Buying Vegan
Every once in a while, I’ll get an email from a reader who – whether for ethical, religious, or some other reason – has decided to abstain from animal products, but still wants a set of professional clothes for certain occasions. They’ll often ask if I have suggestions on where they can shop.
The answer is not easy. Many suits and sport coats will use animal hair for the canvas, and even if they’re fused, they’ll likely have a chest piece made from horsehair or camelhair. These are the things that give the jacket its structure. I suppose you could have one custom made, but this can be prohibitively expensive depending on your budget.
Ties are a bit easier. Cotton is your best option, as it will lack the sheen in unnatural materials, but like with tailored jackets, you’ll want to keep in mind that many well-made options will often have wool or wool blended materials inside. A sales associate probably can’t tell you the material make-up of a tie’s interlining, so you may either want to buy from a company such as this one, or see if you can get something custom made by Sam Hober or Vanda Fine Clothing.
For shoes, the four most popular retailers are Vegan Essentials, Moo Shoes, Pangea, and Vegetarian Shoes. Admittedly, much of what they sell, at least in the “dress shoes” department, is not terribly attractive. There are somewhat better options at Novacas, Ethical Wares, Vegan Chic, Vegan Wares, and No Harm. The last one seems to have the most wearable designs of all, including the simple brown cap toe oxfords you see above. In general, however, vegan shoes seem to be much better on the casual end of the spectrum. For example, I think these chukkas, minimalistic sneakers, and work boots don’t look too bad.
Another option is to go second-hand, but that obviously doesn’t divorce you from the primary market (in other words, buying second-hand leather shoes can still affect the primary demand for leather). Plus, if you’re against wearing animal products for religious reasons, something being second-hand may not matter to you.
One thing to consider is that if you’re trying to minimize harm to animals for ethical reasons, buying “vegan shoes” may not be a clear best option. Vegan shoes are made from petroleum-based synthetic leathers, and will last you maybe one to three years with regular wear. Well-made leather shoes, on the other hand, are usually made from vegetable tanned leathers and can last for decades (literally) if properly taken care of. I’m not at all prepared to say which has a lower environmental impact, or how that impact would translate to animal welfare, but it’s something to consider.
Update: A friend of ours recommend this model by Sanders. Not all Sanders shoes are vegan (in fact, few of them are), but if you can find them, they seem to be one of the best options available. 
(Pictured above: No Harm’s cap toe oxfords)

Buying Vegan

Every once in a while, I’ll get an email from a reader who – whether for ethical, religious, or some other reason – has decided to abstain from animal products, but still wants a set of professional clothes for certain occasions. They’ll often ask if I have suggestions on where they can shop.

The answer is not easy. Many suits and sport coats will use animal hair for the canvas, and even if they’re fused, they’ll likely have a chest piece made from horsehair or camelhair. These are the things that give the jacket its structure. I suppose you could have one custom made, but this can be prohibitively expensive depending on your budget.

Ties are a bit easier. Cotton is your best option, as it will lack the sheen in unnatural materials, but like with tailored jackets, you’ll want to keep in mind that many well-made options will often have wool or wool blended materials inside. A sales associate probably can’t tell you the material make-up of a tie’s interlining, so you may either want to buy from a company such as this one, or see if you can get something custom made by Sam Hober or Vanda Fine Clothing.

For shoes, the four most popular retailers are Vegan Essentials, Moo Shoes, Pangea, and Vegetarian Shoes. Admittedly, much of what they sell, at least in the “dress shoes” department, is not terribly attractive. There are somewhat better options at Novacas, Ethical Wares, Vegan Chic, Vegan Wares, and No Harm. The last one seems to have the most wearable designs of all, including the simple brown cap toe oxfords you see above. In general, however, vegan shoes seem to be much better on the casual end of the spectrum. For example, I think these chukkas, minimalistic sneakers, and work boots don’t look too bad.

Another option is to go second-hand, but that obviously doesn’t divorce you from the primary market (in other words, buying second-hand leather shoes can still affect the primary demand for leather). Plus, if you’re against wearing animal products for religious reasons, something being second-hand may not matter to you.

