Friday, April 15th, 2011

How You Do and Do Not Wear a Tie

While I am indisputably correct on most matters of men's office fashion, I have a somewhat minority opinion on ties. Among them: I do not believe that men need very many, nor need those ties be very elaborate. Most men can get by with maybe three or four great ties: one fun, one somber and one a nice solid blue. Those who wear ties to the office each day can get by with just seven to ten, if they wish, though it's more fun to have a hundred. And most of us can leave brown dotted ties against gingham to the professionals, as displayed in the Tom Ford Spring/Summer '11 picture here. I also have been a long-time half-Windsor enthusiast, and that may not be right for you. (And that is what counts!)

But let's stop here to go back in time and make fun of the guys who knot their ties all wrong—such as in the infamous "Matrix" or "Merovingian" manner. Oh my, it is like getting a Dungeons and Dragons twelve-sided die tattooed on your face.

Technically, this is a highly modified (and reversed) "Atlantic" knot!

Oh yes.

You guys. The shame. I mean, you may tie your tie in this manner! You had better be already married, for starters, and you should definitely work at home. In a room with no mirrors. In that case, knock yourself out!

Also? If you're going to do that, get a nice tie maybe? Nobody wants to see that Men's Wearhouse label exposed.

What's nice for men now is that ties don't convey too much meaning. In The Olden Days, there were things like club ties and rep ties and school ties, where patterns represented anything from military service to sports fandom to levels of poshitude. (Also, for a period, red ties were gay signaling code.) Those membership codes may exist to some extent in the U.K. now, but it's hardly present in America at all. What do we know? We're free from history!

But there is conveyance of meaning in ties still. The most notable thing you can easily convey is that you are a slob.


Fraying, spotting and damage. Guess what? If your tie isn't fresh-looking, it should be destroyed. Yup! Give it up. Get that gross old rag off your neck.

Length. These days, barring some eccentric fashion statement (the short, skinny tie, as promoted by various designers, is fine if you are wearing your high-water Thom Browne suit, I suppose, which probably means you work in a fancy publicist's office), the tip of your tie should just tap your belt buckle. A little leeway either direction is given! But not that much!

Pattern. Your paisley tie—with a few high-end exceptions!—is most likely hideous and off-putting.

Where it doesn't go. As a general rule of thumb, if you are tucking your tie into anything—your shirt, your pants, a tie bar or clip or anything else—you look like a tool, a fashion victim or a waiter. Hello, you can eat soup in a tie without getting anything on it if you sit up straight and bring the soup to your mouth instead of bringing your mouth to the bowl.


Ties are where guys most get to be themselves—at least in office life. (See also: shoes, belts, watches, cufflinks.) You should buy ties that you find attractive, and that you feel comfortable wearing. Ties are like dogs and cats: they have to call you. Look deep inside yourself! How do you really feel? Do you look great in green? Awesome! Buy green ties! Red and blue are fine but you're probably not running for Senate.

Are you overwhelmed about ties? You should go on a little expedition—for instance, to the ground floor of Bergdorf Men's, in New York City. There you will see a vast array of ties! There are some ties that you will find outrageously expensive (Kiton, my goodness) and some that you will just find outrageous (Tom Ford—these big burly mothers are only for the skilled tie-wearing pro, although if you care for a bowtie, that is the place to go) but you will also find a wealth of just good plain old ties, sorted by brand and then by color and often season. Just go to look if you want! There are linen ties for summer, wool ties for winter, silk ties, knit ties and ties of every hue and pattern. All of them can be yours, if they call your name.

And then there's knots. There may be 85 ways to tie a tie, but that's not much concern to us.

There are so many wonderful cheesy videos that explain tie-tying, but I love this one, that explains the basic knot (four in hand). This was an out-of-vogue method for quite a while, but you know what? It looks good. It makes a very slender and subtle knot, and it's handsome! What's wrong with simplicity?

Here's a very useful demonstration of the half-Windsor, a knot to which I've been devoted for much of my life. I was afraid of simplicity, I'm prepared to admit now. The half-Windsor is not over complicated, but it does make a slightly thicker and quite nice knot. And it doesn't make you look like a self-serious schmuck, like a full Windsor can.

There are technically two ways to execute a half-Windsor, by the way! But there's only one way to pull off a full-Merovingian, thank God.

