Ever since the launch of The Classy Geek, one of the most popular articles on the site is my first: A Geek’s Guide to Picking the Right Tie. Since then, I’ve gotten comments and e-mails asking me to revisit the topic and help hammer home a few points that I didn’t address in the original piece, so let’s take another look at the topic of geeky, classy neck-wear for just about every occasion that calls for it.
In Ties: Revisited, we’ll look at different types of knots, whether or not there’s ever a case for a clip-on tie, different fabric, length, and width styles, and a few ways to make sure you’re getting not just a classy tie, but a tie that will look good, feel good, and last you until it’s out of style and you want to buy something new.
The last time we hit this topic, we talked about a few basic things – colors, patterns, and materials. They’re still important, but a number of you wanted a little more, and who am I to deny it? So let’s pretend we’re headed back to the menswear department or formalwear store one more time – yes yes, I’m happy to help – and we’ll make sure you get something that looks good and feels right at the same time. You don’t have to break the bank to do it, either, some of my best ties are ones I purchased at a standard department store.
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So while I’m still of the mindset that the The ThinkGeek 8-bit Tie is awesome and geeky (and perfect for those kind of occasions when you’re dressing like a hipster, trying to be ironic, or you’re hanging out in a casual situation with fellow geeks where it would be appreciated) it’s not ideal for the company holiday party or for a work environment where you have to wear a coat and tie every day, or anywhere else you may be where the people who’ll be observing you have more of an eye for the traditional. I think it’s pretty tough to dispute that.
- Style: Fabric, Length, and Width
However, that doesn’t mean your tie needs to be devoid of personality; it should be loud, but loud in the right way – a bold color choice, or an interesting (but not too attention getting) pattern can make for a sharp looking tie.
First thing’s first though – you really don’t need to break the bank in order to make this happen. I mentioned that you should look for good materials the last time we discussed this, and part of the reason I’m such a huge proponent of silk blends is that depending on the amount of silk in the blend, you can find a tie that feels really elegant and reflects light with sophistication but won’t put you out a ton of money. Additionally, a silk blend means that your Maglia AC Milan tie is easier to clean, less likely to stain, and will likely last longer because the blended silk and polyester or cotton will add a little strength to the weave. That being said, a quick search over at Amazon reveals that even some attractive 100% silk ties won’t run you more than $20-30 USD. I’m not saying steer clear of 100% silk, especially if you find something you really like – they’ll just require more care than blends will.
Another point brought up in the comments of the last piece worth looking at again are varying styles of length and width for a tie. This is something of a tricky point because length and width are such timely characteristics that it’s difficult to suggest something that will be timeless. For example, back in the 1950s and 60s the preferred style for ties were incredibly long and incredibly thin. Over the past 50 years, the prevailing style has moved from thin, simple wool or cotton solid-color ties (and a pretty heavy lean towards flat-bottomed ties instead of today’s almost entirely prevalent arrow-bottom ties) to more patterned, striped, and varied color ties. Modern ties, especially in the past 20-30 years, have also moved from being very narrow to more broad at the arrow-tip.
Width of a tie should, frankly, be relative to the width of your torso, I think. I don’t have a hard and fast rule about this, and if anyone does I would love to hear it, but I find that very thin people can get away with thin ties, but they generally don’t want to. Most common tie designs from popular and boutique retailers will suit you in the width department – it’s length that you should pay attention to.
If you’re planning to wear a coat over your shirt and tie, a handy way to tell if your tie is too short is if you put your coat on over your tie and you can see the end, or the tie starts to widen significantly before the middle button of your coat. That means for most people, your tie is long enough when the widest part comes down to your navel or just below. If it’s far below your belt, well over your zipper, or the widest part of your tie is below the waistline it’s definitely too long. If it’s resting at the end of your sternum, it’s probably too short. Follow?
The point is to make sure your tie doesn’t fall out of a coat with the middle button fastened, and doesn’t show below that fastened button on your coat. Remember the rule for three-button coats: sometimes, always, never – this means your top button should be buttoned sometimes, the middle button should always be buttoned if you have your coat closed, and the bottom button should never be buttoned, no matter what.
- Knots, Clip-Ons, and Bows
Let’s get the clip-on argument out of the way right away. Unless your a local TV news anchor, planning to get a quick picture taken with a low-quality camera, or otherwise are putting on a tie but don’t expect to be in front of another human being, there’s no place for a clip-on tie. Part of me is willing to give young kids a break and let them wear clip-ons, but honestly? If your child is old enough to put on a tie, they’re old enough to start learning how to dress themselves, wouldn’t you think? Besides – a kid who can tie a Windsor knot is a kid who’ll never need to look it up on the Internet. Trust me.
Let’s hit the bow-tie topic as well: bow-ties are very difficult to pull off, and require not just a certain kind of dress but a certain kind of personality. Bow ties scream quirky, eccentric, a little weird – they’re not what I would call classy, but they definitely scream personality. So while I can’t in good conscience recommend a bow-tie for any geek who wants to put themselves in the classy and sophisticated category, I say that if you can pull off a bow-tie (the same way hipsters still manage to pull off super-narrow black ties with flat bottoms) because it works with your look and your personality (usually accompanied by a corduroy blazer, mismatched pants, and sneakers) then by all means go for it – part Malia Juventus of being a classy geek is not being afraid to wear your geek on your sleeve if it’s who you are – you should never be ashamed of it! That being said though, it’d better work for you, or else I’m coming after you to take my advice back.