One thing to consider is that if you’re trying to minimize harm to animals for ethical reasons, buying “vegan shoes” may not be a clear best option. Vegan shoes are made from petroleum-based synthetic leathers, and will last you maybe one to three years with regular wear. Well-made leather shoes, on the other hand, are usually made from vegetable tanned leathers and can last for decades (literally) if properly taken care of. I’m not at all prepared to say which has a lower environmental impact, or how that impact would translate to animal welfare, but it’s something to consider.

Update: A friend of ours recommend this model by Sanders. Not all Sanders shoes are vegan (in fact, few of them are), but if you can find them, they seem to be one of the best options available. 

(Pictured above: No Harm’s cap toe oxfords)

It’s On Sale: J Press Grenadines

J Press has been having a 25%-off sale for a while now, but they just put up a new four-day “flash sale” code. Get an extra 10% off by punching in EXTRA10 at checkout. The code works on a number of items, including the grenadine neckties you see here

The shipping charge is about $15, which negates some of the savings. For comparison, know that Drake’s and EG Cappelli grenadines run between $125 to $150 at full retail, but sometimes can be had for about $90 on sale. More affordably, Sam Hober’s are $80, Kent Wang’s are $75, Knottery’s are $55, and Chipp2’s are $49.50. The last four almost never go on sale, so you should expect the full price to be standard. 

The Power of Plain White Linen Pocket Squares

I’ve got too many pocket squares for my own good. I started with squares found at thrift stores and estate sales. I quickly built a collection from eBay and the internet. Then I started manufacturing squares with the PTO brand. At this point, the clear plastic closet boxes where I keep my squares are literally overflowing.

Still, even with all these squares, I find that I most frequently reach for the simplest: plain white linen.

The advantages of white linen are many. It’s not excessively showy. It goes with literally anything. It’s simple and refined.

One could dress well with only one white linen square.

To get a good one can cost a bit of money. Linen quality can vary, and many less-expensive squares have unnatractive machine-stitched edges, rather than full hand-rolled ones. I think it’s worth an expenditure.

Drake’s version are pretty gorgeous, but costly. You’ll need about $125 for a three pack. Our friend Will’s three pack at A Suitable Wardrobe is a bit more affordable at $95. Our Irish linen version, handmade in Los Angeles, are available by the piece, for $45 (less ten percent if you’re in Inside Track or Gentlemen’s Association member). I like the look of Sam Hober’s option, made in Thailand, for $30 each, as well. Kent Wang’s are cheapest of all, at $20, but I’m not a fan of his 12” size.

Even if you decide on a cheaper, machine-edged square, the addition of white linen to the breast pocket of any coat will kick any outfit up a notch. Consider it next time you’re getting dressed.

We Got it for Free: The Tie Bar’s Grenafaux
The Tie Bar recently released a line of solid-colored, textures silk neckties that vaguely resemble grenadines. These aren’t true grenadines; they just somewhat look like them from a few feet away. Curious about the quality, I contacted Greg Shugar, one of the co-founders of the company, to see if he would be interested in sending me one for review. It arrived last month and I’ve worn it a few times since.
The tie is better than what one might expect. It compares well to the mass-manufactured neckties you might find in a department store – the Perry Ellises, Tommy Hilfigers, Calvin Kleins, and the like. To be sure, I don’t think any of these brands make particularly nice ties, but I appreciate that The Tie Bar has a bit more honest pricing - $15 for such a tie, rather than $50 in a department store, regularly discounted to $35, then $25, then $20, in hopes that customers think they’re getting a steal.
Obviously, a $15 tie will have its limitations. The grenafaux they sent me lacks the body on a truly, well-made tie, and the fabric has a slight sheen to it. It’s a bit light and flimsy, and not particularly enjoyable to knot. On the upside, the interlining is a wool-poly blend, which isn’t as ideal as a pure wool interlining, but at least it dimples better than a tie lined with polyester, and the wrinkles fall out a bit more easily at the end of the day.
It’s become a bit of a cliché, but I strongly believe in the “buy less, buy better” philosophy. Better one tie from EG Cappelli than three from Brooks Brothers, and better one from Brooks Brothers than three from Alfani. Men don’t need as much clothing as they think do, and if they traded many of their purchases for nicer things, I think they’d be left more satisfied. The most affordable grenadines I know of are from Chipp2 ($47.50) and The Knottery ($55). After that, there’s Kent Wang ($75), Sam Hober ($80), J Press ($90), Henry Carter ($100), Drake’s, Vanda, and EG Cappelli (~$120). I would feel more comfortable recommending any of these - or even a non-grenadine from a mid-tier maker - over The Tie Bar.
At the same time, I remember there was once a point in my life when I couldn’t afford a $50 necktie. It wasn’t that I was being stingy; it’s just that all my money went to rent, food, and my education. For people who on a truly tight budget, but still wish to dress well, I think The Tie Bar’s grenafux ties are an option. They’re not the best ties in the world, but I couldn’t say someone would look terrible for wearing one. As you can see above, it does indeed kind of look like a grenadine, and The Thrifty Gent wore one a few weeks ago and still looked pretty sharp. Plus, if you needed to skimp on your wardrobe, it would better to cut out $50 from your necktie wardrobe than, say, footwear. There, $50 could mean the difference between full-grain leather shoes and corrected grain, the latter of which you should never buy.
My standard recommendation for affordable neckties remains the same: Land’s End and Brooks Brothers once they hit their sales. They usually discount stuff to under $40 a few times a season. If you can’t afford those, try thrift stores or eBay. If you don’t have the time, however, then consider The Tie Bar’s grenafaux. I still believe people should buy the best they can afford – as they’ll be happier in the long run – but the same can be said about buying what you can afford, and not spending outside of your means. 
(Pictured above, from left to right: The Tie Bar’s grenafaux, Drake’s navy grenadine, E.G. Cappelli blue grenadine)

