Despite three centuries of persistent attempts to loosen the necktie’s grip on the civilized man’s throat, this seemingly insignificant little strip of silk has managed to hold on. As the least functional element of classic male attire, the necktie is inherently expressive, and in our dressed-down times, it increasingly represents a choice rather than a necessity. The particular nature of a that choice, in turn, can reveal the psychology of the individual wearer. Conservative dressers often find neckties to be an opportunity for whimsy, while more sophisticated dressers tend to appreciate the dramatic power of solid ties to pull together bolder ensembles.

Made by Hand

Lustrous, supple, and strong, silk has always been the fabric of first choice for neckties, the best of which are made entirely by hand in England and Italy, incorporating a wool interlining around a sliding “slip stitch” to absorb the repeated stresses of tying and untying. The precise manner of inflicting this stress is of course a matter of personal taste, but the best personal taste tends to favor the classic, simple, and pleasingly asymmetrical four-in-hand.  

Choosing a Tie

The sheer variety of necktie patterns, colors, and fabrics can be intimidating, and even accounting for different tastes, mistakes lurk on almost every retail rack and table. Remember that a tie never stands alone, but is always an element in an ensemble; try to choose ties that will complement your clothing rather than dominate it. A well integrated tie is always preferable to an interesting one. You never want to wear a tie that enters a room before you do.

As with any element of attire, neckwear should ideally reflect the season, the occasion, and even the time of day. Airy grenadines, springy knits, and lightweight prints complement the linens and tropical worsteds of spring and summer, while heavier wovens in wool and cashmere play well with the tweeds and flannels of fall and winter. Silvery Macclesfields and jewel-toned satins have a more formal elegance suited to weddings and evenings.

The Skinny on Width

The primary variable of neckwear proportion is width, which generally waxes and wanes between two and four inches in twenty-year cycles dictated by designers and magazine editors. Those seeking a more timeless style are advised to stick with a more moderate width, generally around three and one quarter to three and one half inches. Ideally,  tie width should reflect the wearer’s own proportions; a wider tie will overwhelm a smaller man, and a skinny tie gets lost in the expanse of a larger man’s shirt. For the same reasons, it generally follows that tie width should reflect the width of the wearer’s jacket lapels.   

Tie Care

A tasteful tie will never got out of style. To ensure its longevity, always untie a necktie at the end of the day by reversing the steps of tying rather than pulling the knot through. Hang it up to let wrinkles fall out naturally, or roll it around your palm and set it down to relax. Never press a necktie; much of its beauty and life comes from the gentle roll of its edges.