Some men cringe every time they hear the words ‘skinny tie.’ I know I do, even though I wear them. Huh? Yes; I wear them. But I do not call them skinny ties (like I said, it makes me cringe), I do not wear them because they happen to be ‘in’ right now, and I do not wear them to the exclusion of wider ties.
Narrow, or ‘bar’ shaped ties (as they were originally called, and as I like to call them), came into vogue not in the 1960’s, as most might suppose, but somewhere around the year 1938 (Those of you who are really astute will claim that even this is a second incarnation, harking back to when New York mayor James Walker popularized them in the twenties). They had no set width, but let me relieve you by telling you they were nearly twice as wide as those horrible, spaghetti ties of the 60’s. Also, they tapered very little (hence the name ‘bar-shaped’) and as such provided a somewhat substantial knot despite the narrowness of the tie. As illustrated in the pages of Esquire, they were shown almost exclusively with double-breasted, wide lapel suits.
I am aware of the old maxim that says your necktie width should correspond with your lapel width, but this is one instance were the rules go by the board. In this case, it is the contrast between narrow tie and wide lapel that creates a dynamic look—especially if the lapels have ‘belly’ (the lower edge of the lapel is curved). Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, Jr. dressed this way almost exclusively, and always looked fabulous (I refer you also to the famous Hurrell photograph of the Doug Fairbankses, Junior and Senior. Doug Sr., in white shirt and chalk-striped suit with generous lapels, wears a bar-shaped tie). The bar-shaped tie isn’t quite as flattering to a single-breasted suit. But if you want to try it, you would be well-advised to wear a lapel that is a bit wider than your tie. If nothing else, this sets you apart from the trend followers.
Now I know that many men are wary of anything that even remotely smacks of a trend. I don’t blame them. Each autumn I like to walk into Bergdorf Goodman New York to see the fall neckties. One year I walked in and saw nothing but narrow ties on the first floor. Every maker had jumped on the same bandwagon. When I asked a salesman what was going on, he said—in the snootiest voice he could muster—“That’s what they’re wearing THIS season, sir.” His aquiline nose was pointed towards the ceiling as he said it. It was a turnoff, and I left. Like I said, I have nothing against narrow neckties, so long as they hang around my neck one at a time. What I dislike is having a million of them shoved down my throat.
So continue to be wary. Just don’t let your wariness make you forget—as I temporarily did at Bergdorf’s—that this stuff is supposed to be fun. Whether or not you wear narrow ties is totally immaterial, as long as you remember that you are a free man who exists outside of the shackles of passing trends. The cosmopolitan thing is to have ties of varying widths in your collection, with no extremes on either end of your spectrum. You buy them over time, as they become available. You make yourself immune to the ephemeral nonsense of that Bergdorf salesman, who, in short order, will no doubt be telling everyone within earshot that wide neckties are the only way to go.
Words by Barry Pullen
Photo by LIFE