Here’s the article in the October issue of The Rake. We have gone from Chensvold’s literary death sentence of the necktie to Boyer’s plea for clemency to a user’s manual. What are we to make of this?
I reviewed Christian Chensvold’s book here, and in reflecting now on that review I realize that the book is better than I thought it was – and I thought it was pretty good. Christian and I have different takes on the future, period, but of the tie in particular. So when I read the book in two sittings, loving it, I noted how rare it is to think a book is both good and one I disagree with. Now too, I think of something else I should have mentioned then. It is singular to find a really good piece of fiction writing that covers our subject matter with pinpoint focus. If you think about what you wear, it is worth picking up for sure.
Chensvold reads the tea leaves of the tie and draws a parallel. From The Rake:
…Chensvold has long simultaneously heralded and mourned the tie’s slow and painful death. … One of Chensvold’s nattily-attired fictional characters, a menswear obsessive going by the StyleForum handle Scary_Grant, rants that the trend toward eschewing ties has “reached the irreversible”, indicating that dressiness in general is on its last legs. “If ‘dressing up’ were a person,” he suggests, “it would not be a boulevardier fawned over by the society pages. It would be an old man in a nursing home, sporting a boutonniere that foreshadows the flowers at his own coming funeral.” Ties, Scary_Grant opines, have literally tied everything together, menswear-wise, for more than 200 years. “The very concept of what it means to be well dressed falls apart without the necktie.”
Chensvold has been, rightly, on this bandwagon for years. Also from The Rake article:
As Chensvold wrote in one of his earliest pieces of published writing, a 1994 letter to the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle that he recently posted to his website Ivy-Style.com, “the gradual disappearance of the necktie … follows the loss of the tuxedo on Saturday night dates, the waistcoat, braces, fedora, handkerchief, walking stick, watch chain, and every other accessory that used to make a man look like a man.”
The article goes on to quote another article, from The Rake, in which Bruce Boyer, reading the same tea leaves but not giving up quite yet, writes:
Boyer explained that having championed anti-court style during the English Regency, “Beau Brummell stands as a synecdoche for this pervasive shift, and much credit has been given to him for advancing the standard outfit for men of the business class ever since: plain coat and trousers, cravat and fine linen.” The great men’s style commentator continued, “if we have indeed forgone the gorgeousness of embroidered silk and buckled shoes (the bridle-bit loafer excepted), enjoyed still by women, can’t we find a bit of individuality and colour somewhere in the tailored wardrobe?”
For our new readers, the article then goes on to give a pretty good four paragraph primer on how the tie works. Some good tips.
Reports of the tie’s death have been greatly exaggerated says the article’s subhead. And that, good reader, is exactly where we are. Chensvold and Boyer are mighty voices who have married keen eyes with good memories. The drum of the tie’s death has been banged slowly, for quite some time now. One would have to climb on a pretty loft perch to think one could add to their assessment. But I am going to do it. There is another place to look other than the open collars and crew necks.
Instead, turn your eye inward, away from the what and towards the why. The adoption of leisure wear not have much at all to do with comfort. Sweats and sneakers did not emerge because the suit and shoes were uncomfortable. Get the right fit and pair and they will not be. It had to do instead with personal expression, not wanting to duplicate the prior generation, inherent rebellion and a sprinkle of the politics of the day. One does not have to hit the back button very many times to travel to 1994 and Chensvold’s letter to the editor to see that the tie, formal wear, and the way things are in general have always been dying, and have always been resurging. Kids are always on the front lawn and sneakers have been worn to class for half a century.
The constant upon which we can all rely, to predict fashion in particular or anything aesthetic in general, is that the classics always, always endure. Their popularity ebbs and flows for certain. But they never truly disappear, and they never fully eat the same market share as a trend. If you want to safely predict low tide coming, the best time to do it is at high tide. As more and more media forecast the resurgence of formal wear (which ain’t really formal but whatever), you can know this. It is resurging, it will fade but not disappear, then it will… resurge.
I certainly hope so! And I think you’re right. A question remains as to whether this resurgence will grow into a mainstream thing or just a niche thing among particular enclaves of menswear enthusiasts.
…”Maison du Phénix.” I see what you did there.
As I say to my wife about so many things during dinner table conversations: Hey, a guy can always hope, right?
I work at a small sized men shop in a Big Ten college town. We sell over 1,200 neck ties in a year. It’s one of our favorite departments in the store.
PocketSquare – That is very good news indeed. I wonder if the same holds true elsewhere. Down south, at least in my town, I see the occasional tie (other than the one around my own neck), but they are not nearly as common as they were even a couple of years ago. I put it down to COVID, at least in part, and am hoping for some modest resurgence when more people are working in person at the office again. As Heinz-Ulrich said above, one can always hope.
