The world of style lies on a spectrum. That spectrum ranges from flash trends (that are already “so five minutes ago”) to icons such as blazers, leather belts and Chuck Taylors. Ties are as iconic as it gets. Neckties date back to 17th century Croatian mercenaries whose uniforms required a piece of cloth tied around the neck, or “la Cravate.” The trend stuck. While neckties like “la Cravate” stayed popular throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, the modern necktie – which includes any tie you might see today – gained traction in the 1800s and became a necessary piece of the men’s wardrobe by the early 1900s. It is clear that ties have been around for a long time and their place in fashion will certainly outlive us all, so it’s high time we all learn to tie our own ties properly.
I remember being taught how to tie a proper tie when I was only about twelve years old. However, even before I knew how to tie one myself, I understood how important ties are to the world of fashion. I also understood that a person’s style provides immediate insight into their personality. Wearing clothing that is stylish and suited to individual personality is the easiest way to look good and be self-expressive. In other words, you are who you are. Why not be the best version of it? Even if a tie “isn’t really your style,” most people (especially men) end up needing to wear a tie at some point. Just like with your personal style, the tie and knot you choose will give those around you insight into your persona, even if you are just wearing it to your cousin’s wedding.
Let’s begin with the basics. The Half Windsor and Four-in-Hand knots are commonly considered the easiest knots to learn. The Four-In-Hand basically comes down to wrapping the wide end around the slim end twice and slipping it through the knot to form a tie. However, if you believe this knot will work “just fine,” you’re in for an unpleasant surprise. This knot, while easy to tie, will be crooked every time. It will appear as if you tied your tie in the car, on your way to work or while finishing your morning cup of joe. It will also give the impression that you forgot to check your work in the rear view mirror before exiting the vehicle. The Half Windsor knot, unlike the Four-In-Hand, has a turn-around, which makes it less crooked and perfectly acceptable for casual settings. However, in a business setting, a Double Windsor knot has to be the bare minimum. This knot is the most common aside from the Four-in-Hand or the Half Windsor and is really just a more complete version of its “lesser Half Windsor.” It’s not much more difficult than its more crooked counterparts, but it will look infinitely better. It differentiates itself by having an extra turn-around that makes for a straight knot every time. Trust me, it’s worth the five-minute Youtube video.
A deceptively easier look to pull off is the bow tie, which is regaining popularity in the world of fashion. Bow ties are fun and classy, and they add a level of style that you simply can’t get from a standard necktie. In my opinion, they can also be used to strike a more natural balance between casual and formal. It’s the perfect answer to the always challenging “business casual.” Unfortunately, the majority of bow ties worn nowadays are pre-tied. At first glance, a clip-on bow tie looks clean and easy to put on. Most likely (if you’re a college-age student) your father never showed you how to tie a good, old-fashioned bow tie; I certainly had to learn from the internet. A pre-tied bow tie even looks good… a little too good, and that’s a dead giveaway. Pre-tied bow ties look stiff, and they are too symmetrical to have been tied by a human. It sounds nice in theory, but anyone who knows how to tie a real bow tie can spot a fake from across the soirée.
On Christmas Day, I saw a cousin of mine – and potentially the most consistently stylish person I’ve ever met – Dontá. Without as much as a “Hey, long time no see,” he looked down at the black bow on my neck, looked back up at me and said, “Tie it yourself?” I nodded. “Good man,” he replied. While I’ve never seen his pajamas, I would imagine they are something along the lines of a matching, cashmere sweater/sleep pant combination with luxury slippers and a stylish sleep hat. If anyone knows good style, it’s Dontá, and it’s no coincidence that his first concern was that his cousin was “tying” instead of “clipping.” He simply understood the importance of a self-tied bow tie.
My point is simple: Ties have been a part of the fashion loop for hundreds of years, and they’re not going out of style any time soon. These simple tips could be the difference between an opportunity (a job interview, a promotion or even just a pair of envious eyes from across the room) and feeling like the worst dress guy (or girl) at the party. As an adult, you owe it to yourself to do one thing: learn to tie a proper tie.
Written by Mathew Young
Photos and Video by Elinor Manoogian-O’Dell