A Treatise on Ties (Now with Pictures!)

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Chances are, if you’re like most guys I know, you have a handful of ties — probably anywhere between 5 and 10 hanging on some rack in your closet. But you’re not really sure where most of them came from. You probably didn’t buy most of them. More likely, they were a gift from mom, you kids, or a well-meaning lady friend trying to make you look good.

When you get dressed in the morning, you likely don’t think a lot about which tie you’re going to wear. It’s more than likely fair to say that you haven’t given them much thought other than: “this is blue, this is red, this is yellow, this has Mickey Mouse on it.”

Well, this series is all about thinking about what you wear to look more professional and to make your life easier. So it’s time to grow up.

Let’s discuss the basics. I’ve included pictures along the way for those of you who don’t like reading.

Tie Basics

The modern necktie has a history going back to the Thirty Years’ War, when Croatian mercenaries wore colorful fabrics ties around their necks. This got the attention of the Parisians, and now 400ish years later, we have the modern necktie.

It’s pretty much expected that you — an attorney — will at some point during your career have to wear a tie. Whether it’s for an interview at a firm, meetings with a client you have to impress, or because you’re in and out of court on a regular basis, you’re not going to escape the hangman’s silk noose. So you might as well embrace it.

And just like your shirt and suit wardrobes, your tie collection should be carefully curated to ensure longevity, versatility, and simplicity.

So take a look at your tie collection as it stands today. Is it just a dozen or so random ties that you picked up because they were neat, or that you keep around because someone gave them to you? Or, have you taken the time to consider how your ties fit into your professional wardrobe? If you’re anything like the guys I know, you’ve not given them a second thought. Let’s change that.

Keep it Simple and Sedate

Just as I’ve been saying throughout this series, the goal here is not to be turning heads with your bright pink satin tie and knots the size of a fist — you’re going to court, not a nightclub. Rather, you’re trying to convey the image of a confident, competent professional. The best way to do that is to stick to traditional ties with traditional colors and patterns.

What will my tie collection look like?

Derek over at Put this On recommends that a “well dressed man” needs at least a dozen or two neckties. I agree.

Before we start building your collection, we should consider your options. And by the time we’re done, you’ll have a nice mix of ties that will be acceptable in virtually every lawyering situation, whether in or out of court.

Material

First thing to consider is the material that your ties are made of. You have a few options.

Silk

Most of your ties should be 100% silk. Silk is a magnificent natural fabric that’s remarkably resilient, holds a knot well, and if stored properly, doesn’t stay wrinkled. Silk is also the most formal material for ties.

Linen and Cotton

Linen and cotton are great materials for less formal ties that you might wear in the summer, with lighter-weight cotton or linen suit. They generally have a subtle texture that adds some visual interest to your wardrobe.

Wool

Wool is a great material for chunky winter ties and work well with tweed coats and heavier flannels. They’re less formal than silk ties, but if you have some swagger, you can get away with it. Often, knit ties are made of wool.

Polyester

With very few exceptions (for example, Chipp novelty ties from the 60s), avoid anything made of polyester.

Width

Skinny ties were all the rage for a while thanks to the Mad Men midcentury style resurgence. Resist the trend to go skinny. (It looks a lot better on Justin Timberlake than you anyway).

Your tie’s width should complement the lapels on your coat. A tie that’s 3.5″-4.0″ at the widest part is a good range.

Much slimmer and you’ll look silly; much wider and you’ll look like you’re wearing a bib.

Weave

It’s probably not often that you’ve considered the weave of the fabric of your ties, but it’s worth thinking about now. For the most part, this section assumes that your ties are made of silk.

Repp

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Repp tie in a Argyll and Sutherland regimental pattern.

Repp silk is woven in a way that produces tight, diagonal ribs in the tie’s fabric. This is one of the more common weaves of silk for ties, and is often seen in ties with striped patterns — leading to the myth that “repp” stands for “reputation” — the reputation that’s associated with certain colorways of club and regimental striped ties. You should have several silk repp ties in your arsenal.

Satin

Silk satin is a weave that’s smooth and shiny. You’ll oven see single color ties made of satin. I hate satin ties; they look cheap and gaudy, and remind me of Donald Trump. Don’t buy these. And if you already have one, spill some mustard on it the next time you eat a hot dog, so you have an excuse to get rid of it. [No, I don't have a picture of one because I hate them.]

Grenadine

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Green grenadine by Kent Wang.

Silk grenadine ties are among my favorites. Grenadine ties are woven in a special way that gives them excellent texture and thick hand. there are two sub-classes of grenadine ties — garza grossa, which have a larger weave, and garza fina, which have a more delicate weave. These ties are generally pricey, sold only at the better mens’ stores, but you should have at least one. You’ll not regret spending the money. The one pictured above is a garza grossa.

Basketweave

These fabrics are woven in a manner that leads them to have a texture like a woven basket — hence the name. I’m not a huge fan of these fabrics either, but you can’t go wrong with one or two of these classics.

Knit

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Navy knit tie by TieBar

Knit ties look like they’ve, well, been knitted. They generally come in silk, cotton, or wool. You can generally find them in solids, horizontal stripes, and with polka dots. Their extra chunky texture makes them somewhat less formal than other ties, but you can probably get away with wearing them unless you’re in the most formal of law firms. You should have at least one knit tie — navy, black, or dark grey.

Raw Silk (tussah/shauntung)

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Raw silk striped tie.

Raw silk ties are generally made of silk that’s somewhat less processed than standard silks. As a result, they tend to be a bit more textured and “slubby” than smoother processed silks.

Color

Stay with traditional, muted colors that will complement your wardrobe of grey and navy suits and white and blue shirts.

Good ideas: navy, dark green, gray, brown, burgundy.

