Men: Start with a tie to transform your wardrobe
When you see a guy all dressed up, what’s the first thing you notice? His tie.
They’re frivolous, decorative and perhaps the most critical part to get right in a man’s wardrobe. You can get away with little mistakes in everything else, but if you screw up with your tie, everyone knows it.
The main problem with ties is there are so many details that are important to get right. First, you have to pick the right one out of literally thousands of possibilities, only a few of which will be passable for any particular occasion and outfit. Then, you need to get the dang thing tied well with the right knot and with the right length. It’s a real pain to get it all right sometimes.
However, it’s totally possible. You just need to know what choices to make. If you break down the process and think about the different possibilities, details and combinations, you can come out looking seriously well-dressed.
Before you even start thinking about patterns or colors, you need to figure out what type of tie to wear. First off, make sure it’s one that you have to tie yourself. Clip-ons and pre-tied ties are easy to spot and look silly, so avoid those. You’re a man, so learn how. Anyway, the options for real ties include the standard angle-tipped tie, the knit tie and the bow tie.
I really wouldn’t advise trying out the bow tie or the knit tie until you get the hang of your regular tie, so let’s move forward with that.
There are a number of materials you can find for ties. Most formal ties are silk or polyester. I would suggest choosing silk because it looks nicer and will last longer. One of my favorite ties is polyester and it looked so nice new, but after a few wears it started to degrade. Trust me: investing in a silk tie is worth it.
Alternatively, in a less formal situation, you can go with a wool or cotton tie. They have a nice texture and add variety to your wardrobe. As you might expect, wools work better in the cooler months and cottons look decidedly better in warmer months.
After choosing a material, we get to the fun stuff: patterns. Aside from ties for extremely formal events, there aren’t any hard and fast rules on patterns; however, a good rule of thumb is that for more formal occasions you should wear ties with more restrained color and pattern.
Solids are always a good bet, and stripes are a close second in usefulness. Probably three-fourths of the ties you’ll see around will be either solid or striped, so you could probably get away with having nothing but these two patterns.
But where’s the fun in that? If you want to get adventurous, paisley is an excellent choice. Do note that you have to be careful in matching paisley, though. It’s a complicated pattern, so choose one with a color scheme that matches the rest of your outfit.
A somewhat safer bet is the foulard tie, which has a small, geometric pattern, such as squares, circles or simple flowers. I don’t see them often on campus, which is a shame. They look refined and have just enough visual detail to look interesting.
Assuming you’ve chosen your tie, now you need to tie it. First, you need to choose the right knot.
Now, I’m sure you’ve heard you choose the size of the knot to the collar — the wider the collar, the wider the knot. Baloney. The only knot you need to know is the four-in-hand knot. Learn it and learn it well. It’s a bit asymmetrical and not too large, which makes for some visual interest.
A final knot that I suggest you learn and then immediately forget is the full Windsor. It’s large, absurd and just looks like a lump of cloth, not a knot. I’ve seen only a couple of instances where a full Windsor looked nice, and those were with a wide tie in a broad space. Large men with large ties, you have my permission; but do tie it tightly.
The last things I want to say about ties are in regards to execution, and this is the area where I see the most blatant mistakes. First off, make sure the tip of your tie hits your belt buckle. Think of it this way—you want it to be as low as possible without any chance of pissing on it in the bathroom.
Additionally, you need to tighten your tie right. I can’t count the number of guys I’ve seen waltzing around with their ties half-done. It’s not hard. Just pull on the front blade and adjust it a bit. You’ll look way better with a tight knot.
Now, while doing that last bit of tightening, try and pinch together where your tie comes out at the knot. You’ll get a little bit of a crease, and make sure that stays when you finish tightening the knot. This is a dimple. It adds a surprising amount of character to your tie. No longer is it just a flat field of fabric—now it has dimension. One of the primary reasons the four-in-hand knot is so great is because it often can make for an excellent dimple. This finishing touch will do a surprising amount for your look, even if you’re already good with ties.
The last bit of advice I want to share is something I picked up only recently myself. Ever have a hard time convincing your tie to stay up to the top of your collar? Or perhaps your tie keeps showing in the back. You can fix both these problems with an easy little trick when tightening your tie so that it will sit close to your neck. Rather than adjusting it in place, pull it out perpendicular to your body and adjust it. Your tie will sit so much better.
Ties are hard, I know. But, with a bit of know-how and forethought, you can get the hang of that crazy bit of cloth in no time. Style is within your grasp.