We Got it for Free: The Tie Bar’s Grenafaux

The Tie Bar recently released a line of solid-colored, textures silk neckties that vaguely resemble grenadines. These aren’t true grenadines; they just somewhat look like them from a few feet away. Curious about the quality, I contacted Greg Shugar, one of the co-founders of the company, to see if he would be interested in sending me one for review. It arrived last month and I’ve worn it a few times since.

The tie is better than what one might expect. It compares well to the mass-manufactured neckties you might find in a department store – the Perry Ellises, Tommy Hilfigers, Calvin Kleins, and the like. To be sure, I don’t think any of these brands make particularly nice ties, but I appreciate that The Tie Bar has a bit more honest pricing - $15 for such a tie, rather than $50 in a department store, regularly discounted to $35, then $25, then $20, in hopes that customers think they’re getting a steal.

Obviously, a $15 tie will have its limitations. The grenafaux they sent me lacks the body on a truly, well-made tie, and the fabric has a slight sheen to it. It’s a bit light and flimsy, and not particularly enjoyable to knot. On the upside, the interlining is a wool-poly blend, which isn’t as ideal as a pure wool interlining, but at least it dimples better than a tie lined with polyester, and the wrinkles fall out a bit more easily at the end of the day.

It’s become a bit of a cliché, but I strongly believe in the “buy less, buy better” philosophy. Better one tie from EG Cappelli than three from Brooks Brothers, and better one from Brooks Brothers than three from Alfani. Men don’t need as much clothing as they think do, and if they traded many of their purchases for nicer things, I think they’d be left more satisfied. The most affordable grenadines I know of are from Chipp2 ($47.50) and The Knottery ($55). After that, there’s Kent Wang ($75), Sam Hober ($80), J Press ($90), Henry Carter ($100), Drake’s, Vanda, and EG Cappelli (~$120). I would feel more comfortable recommending any of these - or even a non-grenadine from a mid-tier maker - over The Tie Bar.

At the same time, I remember there was once a point in my life when I couldn’t afford a $50 necktie. It wasn’t that I was being stingy; it’s just that all my money went to rent, food, and my education. For people who on a truly tight budget, but still wish to dress well, I think The Tie Bar’s grenafux ties are an option. They’re not the best ties in the world, but I couldn’t say someone would look terrible for wearing one. As you can see above, it does indeed kind of look like a grenadine, and The Thrifty Gent wore one a few weeks ago and still looked pretty sharp. Plus, if you needed to skimp on your wardrobe, it would better to cut out $50 from your necktie wardrobe than, say, footwear. There, $50 could mean the difference between full-grain leather shoes and corrected grain, the latter of which you should never buy.

