Buyer’s Guide to Ties

We are often asked if the necktie is going the way of bell-bottom flares – out of fashion but pulled out of the annals of history for fancy dress parties. Definitely not! And while there are fewer occasions now when you might don this sophisticated item of neckwear, that does not preclude you from buying ties – whether for work, formal events, or just because you love them.

This guide will take you through everything you need to know before you buy a tie, including how to style one, and how not to wear one.

Where did the tie originate?

Most historians and fashion experts agree that ties originated in the 17thcentury during the 30 years’ war when long pieces of cloth were worn by Croatian mercenaries employed by French King Louis XIII. The fashionable king quite liked this look and ordered Cravates (meaning ‘Croatian’ in French) to be worn by all men in his court.

The style soon took off, helped along by Beau Brummell at one point, and cravats (the English dropped the ‘e’) became the everyday wear for men worldwide. They were worn as a wrapped cloth around the neck and tied in a bow at the front. The cravat underwent a series of changes regarding the stiffness of the wrap and the size of the bow and the length of the tails until the early 20thcentury when men began wearing neckties similar to what we see now. Even during the 20thcentury, the tide was widened, narrowed, widened again, became more colourful, became more sombre and then brightened up again. Finally, in the early 21stcentury we know have a range of ties and patterns available for men to choose their favourite.

Why should I wear a tie?

Ties aren’t a practical accessory – after all, they don’t keep your neck warm like a scarf, and they don’t serve to keep your shirt collar closed. They do however complete a man’s formal outfit, in particular a suit. Essentially, as one of the smartest items in a man’s wardrobe, ties make you look polished and well put together.

A tie is also an important signifier of the formality of an event or workplace and gives us a clue as to how to behave or the impression we’d like to give others. Think about it – would you go to a cocktail function or a job interview without one?

Ties can be a great way for a dapper gent to show his personality, particularly when wearing a conservative suit. Alternatively, they can be a power or class statement – think about a certain American statesman’s signature bright red ties and mature gents wearing their old school tie.

Furthermore, they are also signifiers of particular points in history for costumers and vintage clothing buffs – for example the wide ties of the 1960s versus the skinny leather ties of the 1980s.

What tie width should I wear?

Aligning with today’s ‘wear what works for you’ ethos, you’ll generally find ties in widths from 5.75cm (2.25”) to 8.25cm (3.25”).

At Alexandra Wood we offer ties in a ‘classic’ width of 8cm (3.14”), which we feel is a flattering width for everyone and covers most occasions.

When choosing a tie for your outfit, it’s important to take your body shape and size into account – on a very slim man an 8cm tie may look too wide, whereas a skinny tie would look odd on a man with a broad chest and shoulders. You’ll also need to consider the width of your jacket lapel – the wider the lapel, the wider the tie.

With all that said, men looking for something a little different might like to try these widths:

  • Skinny: These can be anywhere between 3.81cm to 6.35cm (1.5” to 2.5”) wide. Skinny ties have a youthful, vintage vibe that harks back to the 1950s and can work well with modern slim-fitting single-breasted suits.
  • Ultra-wide (also called the ‘Kipper Tie’): These usually measure between 11cm to 13cm (4.5” to 5”) wide, but we’ve heard rumours of some up to 6” wide. This was a popular style in the 1960s and featured bold patterns. You don’t see these much anymore as they tend to look like they belong in a costume shop.

What types of designs or patterns can you find on ties?
A quick wander down the high street will tell you that anything goes when it comes to tie patterns. However, there are some standard designs you should familiarise yourself with.

Solid: As the name says, a plain block colour. Sober, dark colours are a safe bet for corporate or formal events, whereas pastels such as blue, pink and lilac can liven up dark suits in more relaxed business settings.

Stripe: A business wear staple. Generally, the stripes on these ties are diagonal. Occasionally you’ll find skinny textured ties with horizontal strips – certainly an option for the bold who want to insert a bit of personality into their outfit. The varieties are endless in terms of the colours used, the spacing between stripes and the width of the stripes themselves. If you’re feeling bold, choose bright contrasting colours for fun events, or go subtle with tonal stripes for work.

Spot:  A tie with a fine spot on a dark background can be a great option for work or smart events. As a rule, the finer the spot and the further apart the spots are, the more formal the tie is. But please, please leave big polka dots for the clowns.