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63 Comments / Post A Comment

TheRtHonPM (#10,481)

This is outstanding! I must have blocked out that bullshit upside-down tie knot from when I watched Matrix Reloaded because that is ridiculous. I might add in the forbidden category, comic strip or other joke ties (piano, fish).

Edit to add: One rule that works for me when I'm buying a tie — your tie should be about the same width as your lapels. But it's not too big of a deal, I think.

KarenUhOh (#19)

My worst fears are realized. Worse than dog drowning and auto accident and baby boiling videos: there are tie-tying videos. And I watched one.

But no; that's not enough. I watched one from a guy who has a MySpace page. Did I stop when he showed the bracelet on his wrist? Could I turn away when he pulled out a tie clip? No. I kept going.

I watched two more of these displays. One in which a woman ties the man's tie for him.

Ugh. Shoot me, drown me, boil me now, film it, and post it–but put a clip-on on me in the video.

migraineheadache (#1,866)

@KarenUhOh I got distracted thinking that if he could take that much time to tie a tie, there must be some youtube videos of people tying ties REALLY fast. All I found was a five-second loop technique which is kind of a letdown.

Olivia2.0 (#1,716)

Soooooooo, I am a LADY and, I don't know what's so bad about the Matrix tie? Can someone explain? (Yes, I know nothing about men's fashion.) Also, Choire, it would be helpful if you maybe helped us ladies out in figuring out how to match a tie and a shirt? There are different rules? Or there are not? I don't know? Neither does my man-friend? Help?

deepomega (#1,720)

@Olivia2.0 It is the tie equivalent of putting neon lights and a spoiler on your mid-80s Honda Civic.

djfreshie (#875)


It is the tie equivalent of wearing a knot you saw in a movie from the late 90s.

SourCapote (#4,872)

Please more of these posts!
lack of formal wear in the family(and living in California) has made it almost a mystery to this young

Mork el Pork (#8,293)

@Wes seconded

SeanP (#4,058)

@Wes feel free, though, to ignore some of the more ludicrous advice. Does Choire ever go outside? If so, does he think one looks more like a tool because he wore a tie bar? Or because the wind has blown his tie over his shoulder? Tie bars keep your damn tie from flopping all over the damn place.

This is why I'm bringing back Suit Fridays.

Choire: a word, please, about tie knots vs. various styles of shirt collar?

Half Windsor : Spread Collar
Four In Hand : Narrow Collar


Br. Seamus (#217)

@Clarence Rosario Four In Hand: Everything. I always screw up other knots. And even the 4IH I screw up fairly often. Was thinking of getting "The Perfect Knot" which, hey, that commercial's pretty ridiculous. Or maybe a clipon would work too. I'm just not much of a man I guess.

personnnnnnnnnn (#1,154)

@Clarence Rosario I am on team "99% of the time all you need is a four-in-hand." It is perfect. Maybe you have to double it because you are short. Nothing else is needed.

SeanP (#4,058)

@chrs I have a hard time tying a four-in-hand without the knot coming out too small, but that's just me.

I can't think about ties without thinking about the strip club scene in Portlandia.

cherrispryte (#444)

And today was the day I learned there are different ways to tie a Tie.

Pulp (#1,885)

I used to have a real job that required wearing a tie and I'd leave my apartment every day wondering how bad my tie looked. Then one day the homeless guy on my block shouted "Hey! Fix your tie!" at me as I walked by him, and I knew then and there I wouldn't last very long at my job.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

I would have happily lived out my entire life not knowing that some people look to the worst character in the second-most-painful scene of the most franchise-killing film of all time as a fashion icon. But now it's too fucking late. I know.

When I'm hosting the housewarming party for my first non-rental home, I might outwardly be grinning and checking the playlist, but some cells in the back of my head will be aligned in such a way that I can immediately recall that some idiots looked at the Merovingian and thought, "I should try to look like that guy." If someone wears a tie clip to my father's funeral, there's a strong chance I'll suddenly think, "Thank god he didn't go the full alien penis route." At my youngest child's last birthday party before heading off to college, part of me will be glaring at the assembled teenagers and wondering, "Which of you fuckers would see that shitty movie and think, 'Orgasm cake guy IS MY SPIRIT ANIMAL'?"

