Whether it is wide or narrow, silk or polyester, striped or solid, there’s no article of men’s clothing quite like a tie. Ties come in all styles, shapes, and designs. Some people prefer bowties, others take pride in their ability to tie their neckties in half- or full-Windsor knots. Schools, clubs, and corporations have their own ties, and even the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia designed ties for his tie-dyed followers.
Ties weren’t always a staple of menswear. The forerunner of the tie was the cravat, a frilly neckband that was popular in Croatia in the early 17th century. When the Croatians encountered the French while fighting on their behalf in the Thirty Years’ War, the French took a liking to the cravat, and it soon became a favorite of King Louis XIV. From the cravat came the bandana in 18th-century America, but still neckties were nowhere to be found.
Ties as we know them today did not gain widespread acceptance until the late 19th century. During the Industrial Revolution, ties became a symbol for British gentry—later they were embraced as neckwear for white-collar workers. Students at Oxford and Exeter, as well as Ivy League schools in the United States, made special ties and jackets for their exclusive communities.
The late 19th century also saw the appearance of the Windsor knot, sometime called the double or full Windsor (as opposed to the half Windsor), which was devised for King Edward VII, who preferred a wide knot on his tie.
Tying a Windsor knot became a right of passage for many young men. They learned that the best way to do it was to drape the tie around the neck so that the wide side of the tie was longer than the narrow side. After crossing the wide piece in front of the narrow section of the tie, they’d pull it down and wrap it behind the narrow end and through the middle of the two.
From there, they’d pull the wide end around the back of the burgeoning knot and over the front of the narrow end. Finally, they would pull the wide end around the front of the knot, and then pull the end up through the back of the knot and tuck it through the front loop. The length of the tie could then be adjusted by pulling on the shorter end.
In 1924, American tailor Jesse Langsdorf invented what would be considered the modern tie, which features a three-segment bias cut. These ties were worn shorter than they are tod...
Over the years, different types of ties have had their moments. In the early 1930s, a red tie was deemed by some to be a symbol of homosexuality, which may have been derived from the attire of a character in William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury.” In the ’40s and ’50s, skinny ties had their day—bootlace ties were popular with Teddy Boys in London. In the ’60s, wider, Kipper ties seemed to match the hippie flamboyance of that decade. Later, narrow ties became popular again with kids in the punk-rock scene. Meanwhile, out West, bolo ties resembling a belt buckle with strings never went out of style.
Throughout, manufacturers dabbled with different patterns such as stripes, solids, plaids, and even logos for designers from Ralph Lauren to Yves Saint Laurent. Companies also experimented with materials such as polyester and wool, though silk remains king.
When it comes to bowties, there are various styles, though not too much has changed since the 1870s. There are batwing ties, pointed-end ties, and both modern and classic versions of Butterfly ties. These last two are the most common bowties, and they derive their name from the 1904 Puccini opera, “Madame Butterfly.” Bowties achieved their height of popularity in the 1930s and 1940s when Winston Churchill consistently wore one.
Today, most men reserve bowties for the most formal of occasions (so-called “black-tie” functions), but they have also become a means for satire and personal expression thanks to apparel companies like Vineyard Vines and J. Crew, which produce colorful bowties designed to be worn casually. And if you can’t knot your own, there are always clip-ons.