Check/Tartan/Plaid: For a smart business look, keep the colours on the tie muted and the checks small, and pair the tie with a solid-coloured shirt. You can get a little more playful for weddings if plaid is required, just don’t mix too many prints or textures.

Floral: A flowery print is often a perfect choice for weddings. While it’s not a print you’d wear for high-end corporate meetings, florals in subtle, dark colourways it can work for business casual.

Paisley: This tear-drop pattern isn’t appropriate for corporate settings, but a small paisley print is a fun option for celebrations. Keep the colours in the tie complementary to your suit and shirt, choose a slightly narrower tie, and don’t go too crazy with the combinations. No-one wants to look like an extra from a 1960s film.  

Geometric: Also known as micro-pattern or Foulard ties, these ties feature a repeating small scale symmetrical pattern on a grid. There are endless variations – from open circles to contemporary angular shapes, repeating florals or medallions reminiscent of old Italian tiles. You’ll often see this type of design on Madder silk ties and those in our online shop. These ties are very versatile and always look sophisticated.

Icons or images: We’re talking about tiny pineapples, ducks, sailboats and foxes, or even reprints of Monet’s Lily Ponds. Beware: you can run into novelty territory very quickly. Save these for more casual workplaces or fun events when you don’t need to be taken too seriously.

Textured: Not a print as such, but a tie made with wool, tweed and/or with a visible knit or weave such as a herringbone. They can look striking when worn in winter with heavier fabrics. You may also have seen the knitted ties with a flat end which come in and out of fashion every few years.

What types of fabrics are ties made from?

Ties can be made in all manner of fabrics, however the most common fabric, and the gold standard, is silk.

Ties made in other fabrics can make an outfit stand out by offering depth and texture, and can be a wise choice for men looking to push the fashion envelope a little.

Before you purchase a tie, consider these fabrics.

Silk: Despite its reputation, silk is quite durable, retains its shape due to natural elasticity, drapes well and feels beautiful on – not too heavy, not too light. Ties can be made in either a smooth silk or silk twill.

Madder silk: Madder refers to an extract from a Madder plant used to dye and process the silk. The process of dying the silk and adding its resin back in at the end results in a chalky feel to the fabric. The dye originally only produced red hues, but today Madder ties have a range of deep, saturated hues from blues to violets and greens. Madder ties offer an unmistakeable combination of silk twill, subtle yet rich colours and intricate repeated patterns or paisely.

Cotton and Linen: These light-hearted fabrics are used for ‘summer’ ties in lighter colours. The relaxed vibe of a cotton or linen tie lends itself to be worn for outdoor cocktail functions and beachside weddings. Unfortunately, they crease easily and need to be lined to keep their shape.

Wool and Cashmere: Thicker fabrics like wool and cashmere are a great way to add some texture and warmth into your winter work outfit if you’re in a business-casual environment. They don’t work well with suits that have a little sheen to them, however.

Blends: Ties made of a cotton-cashmere or cotton-silk blend have a fine texture and a beautiful feel.

Polyester: They may be wrinkle resistant and easy to care for, but any man worth his sartorial salt will avoid polyester ties at all costs.

How do I choose a tie?

Looking your suavest, most sophisticated self while wearing a tie isn’t as hard as you think. It’s just a matter of knowing what is required for each occasion, learning a few rules about matching colours and patterns, knowing which collar and knot combinations work best. Sarah @SartoriaLab offers her words of wisdom:

Choose your tie to suit the occasion.

  • Business – silk ties with striped or finely spotted patterns are failsafe options. If the stripes and spots are a light colour such as white or pale blue, you might try and pair your shirt with them.
  • Smart-casual – you can be a little adventurous with fabrics and patterns for smart-casual. Choose a textured tie like a knit, grenadine or cotton paired with a button down or chambray shirt for a more casual style. A bold patterned shirt like a floral will look best with a plain tie in a darker colour to let the shirt shine.
  • Weddings– if you’re the groom, your choices will be guided by the colour scheme and overall theme for example city chic or vintage. If you’re a guest, refer to the dress-code on the invite and err on the side of subtle rather than vibrant – the spotlight should be firmly on the groom and groomsmen.

Choose complimentary colours and patterns.

As a failsafe rule, choose a tie that is a darker colour than your shirt. Once that’s in hand, there are a few other considerations.