Flaneur (#998)

@DoctorDisaster In fairness, wasn't Revolutions far more franchise-killing than Reloaded? I remember Reloaded being disappointing but Revolutions being jaw-droppingly horrid. Of course, if the knot appeared in Revolutions too, your point stands.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

@Flaneur I had a lot to say about Reloaded, none of it relating to ties, so I posted it on tumblr instead.

KenWheaton (#401)

What if I wore a BRAD Paisley tie.

@KenWheaton Better than an Ian Paisley tie.

Also: it's like a father-son bonding/heirloom-passing thing, yeah? My dad taught me a double-Windsor when I was like 9 or something and it's the only way I've ever done it since.

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

My father taught me that you need the dimple in your four-in-hand knot. Now I can't help but assess the level of dimpletude in every tie I see.

turd_sandwich (#5,660)

@SidAndFinancy +1. Learned this at eight, when I was a pallbearer for my grandfather's funereal. That'll stick with you…uh, clearly.

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

@turd_sandwich Weird — as I was typing that, I couldn't remember whether Dad was helping me get dressed for a wedding or a funeral.

Flaneur (#998)

I totally missed that ridiculous knot in The Matrix Reloaded. And I'm glad I did. I'm partial to the half-Windsor myself, but I must tie it the other way, because I don't do it the way that video instructed. Another much-appreciated sartorial post–keep 'em coming.

gumplr (#66)

"Most people think it's, like, some French thing."

DennyCrane (#1,803)

So what are people's feelings on those pins that are supposed to keep a tie in place?

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

@DennyCrane I've done the pin and the clip. They are accessories that get lost once every 3 uses. I go bare-front(?) now.

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

You know how, well into the night at a formal wedding, some people untie their bow ties and let them hang freely around their necks? Really shows who can tie a bow tie and who is faking it with a clip-on, right?

Well, I had a friend who couldn't tie a bow tie, but he kept one in his pocket, so late in the evening, he could remove his clip-on and casually hang the untied bow tie around his neck.

Flaneur (#998)

@SidAndFinancy Oh my God, that is awesome. So dreadful it achieves a kind of grandeur.

djfreshie (#875)


The lengths at which a person will go to fake something is impressive to a degree that is inversely proportional to the triviality of the very thing they are faking.

cherrispryte (#444)

@SidAndFinancy Bow ties are cool.

@cherrispryte Bow ties are not cool but are sometimes necessary.

@SidAndFinancy Hahahaha! My husband totally did that at his brother's wedding.

cherrispryte (#444)

@My Number Is My Address Bowties ARE cool. The Doctors says so, repeatedly.

NinetyNine (#98)

While we're talking clothes, can someone explain a 'A-line skirt' to me? I've always been told something to the effect that when you look at it, it's the shape of an 'A.' My response is always "um, isn't that all skirts?"

@NinetyNine No. For example, a pencil skirt is narrower at the knee than at the waist. An a-line is fitted at the waist, skims the hips, angles out a bit, but doesn't flare. It is shaped like this – A. Well, I guess it also depends on your handwriting.

NinetyNine (#98)

@winchesterwolcott So it's more properly termed a 'sans-serif A-line skirt?'


SeanP (#4,058)

@winchesterwolcott isn't the waist of an A-line also quite high? Thus accentuating the "A" look?

My older brother went through a Jerry Garcia Tie phase. We contemplated intervention but the affliction eventually passed.

iantenna (#5,160)

these seem like a lot of rules. i think for like 95% of dudes it should be much simpler. one black suit (NO DOUBLE BREASTED), a few white shirts, a few ties (black ONLY, preferably narrow). one knot: windsor.

personnnnnnnnnn (#1,154)

@iantenna this is weird advice. a black suit is probably the least useful suit to own, and the windsor the least useful knot.

iantenna (#5,160)

@chrs really? i guess i've been doing it wrong forever. i only wear suits to weddings and funerals. what color is more multi-purpose than black? i'm so confused, now. i thought the windsor was the universal layman's knot. please help out a dude who wears jeans and chuck taylors to work.

iantenna (#5,160)

@chrs also, in my defense, after watching the videos, i've been using the 1/2 windsor all my life thinking it was the windsor.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

I thought the same thing about black suits, but then I was told that a black suit makes you look like a waiter. Now, I may not go to restaurants where the employees wear suits, but I did my time in the food service industry. The last fucking thing I want is people treating me like they treat waiters ever again.

iantenna (#5,160)

@chrs and finally, i live in the bay area, where even thinking about dressing nicely is considered a heavy burden, so we are at a disadvantage when it comes to such things. but, i always thought classic simplicity was the way to go if you didn't know any better (which i don't). now i'm feeling very self-concious about how wrong i've always, allegedly, been.

riggssm (#760)

@iantenna I think it depends on the cut of the suit. I wear black or sometimes a little gray 24/7 (so I either look like a gigging musician or a food service worker??), and the cut is what sets me apart from the other black suits. That is, clothing that fits properly.

