The Necktie Series, Part V: “Novelty” ties

It may seem strange to talk about novelty ties when discussing a basic, minimal necktie wardrobe. However, an overly basic necktie wardrobe can be, frankly, a bit boring. Sometimes you want something a bit more novel and playful. The key here is to choose something fun without crossing into kitsch. I’ve chosen three options for you to consider and included some photos to illustrate what I think are perfect executions. When these are done right, they can be excellent variations on the staples I’ve been talking about this week. 

Bicolor knits

Bicolor knits are possibly the most underrated thing in menswear right now. As I noted, you’ll soon find that knit ties are some of the most versatile that you can buy. Most men, fortunately or unfortunately, find themselves in increasingly casual settings, and a knit tie works best for these environments. Solid knits are great, but for a little more punch, I recommend bicolor knits. These ties are made with two different colored yarns and, if the yarns are woven in a slightly open weave, they can slightly vary in color depending on the angle they’re seen from. They’re absolutely stunning in person. 

Gallo and Drakes are probably the most well-known makers. Unfortunately, you can only get Gallo in Italy, and they sell for about $125. Drakes is a bit more easily obtained, since they have an online store, but they still run about $150. They also don’t carry them all the time. 

Much more affordable are Kent Wang’s, which sell for $75. His are made on an older loom, which means there is an overlapping seam on the back. This gives it a bit more of a three-dimensional appearance, which I like. Newer looms make them just like socks, so the seams lay flat. 

Other options include A Suitable Wardrobe, which has a very nice bicolor, and The Dandy Store. You can get 15% off your order at The Dandy Store by punching in the code: WELCOME_STYLEFORUMERS

For the bold, get two high-contrast colors such as brown and navy. For something subtler, try something like a dark purple and navy. The color combinations here are endless. 

 Raw silks

The term raw silk can be a bit confusing. In the silk industry (more professionally known as sericulture), I’ve seen the term “raw silk” refer to pure silk fibers that haven’t been treated with any chemicals. I’ve also seen it refer to silks that haven’t been stripped of their sericin, the gooey substance that sheaths the silk when it leaves the silkworm’s lips. 

For ties, however, it seems that the term generally refers to silks taken from wild silk worms. In traditional silk production, silk worms are raised on a “silk farm.” Once these worms have encased themselves in their cocoons, workers drop them into hot water in order to kill them and remove the sticky sericin. The cocoons are then brushed until the end of the silk filament is found, at which point they’re carefully unraveled and spun onto spools. You can see a wonderful video of the process here

Thus, raw silks in this case refer to a deviation from the traditional process - when the worms aren’t killed, but instead allowed to transform into moths. Once the moths are newly formed, they secrete an alkali fluid that dissolves a hole in the cocoon so that they can emerge. The hole breaks the silk filament into shorter fibers, which are then spun like cotton or hemp, rather than reeled onto a spool in one continuous strand.

There are two main types of raw silks - shantung and tussah. Both combine irregular thick and thin yarns in the warp and weft. This creates an uneven surface and color, which gives it a slightly rough and textured hand. However, shantung typically will have the sericin left on, which makes it feel a bit more thick. It will also have less of a sheen than tussah will have. 

For me, the upside to raw silks is almost all in its slubby quality. Knits and grenadines are great ways to add texture, but nothing beats the uniqueness of a slubby raw silk tie. Drakes so far seems to be the only maker of slubby ones. They’re a bit expensive, but you can’t argue with how amazing their ties are. 

Contrasting blades

Finally, we have ties with contrasting blades. I’ve always liked these. When I need the tie to be a bit more traditional, I tuck the blade into the keeper; when I want something a bit more playful, I don’t. When you move naturally throughout the day, the blade peeks out in a playful manner, which I think makes the tie a bit more fun. I’ve included a photo of GW with his contrast color Zegna tie. You can also see Wale wear one in his “You in Reverse” video (which, by the way, is a must see). 

