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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