs deftly with solid oxfords and other button-down collar dress shirts. Repp ties are a great way to advertise the colors of a favorite college and are the perfect mate for a navy blazer. Finally, a tie that looks like a fish or is adorned with cartoon characters should be avoided at all costs…unless the wearer’s goal is to maintain celibacy.
* I had a tailor narrow a few wide ties for me some years ago and I don’t recommend it. The ties came out looking like a shell of their former selves and never seemed to lie correctly post-surgery. If you own a wide tie that you love, just start eating more and exercising less and eventually it will look good on you.
** The Four-in-Hand is my favorite knot since it represents a nice compromise between simplicity and style. More ostentatious knots, such as the Half Windsor and Full Windsor***, take a bit more practice and need to be matched-up with spread-collar shirts and huge heads.
*** Not to be confused with the Full Nelson, which was the signature wrestling move of George “The Animal” Steele.