Priti Devi: Is This The End Of The Neck-Tie?

With the increasing focus on casual attire and athleisure, will the humble neck-tie go the way of the dinosaurs?

A well-tied tie is the first serious step in life," said Oscar Wilde.

Well, I am not a man and have never worn a tie, but I must confess: I have always thought most men look very smart in suits and I have always noticed a beautiful tie on a man in an immaculate suit. A tie serves no real purpose and is simply an attractive accessory for a well-dressed man, but it has lent flair to men’s wardrobes for over two centuries now.

Given the incredible long history of the evolution of the tie from a simple cloth tied around the neck, to an elaborate cravat, a wartime neck scarf and finally the tie, will the 20th century finally see a demise of the necktie? I am sure most men who love their spiffy look in suits, probably hope it won’t be the case. When I spoke about this to a French friend he replied, “Oh mais non, it would sacrilege in France to not be properly attired with the cravat and suit in a Board Room”. And French men certainly know something about looking good.

It is said that men as far back as 210 BC, might have been the first men to wear a necktie. The Chinese Emperor Qui Shin Huan Di’s life-size terracotta army of 7000 soldiers discovered in an underground chamber in the historical Chinese city Xian as far back as 221 — 206 BC, had a fabric piece like a necktie, stenciled around their necks. Each terracotta soldier was a life-size version of the soldiers that served the Emperor. This extraordinary life-sized army was created as a symbol of protection for the Emperor on his journey in the afterlife.

The tie first appeared in the 1600’s worn as a ‘Croat’ a knotted kerchief, by the Croatians who served as mercenary soldiers under King Louis the XIV of France. Portraits of King Louis IV often depicted him and other noblemen of the same period, wearing the renamed ‘cravat’ in different forms, in fancy silks and frothy lace. The French still refer to the tie as a cravat.

One of the earliest trendsetters for the cravat was Frenchman Beau Brumell, who, in 1818, published a manual called Neckclothinia that provided instructions on 14 ways to tie the perfect cravat.

Every fashion conscious man in Britain faithfully followed Bummels’ instructions on tying an immaculate cravat.

The Bowtie was one of the early adaptations of the tie and was worn as far back as 1885 by famous people like the architects LeCorbusier, and Walter Gropuis and Sir Winston Churchill. The bow tie still remains an essential accessory for black-tie events.

The tie, as we know it today, emerged in its current shape around 1865 and began being mass-produced in Britain, Germany and the United States. The British abandoned their famous necks scarves to wear ‘regimental ties’ which were quickly adapted in different colours with adornments of stripes and insignias of clubs, schools and regiments. The first such ‘club’ tie was conceptualized for the Oxford University rowing club.

Paris was at the center of all the artistic and fashion movements during the 1920’s and the earliest ‘designer’ ties were designed and produced in France during this period. Manufactured in expensive materials like silk and satin they were decorated with motifs of the popular art of that time- cubism and art deco and created a fashion trend across the globe.

The famous ‘Windsor’ knot was the legacy of the Duke of Windsor.

A tie that with a wide triangular topknot that was a favored style of Ronald Regan, who wore the Windsor tie throughout his Presidency. Hollywood actors, films and society legends set the trend of different styles of ties in the United States, with actors like Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy being early adopters of the neck-tie, wearing these in their early films. Elvis Presley made the slim black tie a rage in the 1950’s

Over the years, the tie has morphed into many different versions: bow tie, four in hand tie, the seven-fold tie, the skinny tie and bolo tie made with a cord or braided leather but no matter what its size, shape, colour or pattern, the necktie has remained the staple accessory for all well-dressed men around the world.

In 1990, men spent a staggering US$1.8 million on ties world-wide, but this figure fell to about US$680 million in 2008 and has continued to fall steadily over the years. The famous British High Street tie shop Tie Rack, where every young man in the UK probably purchased his first tie, was one of the earliest tie stores to go into liquidation following the dot com boom and the surge in the startup industry that requires no dress code.

These days I read with increasing dismay, the growing calls to do away with suits and ties at the work place. Even the last bastions of formal workplace dressing, banks and law offices are permitting their staff to do away with jackets and ties. Heaven forbid, the next thing may be that the tech world casualness of T-shirt, sneakers and jeans overtake the elegance of boardroom power dressing — the suit and tie. A very recent article in the Financial Times bemoaned the complete disaster of middle-aged men trying to pull off a formal look in jeans, T-shirt and blazer. This, according to the author, was a complete dress code disaster.

Major fashion brands that created an upscale image for every man with their iconic ties like Hermes, Ferragamo, Paul Smith, Simon & Simon must be seriously pondering over the fate of their beautiful hand crafted products. Changing fashion trends always represent a challenge, but for those men who understand the value of creating a stir among open necked dressers, I am sure the tie will always matter.

Priti Devi is the owner and founder of www.decoratorsnotebook.co


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