Bad ideas: bright red, pink, shamrock green, bright yellow.

Patterns

Just as with colors, you’re best off sticking to traditional patterns as well.

Good ideas: solids, club and regimental stripes, pin dots, small houndstooth.

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West Surrey regimental

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Grey “grenafaux” tie from TieBar.

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Navy tie with red pindots

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Small scale woven houndstooth

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Ralph Lauren printed dot tie

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Brooks Brothers repp stripe

Dicey: paisleys (Stick with smaller paisleys, not much bigger than polka dots).

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Small paisleys on a navy tie.

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This floral paisley is pushing the boundaries of taste.

Bad ideas: Cartoon characters, Jerry Garcia ties, anything that came in a boxed set with a shirt, random geometric design ties from the 90s [not pictured].

Great. You’ve just told me a bunch of nonsense about ties. So what will my collection look like?

I’ve now given you all the information you need to begin building your very basic tie wardrobe from the ground up.

This is what you absolutely should have in a basic tie wardrobe:

  • 4-5 repp stripe ties (burgundy and blue stripe; green and blue stripe; blue with white stripe; burgundy with white stripe; burgundy/blue/yellow stripe)
  • 4-5 textured solid woven ties (navy, grey, burgundy, brown)
  • 2-3 pindot or small paisley ties (dark green/navy/burgundy with white pindots)
  • 1-2 grenadine (solid dark colors like navy, grey, or burgundy)
  • 1-2 solid knit (navy or black)
  • 1-2 patterned knit (stripe or dots)
  • 1-2 wool solid ties (woven or knit)
  • 1-2 raw silk ties (solid or traditional stripes)

Why start with these basics? They’re classy, classic, and — if you buy good ties to start out with — will last you a lifetime. Not to mention, if you’d been following the guidance in my last several articles, these ties will complement virtually anything else in your wardrobe.

But I like my flashy ties!

By all means, keep that lucky pink satin tie if you want. Just don’t wear it around me unless I have sunglasses on.

But I like my cartoon character ties!

Then I can’t help you. You should see a mental health professional.

You forgot bow ties!

If you wear bowties now, then you’re an advanced user and already beyond the scope of this article. Congratulations. Keep wearing them, proudly.

What about clip-ons?

Have you graduated from kindergarten?

Where can I buy ties like these?

Kent Wang, Brooks Brothers, and The Tie Bar all have excellent offerings, whatever your price range. You can always check out thrift stores, which can be a great source for classic offerings for a fraction of their original price.

Your Homework

Take a few minutes to go through your closet and consider your tie collection. Maybe it’s worth starting over — you don;t have to do it all at once. Consider slowly replacing your bargain bin department store pieces with quality ties that will last you the rest of your career.

Until next time, tell me what an idiot I am in the comments.

 

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  • Ted K.

    Leo can you comment on the variety of ways to tie your tie?

    • http://phillylawblog.wordpress.com/ Leo

      There’s one knot you need to know: the four in hand. Others are inferior.

  • Mark

    I like wearing a tie. Unfortunately in the business casual world I rarely wear one. In fact when I do wear one I am often asked: What’s the occasion? This is sad.

  • http://www.towerofivory.net Lukasz Gos

    I know the power of the Obama knot, I mean, four-in-hand (so named after how carriage drivers held their reins, by the way or it’s just an urban legend), but I love my half windsors, Pratts and the occasional half windsor of Victorian (good for speaking engagements and such IMHO), too. I feel (though I can’t say “I think”) there is some room use each of them, and I distinctly recall trying to use a different knot than knot than the standard mill when I still cared, or no tie at all (still with a good navy suit and warm off-white shirt) to add me some years when teaching a class of people likely to be all older than I was. Jolly good times, those. Playing with ties can be a wonderful way to destress and make you feel like that unsinkable, unmovable Victorian gentleman from the movies. Oh, and by the way, wouldn’t losing the tie be a good way to mark off-the-clock time as in when it’s more to do with socialising than with unbilled services?

  • http://www.lyonlegal.blogspot.com Vincent

    First I totally disagree on the knot question. The 4 in hand always looks crooked. I prefer half windsor or windsor.
    I’m going to dump one of my ties (maybe 2) after reading this, but I cared about most of mine when I acquired them.
    One thing I don’t see addressed is non-constant patterns. I favor simple geometric retro ties like Ottimo Uomo; art deco is the best I can describe them. But I stick with simple monochromatics or bicolors.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      Also, it looks puny unless you have a really thick tie.

      I always use a half Windsor, even if Bond says it is the mark of a cad.

    • http://www.towerofivory.net Lukasz Gos

      Is it necessary to dump them? Any badly chosen ties make for a unique casual geeky look that expresses some personality, especially if you teach law somewhere or do pro bono or something else not billable.

    • http://phillylawblog.wordpress.com/ Leo

      The asymmetry of the four in hand is part of its charm; the symmetry of the half Windsor and the size of the Windsor make them less aesthetically pleasing.

  • Jeb

    “Bad ideas: Cartoon characters, Jerry Garcia ties…” You just dissed my entire collection. I love my Garcia ties. But I haven’t bought any since about 1996. Are vintage Garcia ties any better? But I agree on the cartoon ties. That Mickey Mouse tie seemed like such a good souvenir idea when I was in Orlando. When I got home, I thought, where will I wear that? Answer: Nowhere.

    • Alan Tindell

      I have a number of paisley and Garcia ties and get a ton of compliments about them, especially the Garcia ties. In fact the Garcia ties always get compliments and have become my trademark around the courthouse. I wear them with more conservative coats. Although I’ve been a lawyer for over 20 yrs, I generally loathe suit and tie. If I have to dress that formally, then the flashier tie is my form of rebellion.