My standard recommendation for affordable neckties remains the same: Land’s End and Brooks Brothers once they hit their sales. They usually discount stuff to under $40 a few times a season. If you can’t afford those, try thrift stores or eBay. If you don’t have the time, however, then consider The Tie Bar’s grenafaux. I still believe people should buy the best they can afford – as they’ll be happier in the long run – but the same can be said about buying what you can afford, and not spending outside of your means. 

(Pictured above, from left to right: The Tie Bar’s grenafaux, Drake’s navy grenadine, E.G. Cappelli blue grenadine)

Consider Buff

In classic men’s style, it’s often easier to wear darker ties because a man’s tie is supposed to be darker than his shirt. There are a few exceptions, however. Take for example, ties with a buff-colored background. Buff is a kind of pale yellow-brown color that got its name from buff leather. The color is mostly seen on formal and informal waistcoats, but every so often, you’ll see it on ties as well. 

The picture above is from Patrick Johnson. It shows a man wearing a buff colored tie with a navy striped suit and light-blue dress shirt. The two tones of blue are subdued and conservative, and they contrast and complement well with the brightly colored tie. This would work just as well with a dark brown sport coat and a white and grey striped dress-shirt, especially if you were wearing it during a cool autumn or cold winter season. 

The most versatile ties will always be in dark blues, browns, greens, and reds, but it doesn’t hurt to have a little variety here and there. Buff colored ties can help you stand out without being loud or obnoxious, and they look great if you pair them with the right colors. You can get wool challis ties in this color right now from Drake’s, but if you want something a bit more affordable, there are also these options from Ralph Lauren and E. Marinella on eBay, as well as this Madder print from Sam Hober. Land’s End and Brooks Brothers have some that are a bit more yellow in tone, but I suppose they could also work in the same way. 

Ties with Contrasting Blades

I’ve been enamored lately by ties with contrasting blades. That is, ties with one color or design on the front and another on the back. The constrasting tail peeks out a little bit when you wear it, especially if you don’t use the tie’s keeper. This helps set off the front blade as well as add some visual interest.

The large photo above is a Drake’s raw silk tie that I have with this feature. The front has thin yellow and white stripes set against a green ground. The tail has alternating green and blue stripes, as well as a gold linen thread running through. It’s a very subtle difference when worn, but I think a nice one. The other tie is a Drake’s bicolor knit with a solid-colored tail. Zegna does these designs with knits every season, but they’re incredibly expensive ($250-500 per tie).

These aren’t the sorts of things I would wear to a serious business meeting, but I think they’re enjoyable in very casual settings. I’m currently in the middle of having Sam Hober make one for me. He sent me some fabric swatches and I’ve been mulling over different combinations. I think if I stick to basic colors and play more with textures than prints, then it should turn out well. I’ll post a picture of it here when I get it.

Ties for Fall

The first photo above has haunted me ever since I first saw it at 13th and Wolf. It’s what I would consider the perfect fall tie. The colors are warm, the pattern is simple but interesting, and the wool fabric gives the tie a nice, soft appearance. Together, these characteristics make it the perfect expression of fall. 

While we may never own a tie so ideal, there are some great ties to take advantage of this season. Here are seven types that you should consider:

  • Most of your seasonal ties for fall should be made (at least in part) out wool. These can come in many forms - wool challis, wool flannel, tweed, etc. Challis is a plain weave that feels supple and lightweight; flannel will have a soft, brushed nap; and tweed will be a bit rougher. Like with silk ties, a solid color can work well if the fabric has a bit of texture to it (eg brushed flannel). For something slightly more interesting, you can also get a plain colored tie, but one with a slightly mottled weave or herringbone pattern. My favorites, however, are wool ties with small geometric patterns, stripes, or checks such as windowpanes. A number of tweed ties also come speckled, which can be interesting. 
  • Like wool ties, cashmere ties also make for excellent fall staples. Since the material is more luxurious, they will typically cost a bit more than wool, however. Since they’re softer, they also don’t typically wear as well.
  • Another traditional fall tie is the ancient madder. Ancient madder ties are distinguished by their muted hues, traditional patterns (often with paisleys) and their soft, matte finish. You’ll find beautifully deep, soft, matte colorings, such as mustard yellow, jade green, and indigo blue. They’re produced on a special “gum” silk, and when handled, they have a hefty, chalky hand similar to fine suede. They can come in paisley or any number of small, geometric designs.
  • I had a phase once where I went a little tartan crazy. Now I find that with the exception of black watch, it’s hard to wear tartan ties. However, one thing they go excellently with is a tweed jacket. It makes sense given how popular the two are in Scotland. If you own a tweed jacket, I don’t recommend you go out and buy ten tartan ties like I did, but maybe buy one. 
  • Your regular run of woven silk ties can still feel seasonal. Just keep your colors autumnal - burgundy, chocolate, hunter green, and pale gold are all good colors to stand by. 