When it comes to knots, the old standard Windsor knot will suit you in almost every case. It’s also the easiest to learn, and the standard knot used for soldiers in the military and just about every other standard dress affair. If you go to a formalwear store to get fitted for a shirt and buy a matching tie, the tailor or sales associate there will almost surely put you in a shirt and then give you a tie that’s fitted around your neck with a Windsor knot. One of the biggest benefits to a Windsor knot is that once you have it tied at the right length, you can loosen and tighten it as necessary, which means you could very well never have to re-tie that knot ever again, at least until your tie requires cleaning or pressing. Yes, that’s right – keep that tie knotted and put it back on, especially if you wear a tie regularly.
That being said though, the Windsor knot isn’t the only type of knot out there, and not always the best type of knot for your shirt, even though it’s the most frequently used and works well in any situation. If you have a shirt with buttoned collars or very short collars, you might consider a Four in Hand knot, and if you want a look that’s a bit different from everyone else but a knot that’s still easily done and applicable for almost any situation, a Pratt knot is just a little different from the Windsor but still works well (especially if you like to wear ties with your top button unbuttoned for that “carefully disheveled” look, which I only suggest after the interview has turned into drinks afterward, or that important business meeting has migrated to the bar a few blocks over.)
Don’t just take it from me, though – if you need a refresher or don’t know how to tie a Windsor knot (or better yet, you’re interested in experimenting with other types of knots) I’ve included the video for how to tie a Windsor knot below, and I strongly suggest you head over to one of my constant bookmarks, Tie-a-Tie.net (even if the owner of the site and I disagree a bit on the proper length of a tie – he likes his longer than I do.)
- Other Tips: Longevity and Durability
Finally, when choosing a tie, you’ll want to make sure that the tie you pick will last you a good long while – and that makes sense; even if you don’t spend a lot on your ties, a little care in selection and a little care in general can make sure that they serve you well for years to come.
First of all, as commenter “LoserGeek” mentioned in our last article, thrift stores are a perfectly good place to go looking for ties! Just make sure that – the same way as you would if you shopped for a new tie in a department store or a menswear store (as commenter “ek_man” very correctly pointed out!) – that the stitching is tight maglie calcio poco prezzo and firm and shows no sign of pulling loose on examination in the store. In thrift stores this is essentially important, because you’re essentially buying a used tie that at best you can hope has only been worn a handful of times. You’ll still need to get it cleaned before you wear it (especially if it’s all wool or something) so take that into account as well.
Also, when shopping in thrift stores, keep an eye out for contemporary look and feel. The trouble with thrift stores is that you’ll get a lot of things that are distinctly aged in style, which may work if you’re going for a look that’s a little retro, or your overall appeal is retro-modern; as in, you wear older colors and fabrics with clean lines and a modern look. Otherwise, I’d have to wave you off of the paisley ties of yesteryear. You all should know by now how I feel about paisley.
Now then, you’re looking for tight stitching, and you want to take my advice above about fabrics – the more you go to all cotton, all wool, or all silk ties, the more delicate they’ll be and the more you suffer the downsides of having a non-synthetic fabric interwoven with those stylish natural fabrics.
I know synthetics have a bad rap with the designer crowd, and someone who’s willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a tie wouldn’t take one with a single thread of polyester or rayon in theirs, but for those classy geeks living on a budget or who know the meaning of the word “value,” a little synthetics in our ties mean they’ll stick with us longer and can be stored in the closet on a coat hanger instead of in a case or on a special tie holder.
Speaking of storage, my last big longevity tip is around storage and cleaning. First of all – follow the instructions on the tag. I know, geeks like us don’t feel like we need to read the directions, but when it comes to formalwear, if your rule isn’t “take it to a dry cleaner” exclusively, then you definitely need to RTFM – and I know you know what I mean.
As for storage, I suggest something like this gorgeous Walnut Tie Hanger if you like the wide style, or if you have more ties than this and want something that’s a little more compact or circular in your closet, maybe this Twirl-a-Tie Tie Rack. If you don’t have nearly enough ties to make either of those worth the purchase, a single plastic (no wire hangers!) hanger should do the trick.
As I’ve said before, you don’t have to take my word or this, and there’s a lot more we can talk about here just on the matter of ties and menswear. I really need to get a classy geek to talk about women’s formalwear too so I don’t alienate all of my female readers (unless you’re all out there bookmarking this to send to your fashion-challenged geeky boyfriends and partners) but for the guys out there, my suggestions here are a starting point, not an end-point.
Go to your local formalwear store, like a JoS. A. Bank or a Men’s Wearhouse or a Casual Male XL and get your measurements taken before you buy anything. Don’t even buy a tie until you make sure you’re wearing dress shirts that comfortably fit your neck, and as soon as you make an investment into a suit or two and a few nice shirts, find yourself a tailor or someone who can make alterations to your body shape that you trust with your clothes, even if it’s a local dry cleaner.
Regardless of all of that now though, hopefully now you have the tools to find a good tie that will last you a good long time, regardless of whether you find it as a formalwear store or you pick up a tie you simply can’t put back down in your local thrift store. Finally. once you get that tie you simply can’t live without, hopefully I’ve given you a few more tools to help you wear it with pride, style, and class.