There are a few companies that make these. Pierrepont Hicks has for a while now. I’ve never handled one personally, but Jesse wore one of their bow ties in his last video. Another excellent option is Sam Hober. Since Hober’s ties are all bespoke, you can ask for a contrasting blade, in any color, on any tie. I’ve showcased an example of one of his latest commissions in the photo montage above. I have to admit I’m not that crazy about the color combination, but that’s the client’s choice. The craftsmanship on a Hober tie, however, is one of the best on the market. I’m actually thinking about commissioning a contrast blade tie from him sometime this month. 

So that’s it. This past week I’ve covered your necktie staples and discussed some “novelty ties,” just for the sake of diversity. That should give you some idea of what your most basic collection should look like. Come back next week for the last three parts of this series, where I’ll discuss tie knots and how to maintain your ties. 

(Special thanks to Michael Hill of Drakes for help with this article, and Mark Cho at The Armoury, GW of MostExerent, and Ethan Desu, also at The Armoury, for letting me use their photos!)

Q and Answer: What About Cheap Ties?

Adam writes: You guys always feature really nice, but also really expensive stuff. For ties, you might like to highlight www.thetiebar.com. They offer some truly hideous ties, but also some really nice ones, especially for wardrobe staples in solids, stripes, wool—and all at only $15 a pop. The quality is on par with ties costing 3-4 times the price or more. I think your readers might appreciate that they don’t have to fill out their tie collection at $150 a pop to look sharp.

I’ve never bought a tie from The Tie Bar (feel free to send me some, if you’re reading this Tie Bar people), but I have handled a couple in thrift shops. I agree with you, they are roughly the quality of a tie that costs 2-4 times as much. If you changed out the tag on the red tie pictured above, put a Macy’s store brand tag on their, or Tommy Hilfiger or Calvin Klein, I don’t think anyone would notice. They are certainly equivalent to a tie that retails for $30-60.

But how much of a compliment is that, really?

While Tie Bar ties are, in my experience, better than, say, novelty ties you’d buy at the flea market with Bugs Bunny on them, I hesitate to recommend them.

Here’s the thing with ties: no one buys them at retail except the kind of desperate men who run into the store and says: “WHAT COLOR TIE GOES WITH A BLACK SUIT? MY AUNT JUST DIED!”

So, there are two questions: what ties do I recommend, and what should you pay for those ties.

The lowest level of tie I recommend is usually Lands’ End. Their ties aren’t on par with a truly excellent tie, like the blue Drake’s tie pictured above. They are, however, an excellent value at their price point (often on sale at around $20-35). The Lands’ End ties in my collection are roughly comparable to the Brooks Brothers and Polo ties I own, which retail in the range of $75 or so. That is to say: they are fine. The silk is heavy enough, and the construction good enough, that most people wouldn’t notice that I wasn’t wearing a very fine tie.

Most fine ties retail for $100-200. These are the ties we usually recommend when we’re recommending ties. For $100, you can buy a custom tie of excellent quality from Sam Hober, who will make it to your specifications in Thailand. Our friend Kent Wang offers ties of this quality for just under a hundred dollars, including our own club tie. For $150 or so, you can buy something from an outfit like Drake’s, or from our friend Will of A Suitable Wardrobe. These are ties worth paying extra for.

I have dozens of ties. Maybe a hundred. I think I paid retail price for one of them (a grenadine from Sam Hober). I’ve bought many, many ties used. If you’re one of about 85% of men, ties always fit, so they’re a great thing to buy at thrift stores. Try eBay, too: I love the country designs of Holland & Holland, and grab them for $25 or $30 when I can. These days, my collection is so full that I only buy ties that I love, and regular readers will recall that I sold about 75 six months or so ago.

I find that as I’ve come to appreciate the quality of truly fine neckties - the Marinellas and Drake’s and Borrellis of the world, I want fewer, finer ties. Since I also thrift and eBay avidly, I can fulfill my interest in novelty that way, without ever stepping foot inside a store.

My strongest recommendation is to remember that quality trumps quantity, every time.

So… when you can buy a Drake’s tie for $50 on eBay, is it worth spending $20 on one from the Tie Bar? Or $30 on one from Lands’ End? Should you spend the time thrift shopping to build up a wardrobe of ties at $3 each? Is a tough-to-find tie like a striped grenadine worth its $150 retail price? Only you can do that math for yourself.