When choosing colours, it’s helpful to consider your own colouring too. If you have contrasts in your own colouring, you can wear greater contrasts in your clothing, for example if you have very dark hair and pale skin you could wear a white shirt and deep burgundy tie. On the other hand, if you have softer contrasts in your colouring like tanned skin and dark blonde hair, go for a gentler contrast with your clothing, for example a pale blue shirt with an olive-green tie.

Mixing your patterns is fine if you follow a few simple rules.

  • If you’re wearing two patterns together then vary the size of them, for example wear a wide-striped tie with a narrow-striped shirt, or a tie with a large check and a small check on the shirt.
  • If you’re mixing patterns, then one of the colours in your tie must match with the

colour of your shirt. You can also wear lighter and darker shades of similar colours, for example a pale pink shirt striped shirt with a dark burgundy patterned tie.

Match your tie knot to your collar and face shape.

Firstly, make sure the knot of your tie corresponds with the collar shape you’re wearing. If you have a cutaway collar, tie a larger knot like a Full Windsor, and if you’re wearing a point collar you can wear a smaller knot like a Four-in-Hand.

Also take into account your face shape: a narrower face and neck can benefit from a shirt with a wider spread collar to draw the eye across and add width, while a wider jawline or round face looks better with a point collar which draws the eye down and gives the illusion of length.

When shouldn’t I wear a tie?

There are certain outfits that are not enhanced by the addition of a tie.

We advise that you never, ever wear a tie:

  • with jeans, a sports jacket and a shirt. You’ll look confused.
  • with a t-shirt – even to a pop music awards ceremony.
  • with the top button undone. Ties are not a substitute for buttons.
  • without a suit jacket or a jumper when outside as your outfit will look incomplete.

How many different tie knots are there?

There are approximately 85 ways to tie your tie – and we’re sure new ones are being invented as we speak. You don’t need to know them all, but it’s useful to perfect a few different knots to suit different occasions, shirt collars, tie widths and fabrics.

The Half Windsor, Full Windsor and Four-in-Hand are the most common styles of tie knots and work for most occasions, classic spread collars, ties and fabrics.

The Half and Full Windsor knots are more formal and work with wide-spread collars, while the Four-in-Hand works better for smart-casual events, with point collars and with more characterful suits, for example a tweed suit.

Once you’ve mastered those, search for video tutorials on:

  • The Kelvin
  • The Prince Albert
  • The Pratt
  • The Simple
  • The Balthus

A quick word on styling…

  • When tying your tie, make sure you give it a dimple (see instructions below) to add some depth to the look.
  • Be mindful about length: too long and you look like a clown, too short and you’ll look like an overweight hotel magnate. A good rule of thumb is to make sure your tie just touches the waistband of your trousers.
  • Unless you’re confident and deliberate about adding some “sprezzatura” to your outfit, keep the back blade shorter than the front one.

What is a tie dimple?

The tie dimple is a little fold in the fabric just under the tie knot. It shows a high level of fashion sophistication and will garner comments from those in the know.

It can be created in numerous ways, including pinching the fabric just before tightening the knot. The tie dimple works best with a wider tie and a Half Windsor or Four in Hand knot. We recommend looking up tutorials and perfecting this little trick to elevate your outfit for important occasions like job interviews, career-defining presentations and weddings.

Should I wear a tie bar?

Yes, and no.

A practical solution for an unpractical accessory, tie bars are used to stop the tie from flapping about and getting in the way (very handy if you are eating soup).

These days they are more of a stylistic choice than a necessity, but if you’d like to wear one, place it between the third and fourth buttons of your shirt (this includes your collar button).

Tie bars add polish to an outfit so are best reserved for formal or business events. If you’re aiming for a most dressed up look befitting such occasions, choose either a waistcoat or a tie bar – wearing both can look overdone.

How should I care for my neck ties?

We recommend that you preserve your silk ties (actually all ties for that matter) by storing them flat and untied. Avoiding contact with rain, water and other chemicals, and entrust cleaning to a professional dry cleaner only.

About Alexandra Wood ties.

Our ties are hand-crafted from pure 18mm silk twill from British mills in a classic 8cm width. They are irresistibly soft and have the perfect amount of drape.

We offer a range of beautiful repeating tiled and geometric patterns designed in-house. With limited quantities, you’re sure to stand apart from anyone else in the room.