So where to buy some of these ties? My favorite shops are Drake’s (pictured above), Sam Hober, Paul Stuart, Ralph Lauren, and J Press. Additionally, some excellent options are available at Howard Yount, Mountain and Sackett, and Ovadia and Sons. For those looking for something more affordable, Land’s End also has a couple of handsome wools for between $50 and $60.

Finally, note that seasonal ties aren’t a necessity. You can still obviously wear your regular rotation of silk ties - grenadines and knits are still great ties to wear regardless of the season. It’s just that having a seasonal touch here and there can be fun, and the above are good options to consider.  

In Praise of Green Ties, Revisted
Cooper Frederickson, who used to be one of my favorite bloggers (until he mysteriously stopped … why Cooper, wwhhyy?!), sent me an email about two wonderful green ties. The first is a forest green linen from Sam Hober. Linen ties are great during the summer and the green here makes this one just a bit more unique.
The second one Cooper recommended is my favorite of the two. It’s a green 50oz printed silk tie with light blue and off-white accents. It’s sold at Ben Silver, but made by Drakes of London. The light blue and off-white accents here are perfect since it can help pick up the light blue in your shirt or a cream silk pocket square (both of which should be staples in your closet). I have a custom-made tie that’s very similar and it’s absolutely one of my favorites. 
I couldn’t find any good modeling shots with the either tie so I went the picture above. There’s so much inspiration and instruction here though. Note:
No collar gap. Notice that the collar points on the shirt stay neatly tucked under the jacket’s lapels.
Green paired with gray (the awesome combo I talked about last week)
Double breasted jacket with perfect peak lapels
Perfectly selected pocket square. Notice that the square isn’t overly matchy - it stands on its own in the outfit and has complementary, not matching, colors. At the same time, there is a nice white trim detail that helps pick up the white on the shirt, but it’s a small enough detail to not look like you bought the tie and pocket square from the same set (or shirt and pocket square).
Worn-to-hell suede wingtips. 
Throw in the accompanying gray trousers and this is the perfect fall look. 

In Praise of Green Ties, Revisted

Cooper Frederickson, who used to be one of my favorite bloggers (until he mysteriously stopped … why Cooper, wwhhyy?!), sent me an email about two wonderful green ties. The first is a forest green linen from Sam Hober. Linen ties are great during the summer and the green here makes this one just a bit more unique.

The second one Cooper recommended is my favorite of the two. It’s a green 50oz printed silk tie with light blue and off-white accents. It’s sold at Ben Silver, but made by Drakes of London. The light blue and off-white accents here are perfect since it can help pick up the light blue in your shirt or a cream silk pocket square (both of which should be staples in your closet). I have a custom-made tie that’s very similar and it’s absolutely one of my favorites. 

I couldn’t find any good modeling shots with the either tie so I went the picture above. There’s so much inspiration and instruction here though. Note:

  • No collar gap. Notice that the collar points on the shirt stay neatly tucked under the jacket’s lapels.
  • Green paired with gray (the awesome combo I talked about last week)
  • Double breasted jacket with perfect peak lapels
  • Perfectly selected pocket square. Notice that the square isn’t overly matchy - it stands on its own in the outfit and has complementary, not matching, colors. At the same time, there is a nice white trim detail that helps pick up the white on the shirt, but it’s a small enough detail to not look like you bought the tie and pocket square from the same set (or shirt and pocket square).
  • Worn-to-hell suede wingtips. 

Throw in the accompanying gray trousers and this is the perfect fall look. 

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.