The Necktie Series, Part III: Starting Your Basics

In my estimation, a well dressed man needs at least a dozen or two neckties. A dozen if he doesn’t wear ties often; two dozen if he does. The next three entries to this series are about how to build that basic, minimal necktie wardrobe. I’ll begin with the bare basics:

Solid grenadine

Jesse has given a lot of great advice here over the years. One of his best is his constant advocation for grenadines

There are two kinds of grenadines - garza grossa and garza fina. Garza grossa is a looser, bigger weave, and the silk slightly moves over time. Garza fina, on the other hand, looks a bit finer, and the weave is a bit tighter. Both will give you the texture you need in a simple tie, but grossa’s will be more apparent from a distance. 

J Press grenadines are garza finas, and Kent Wang’s are garza grossas. Drakes of London and Sam Hober sell both. 

Solid, ribbed faille or basketweave

The other plain basic is your slightly ribbed silk failles and basketweaves. These works like your grenadines - simple, easy to wear ties that add just a touch of texture to your wardrobe. Their textures aren’t as striking as a grenadine’s, but they’re still noticeable from about an arm’s length. Jesse and GW have commented on the value of a simple necktie collection, and ribbed silk failles and basketweaves serve this purpose well. 

Pin dot

Next we have pin dots, which have become some of my favorites. Like many of the other ties on this list, pin dot ties can vary in scale, from minidots to slightly larger dots. Slightly smaller, more subtle patterns are best in this case, as they tend to be a bit more elegant and versatile. 

Club tie 

Finally, we have the club tie. Sometime in 1880, faculty members at Oxford University started taking the ribbons from their straw hats and wearing it around their neck (why, I have no idea). Soon, the practice was copied at other prestigious institutions, and the style was eventually picked up by the middleclasses in order signal their social standing. These days, the stripes and colors don’t really signal much, though there are exceptions - your favorite menswear website, for example, has a club tie, and it’ll signal that you’re part of a small, elite group of men who actually know how to dress themselves. 

Club ties can come in block or ribbon stripes, and like the garza grossas and garza finas, which you pick is completely up to you. 

Where to buy ties

As for where to buy these ties from, some of the best are by E. Marinella, Nicky of Milan, Isaia, Charvet, E&G Cappelli, and Drakes of London. I also really like Ralph Lauren Purple Label ties, but it might be because I’m a whore for Ralph Lauren’s higher end stuff. Ties from these makers are handmade from the best fabrics. They drape, as well as knot, beautifully. However, they’re also pretty expensive - ranging between $150 and $250 per tie. You can sometimes find them on sale at Saks or Barneys, but you have to wait and hunt. 

One of the best deals on the market is Sam Hober, a bespoke tie maker who handmakes all of his wares. What is the advantage of a bespoke tie? With bespoke, the maker pours his effort into one tie just for a customer, which allows him to supervise and ensure all the details of the tie construction are done well. Examine, for example, the qualitative difference between these two luxury ties - the blue one is a bespoke unlined seven-fold by Sam Hober and the brown is an off-the-rack by Borrelli. Notice the quality of the sewing, lack of crinkling, and softer rolling edges on Hober’s tie. It’s incredible to me that he’s able to offer the quality and service he does at the prices he gives.

Other nice handmade ties can be had through Kent Wang, Howard Yount, and Panta. Like Hober, these will also run between $75 and $100, and they’re very nice. You can read Jesse’s glowing review of his Panta ties here. You can also check out J PressBrooks Brothers, Mountain and Sackett, and, of lesser quality, but still decent, Lands End. Lastly, StyleForum member gshen, who has been a popular pocket square supplier, has started hand-making ties. I haven’t had the chance to handle any, but from the photos and reviews I’ve seen so far, they look great. You can read more about them on his blog

mostexerent:

Great example of what to start with.
I have pretty much the above & then the same in dark brown.
After this, then start with rep stripes & paisleys..

Something that it took me a long time to realize was how important the basic basic necktie is.  That’s why I’m such a big advocate of solid grenadine ties.  Easy to wear, beautiful, go with anything, very classy.  You should buy yourself a (non-satin) navy blue and black tie in a textured weave with no or incredibly simple (white) ornamentation.  Add something in brown… something in dark red.  If you have to spend good money on them, do so.  These will be the basis of your wardrobe for ten or twenty years.  They’ll allow you to wear any shirt and any jacket, no matter what the colors or patterns.  If you need a source, try Kent Wang or Sam Hober.

mostexerent:

Great example of what to start with.