On a related note, The Wall Street Journal just published yet another return-of-prep story: “This classic look is trending again, populating European runways and stateside stores alike. Here, a primer on prep’s past and how to master what Brooks Brothers’ Michael Bastian calls ‘the style [Americans] invented.'” https://www.wsj.com/articles/preppy-style-history-11634760184?st=vrzo4j5unde5mju&reflink=desktopwebshare_permalink
While I suppose it is good news, the examples they gave did not instill too much confidence in me. However, perhaps the somewhat gaudy and expensive designer version of “preppy” that the article mentions may lead to an awareness of something more classically Ivy. As noted above, one can always hope.
In my environs (Mount Desert Island in Summer, VA Piedmont otherwise, DC/ NY for business) ties are relatively commonplace. I see them on weekends and weekdays in Spring, Winter and Fall, and in the summer around social events in ME exclusively. Maybe I just notice them more as they are no longer ubiquitous.
As to Chens, we have very different worldviews and notions of progress, though would note that if every thought begins with the world’s inexorable decline of the “old ways”, it’s pretty hard to argue for anything in the affirmative. And if one’s going to argue the same point over and over beginning in 1994 ad nauseum, eventually they may be correct.
“Even as I am surrounded by a sloppy sea of tee-shirted walking billboards advertising their angle on whatever, I too believe that, for some people, classic, understated clothing, including the elegant tie, will endure.
A tie need not be only synonymous with work but more like dinner at eight at the Carlyle.
You know. Fun in an elegant way.”
Man, I miss Bobby Short.
It was genuine:
Many thanks for the link to the WSJ article. How nice it would be if other comment-leavers did the same,instead of just saying something like “There’s a story about Y in today’s Y”.
In the story, mention is made of the fact that Mr.Bastian argues against the use of the term “preppy” saying that it’s too elitist. Others would argue that the style itself–and certainly neckties–are elitist. And yet,for some of us, I daresay, that is precisely one of the appeals of the style, and of neckties.
That should have been: “There’s a story about x in today’s Y”
Thanks Linkman, I figured it was. Great image find for a story heralding the possible return of neckties to some extent or other.
Aivii Riigu, respectfully, I think elitism (or the perception of elitism) is precisely what has sapped the modern world of sartorial care.
The biggest barrier for more people wearing neckties is a lack of good ties. I’ve seen the word elegant used lately on this site. The central pillar of elegance is restraint; restraint in patterns, colors, textures, and surface sheen. The ties that most people see are garish, overstated, and clownish. You can wear an understated tie most places, and in most situations, but where can you wear a necktie covered in cartoon charters and not look like a fool? Who in there twenties wants to wear a tie that makes them look as though they are already having a midlife crises?
It’s so easy to find something that looks good on it’s own, but that does not work with the rest of your clothes. Perhaps no piece of clothing falls into this trap as easily as neck-wear. You may have to wade through a sea of silk ties, but please find a tie with some elegance. You can wear it anywhere and you will look like an adult.
In my line of work – lobbying – ties are common if not required.
There is also the other elephant in the room; modern ties are card-board stiff, heavily padded, often either excessively broad, or conversely exceedingly narrow, clownishly long affairs which have grown grotesquely in the past 90 odd years from a discrete bit of ideally tasteful, well proportioned, delicate, elegant, wistful, wiapy, sinuous, subtle silk which moved with its wearer…to quite the opposite, much the same as most modern tailoring has done…. I could go on. As a regular wearer of my Grandfather’s and Father’s wardrobes, and of other vintage pieces, I can personally attest to this, soft tailoring which allows for ease of movement and which is not grotesquely displaced by any movement at all is infinitely more comfortable and appealing than fused, stiff, excessively structured and uncomfortable modern garments with their low arm holes, low slung binding waists and tight, ill fitting torsos which constrict and flop around and are typically made of cheap tissue-like excuses for woolens which are full of an endless coterie of bizarre unnecessary variety of artificial “stretch” fibres to attempt to compensate for their gawd-awful cut which entirely ignores human and in particular male human anatonmy, and which has infected nearly every level and quality of mens ready to wear and even to some extent the custom sector….even the Ivy merchants have lowered armscyes than they used to….and that does not make for a perfectly fitting functional garment. Even 20, 30, 40 years ago….you could go to many local makers and merchants and find a decent quality suit made up in good quality woolens, and in a decent classical cut that not only flattered, but which did so, because it functioned and was designed around male, human anatomy. The one bright point amongst all of this, is the veritable renaissance of menswear which can be seen around us today, and which is not on the high street or department store so much as at the small independent purveyors who do what they do, for love of classical menswear. It is a positive trend, I say God bless them! Now, if they could only raise those armholes, drop those startled gorges before they take flight, shorten those ties, and increase the rise of those trousers to their wearers’ natural waists…we would really be somewhere, where I would be happy to be near.