How to Choose a Tie: Everything You Need to Know
Neckties are an attractive addition to any outfit, but it can be difficult to choose the right tie for your wardrobe and personality. You might find a tie you like, but how do you know whether it complements the rest of your outfit? The best place to start is to match your tie to your clothing, rather than your clothing to your tie.
If you’re wondering how to choose a tie and what to consider when buying one, you’ve come to the right place. In this blog, we’ll review everything you need to know when choosing a tie in one convenient spot. Let’s start by learning about the fascinating (and exotic) history of neckties and bowties.
A Brief History of Neckties and Bowties
Neckties and bowties descended from the cravat, a fabric strip worn around the necks of Croat mercenaries in the seventeenth century. King Louis XIII of France and the Catholic League hired Croats to fight in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). This exposed the French to cravats, which they soon adopted for themselves.
Croats wore cravats to tie the tops of their jackets, but they quickly became fashionable accessories at King Louis XIII’s gatherings. By the end of the nineteenth century, ties (primarily cravats) were a must in men’s fashion.
Bowties and ascots (a type of cravat) also grew in popularity in the U.S. and Europe during the first decade of the twentieth century. Early bowties were designed to stand up to the workday better than cravats could. Bowties were worn primarily for formal occasions throughout the twentieth century, but many men now sport them as everyday attire.
Here’s a timeline of notable developments in the history of neckties and bowties:
- 1910s: A decline in the use of formal cravats and ascots led to more comfortable neckwear. Neckties began to resemble modern ties during this period.
- 1920s: The invention of ties that sprang back into their original shape after wearing led to the creation of new knot styles.
- 1950s: Skinny ties grew in popularity, along with the use of materials other than silk.
- 1960s & 1970s: Wider ties (like the Kipper) became popular.
- 1990s: Neckties returned to a more uniform width, and bold patterns and colors became popular.
Today, ties come in a wide variety of sizes, fabrics, patterns, and knot types. Let’s get into some of the most popular knot styles.
Popular Necktie Knot Styles
Here are six of the most popular necktie knot styles with a bit of information on each type.
The four-in-hand is undoubtedly the most popular and commonly-used necktie knot. It’s simple, easy to tie, and easy to release. This knot was invented in the 1880s and was named after the British Four-In-Hand Driving Club.
The half-Windsor is a medium-sized knot that’s good for neckties on the lightweight side. Along with the Windsor, this knot was named after the British Duke of Windsor (also known as Edward VIII) in the 1930s.
The Windsor is characterized by a wide knot and works best with shirts that have a spread collar. The Duke of Windsor created this knot by tying a four-in-hand with extra wide ties.
Mathematical physicist 1st Baron Kelvin (William Thomson) is the namesake for the Kelvin knot. The Kelvin is close to the four-in-hand, but the knot is fuller and more angular.
Prince Albert Knot
A variation of the Victoria knot (named after British Queen Victoria), the Prince Albert knot is named after her husband. This asymmetrical knot is similar to the four-in-hand, but it offers a bulkier, more substantial look.
Anatomy of a Necktie
Here’s a quick snapshot of the parts of a typical necktie:
- The shell is the body of the tie and contains the blade (wide end) and tail (thin end). The gusset joins the blade and tail. Look for shells made from three pieces of fabric with hand-rolled hems, as these keep their shape better than machine-manufactured hems.
- The lining of the tie (which you can’t see from the outside) is designed to hold the tie in place as you tie it and helps keep it from wrinkling.
- The slip stitch (or slip knot) is what you pull to gather the tie together. The slip stitch helps the tie retain its shape and lengthens its lifespan.
- The bar tack is part of the slip stitch and helps ensure the blade and tail don’t separate.
- The keeper is a flap that holds the tail end of the tie in place and prevents it from moving.
Necktie Width and Length Guidelines
It’s important to know the facts when choosing the best size necktie to buy. Ties come in a variety of widths. Standard ties are typically 3.5” wide, while skinny ties are usually less than 3”. Any tie wider than 3.75” is considered excessively wide.
As a general rule, your tie should be long enough to hit the top of your belt buckle. If you’re larger than average, choose a wider tie that reaches your belt buckle. If you’re on the smaller side, opt for a skinny tie that doesn’t quite hit your belt. Choosing a tie length that flatters your figure is crucial to looking your best.
Popular Tie Fabrics
There are a wide range of tie fabrics for you to choose from. Here are a few of the most common tie materials available:
- Silk ties are very popular because they’re durable, relatively wrinkle-resistant, and smooth.
- Wool ties are best suited for cold weather and complement heavier jackets.
- Knit ties work best in fall or winter and are a versatile option for many occasions.
- Cotton ties are a smart choice for colder climates because they keep you warm.
- Cashmere ties are a more casual option than silk, so they’re good for less formal occasions.
You know your fabric options. But do you know how to choose a tie when it comes to colors and patterns?
Choosing the Right Tie Color
Your tie should match your suit and shirt (or blazer and pants), but it’s okay for your tie to have an accent color. In general, dark ties are appropriate for work and formal occasions, while colorful ties are a more casual option.
When choosing a tie color, keep your hair color and complexion in mind. If you have lighter hair and fair skin, stylists recommend pastel colors. If your hair is dark but your skin is light, try combining multiple colors. On the other hand, dark-haired men with medium-to-dark skin look best in low- or high-contrast ties.
Selecting the Best Tie Pattern
Always consider the look of the shirt you’re wearing before choosing a tie pattern. Again, your tie should match your shirt — not the other way around. In general, a subtle tie works best with a loud shirt, and conversely, a bold tie works best with a subtle shirt. Here are just a few popular patterns you can choose from:
- Designs (i.e. paisley or floral)
Matching Your Tie to Your Situation
It’s important to consider the situation you’ll be in when choosing a tie. Are you dressing for a typical workday, or are you going to a sophisticated evening event? Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:
- If you’re in a business formal situation, choose a tie in a neutral color that’s darker than your shirt. The tie should be made of silk and shouldn’t distract from your suit.
- Business professional situations are slightly more casual, so you can try out fun patterns. You also have more latitude in terms of your tie’s material and width.
- When it comes to business casual environments (like an office party), express yourself! Try a colorful knit tie, or if the situation calls for it, sport a fun novelty tie.
- If you’re in a casual environment, almost anything goes. Mix it up with a skinny tie, a bowtie, or anything else that might strike your fancy.
- Choose a subtle solid or striped tie for job interviews. Experts say blue is a smart choice because it conveys confidence.
- If you’re attending a cocktail party or another evening social event, opt for more conservative ties.