Dave Carrigan (#7,743)

@iantenna close, but s/black suit/navy suit/ and s/windsor/four-in-hand/ and you're there.

avb212 (#1,293)

Full windsors are for NFL studio analysts only. Black suits are pretty much for Regis and morticians, but there is some wiggle room in the charcoal region.

Also the Thom Browne short pants look needs to go away. Looks fine on Thom Browne/other leprechauns but should go in the junk pile with club collars and, frankly, skinny ties. Just wear an arm garter and get over yourself.

Tully Mills (#6,486)

Thom Browne is still making those little suits?

hockeymom (#143)

In March, I walked in as my husband was teaching our son to tie a tie for the orchestra concert. They practiced it about 10 times. Finally, our son did it on his own. I wish I had video of them staring at the tie in the mirror together, like it was the greatest thing ever.
They were both so proud and YOU WOULD BE CRYING RIGHT NOW IF YOU SAW THAT VIDEO. (seriously, it was a moment.)

I love ties.

stuff_is_things (#6,108)

Oh man, a few years ago I learned to this 'upside down' (or backwards?) knot — NOT the terrible Matrix one — and I completely forgot how to do it normally. Turns out according to the Internet that this is called a Pratt knot (heh) and looks basically like a half Windsor 'but is easier to execute,' so if you're hopeless at knots and things like me maybe give that one a try?

Granted, I am a guy who walked around with my sneaker laces tied into little bows until I was about 25, so…

finn (#940)

One of the "85 ways to tie a tie" authors has an entertaining website. He has also published the papers: Designing tie knots by random walks and Tie knots, random walks and topology. (I prefer the half-Windsor myself.)

TimChuma (#9,158)

Most of my ties are elastic so I don't have to tie them. If not they only ever get tied once and I just loosen them. I rarely wear them outside of job interviews.

Max Clarke (#3,635)

I would never wear the Matrix knot — whose existence I was unaware of until just now — but hey, if "ties are where guys most get to be themselves", I say let's be a bit more open-minded about knots, lengths, widths, etc. I am all for letting the youngsters get experimental with their neckwear — because when any American guy under 40 even wears a tie at all it's a minor miracle, because each generation must pioneer its own new forms of questionable taste, and because nothing would be more boring than our great-great-grandsons wearing exactly the same damn male uniform in 100 years.

Also: Let's not hate on tie clips. My grandfather the FBI agent had an awesome tie clip made from a bullet.

Jeffrey Hunter (#191,033)

really enjoyed reading this especially the first paragraph – certainly the part I have high-lighted in bold text font. Even though he states that men need only a few ties. My theory on that is that no one should ever notice, save your wife, that you have worn a certain tie before. So at least a hundred will suffice to make that possible.

I have placed a link and an introduction to this post on my blog. About Neckties – Buy Ties

CobaltRed (#238,966)

Um…disagree except with go with what "calls" you.

If you like paisley ties, wear them. If you like tie clips, wear them. If you want over 100 ties, get them. If you prefer no tie @ all, don't buy them.

Black suits are fine if you prefer them. Charcoal is fine, too. Lime green suits can also be great if you can pull them off.

Do what the f#$@ you want. You look as good as you feel, so if it feels right, you look good.

To prove it doesn't matter, I'll share this:
4-in-hand? I prefer the Pratt or Nicky.
Half-Windsor? I prefer the St. Andrews.
Full-Windsor? I prefer the Hanover.

And you know what?

We're both right.

Fat ties, skinny ties, bow-ties, or no-ties: Do what you want.

Don't let anyone tell you you're "wrong." You're just you. With all due respect to internet dissension of opinion, if you don't like what I'm wearing, then kindly f#@$ off & look the other way. It doesn't burn much energy to fire your neck muscles to turn your head.

Rock your paisley. Rock your tie-clip. Hell, rock your tie CHAIN, & GO, young man!


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