I have pretty much the above & then the same in dark brown.

After this, then start with rep stripes & paisleys..

Something that it took me a long time to realize was how important the basic basic necktie is.  That’s why I’m such a big advocate of solid grenadine ties.  Easy to wear, beautiful, go with anything, very classy.  You should buy yourself a (non-satin) navy blue and black tie in a textured weave with no or incredibly simple (white) ornamentation.  Add something in brown… something in dark red.  If you have to spend good money on them, do so.  These will be the basis of your wardrobe for ten or twenty years.  They’ll allow you to wear any shirt and any jacket, no matter what the colors or patterns.  If you need a source, try Kent Wang or Sam Hober.

(Source: nachobroadwaynyc)

Q and Answer
Sam writes:
I’m tall. 6’3” or so. I like the look of a thicker knot in a necktie for some occasions, but if I try anything other than a four-in-hand I end up with a tie that is too short.   I realize there are longer ties available, but that brings with it the limited options and history of bad fashion at big-and-tall shops. Any advice? 
Sam, I myself am 6’3”, and don’t worry: there is help!
First of all: there’s nothing wrong with the four-in-hand.  Best tie knot around.  Versatile, rakish, handsome, never ostentatious.  However, if you want to fill out a spread collar, a bigger knot is great to have in your repotoire.
I agree with you that avoiding big-and-tall shops is a great idea.  Especially if you’re just tall - they tend to make clothes for people who are both.
Two sources for longer neckties come to mind.  On the budget side, Land’s End is a great source.  They offer many traditional necktie styles, and while their quality isn’t world-class, it’s very good for the price.  Here’s a classic Churchill dot tie, for example - long size is only $19.99.  You can also try some focused Ebay searching for long ties that may net some similar options.
If you’re willing to spend a bit more, you can get your ties made to your exact preferences by Sam Hober.  They charge $80 for hand-made neckties in any length and width, so you can buy a tie that fits you perfectly.  I bought the tie I wore in my wedding from Sam Hober, and while it took quite some time to arrive (the cost of bespoke), the quality is quite nice, and it’s a relief to have a tie with a rear blade that actually reaches past the keeper loop. Of course, Hober is also a great option for shorter men who have the opposite problem.
Hopefully some combination of these two will help keep you from looking like Oliver Hardy whenever you’re suited up.

Q and Answer

Sam writes:

I’m tall. 6’3” or so. I like the look of a thicker knot in a necktie for some occasions, but if I try anything other than a four-in-hand I end up with a tie that is too short.   I realize there are longer ties available, but that brings with it the limited options and history of bad fashion at big-and-tall shops. Any advice?

Sam, I myself am 6’3”, and don’t worry: there is help!

First of all: there’s nothing wrong with the four-in-hand.  Best tie knot around.  Versatile, rakish, handsome, never ostentatious.  However, if you want to fill out a spread collar, a bigger knot is great to have in your repotoire.

I agree with you that avoiding big-and-tall shops is a great idea.  Especially if you’re just tall - they tend to make clothes for people who are both.

Two sources for longer neckties come to mind.  On the budget side, Land’s End is a great source.  They offer many traditional necktie styles, and while their quality isn’t world-class, it’s very good for the price.  Here’s a classic Churchill dot tie, for example - long size is only $19.99.  You can also try some focused Ebay searching for long ties that may net some similar options.

If you’re willing to spend a bit more, you can get your ties made to your exact preferences by Sam Hober.  They charge $80 for hand-made neckties in any length and width, so you can buy a tie that fits you perfectly.  I bought the tie I wore in my wedding from Sam Hober, and while it took quite some time to arrive (the cost of bespoke), the quality is quite nice, and it’s a relief to have a tie with a rear blade that actually reaches past the keeper loop. Of course, Hober is also a great option for shorter men who have the opposite problem.

Hopefully some combination of these two will help keep you from looking like Oliver Hardy whenever you’re suited up.