Every Tie Has A Story

Editor’s Note: First, THANK YOU to James Grant who threw in a great story while I am finishing up my family’s medical issues. Second, the site is still not repaired so apologies for only one image but this is such a great piece you probably won’t mind.

When I was a boy, I once asked my father why I had to wear a tie to church? Without much  hesitation, he said: “Because we are Presbyterians, and Presbyterians have standards and  discipline.” That was about what I expected. Over the course of many years, my father used that  old “standards and discipline” mantra many times. Perhaps most effectively, I think, when he was  addressing his Tennessee National Guard company. “Men: We are Company K of the 278thInfantry Regimental Combat Team. We have standards and discipline!”  

Don’t get me wrong. My father was a great guy, my mentor, my friend, and my best man. Moreover, I have occasionally caught myself using that same “standards and discipline” justification with my own daughter, Betsy. 

I have always had a thing for ties. During my career in the furniture industry, there was an  old adage: “Fabric sells upholstery and color sells fabric.” You could say the same about ties. In my first submission to Ivy Style, I detailed my metamorphosis to the Southern Collegiate  Style during the summer before my junior year in high school. My friend, George, took me to Bill  King Clothiers in Bristol, Virginia, a shop which catered to a college and young adult clientele. My  first purchase was a pair of Bass Weejuns® for $11.95. 

Hi this is John, This may not be the shoes, but I thought the image was cool.

The second purchase was a regimental stripe or college tie – navy stripe on deep red. I  think I paid $5.95 for that tie. I wore it with a navy blazer and khakis, but it looked great with a  Carolina blue Gant shirt and my Haspel gray seersucker sack suit. That tie served me well for  many years. I do not recall how long it lasted, but somewhere along the line, I had to toss it out. I  have not conducted any empirical research on this, but it is my considered opinion that a tie can  only withstand so many beer spills. I bought another tie just like it, which I still wear today. 

Over the years, I have had many similar striped ties in a variety of colors. Most of them  are still hanging on my “active” rack, although they are thread-bare or frayed at the edges. Others  have been discarded, having succumbed to the rigors of a life well spent.  

The last tie I purchased was at Windsor, England, in November 2019. It was a wool Scottish  tartan tie in a setting, which is coincidentally the tartan of the 1st Strathspey Fencible Regiment,  recruited and led by Colonel Sir James Grant in 1793. And yes, that is also my name. DNA  evidence, however, clearly shows that I am not related to Sir James, although it would be pretty  cool if I were. 

When I was stationed in England in the U.S. Air Force, I drove over to Cambridge  University on one of my days off. I thought the university town would be a great place to buy  college ties. Au Contraire!  

There was a dignified men’s shop right across the street from Great St. Mary’s Church,  King’s College, but they would not sell the “old school ties” unless you were a student or alumnus  of the college. Undeterred, I walked down the street several blocks to a less-prosperous looking  shop with a more pragmatic salesclerk. He agreed to sell me three or four ties – as long as I  promised NOT to wear them in Cambridge. I immediately crossed my fingers and assured the nice  man that I was heading back to the States that very week and would only wear them after I returned  home.  

Unfortunately, that minor coup proved to be a Pyrrhic victory. When I got back to base, I  donned one of the ties, and to my regret, it was about two inches too short, using the simplest knot  I could contrive. Those ties must have been designed for little boys – definitely not for a lanky  6’4” air force sergeant. 

I was told by an aficionado of style, Mr. Kent Brewer of H. Stockton in Atlanta, that a  gentleman’s tie should just cover the belt buckle – never above and certainly never below in 

Trumpian fashion. Sometimes you just have to tie the thing two or three times until you get it right. Kent Brewer was a true gentleman and a great salesman, and he always remembered my name, even though I was certainly not among his more affluent customers. Even after we moved to North  

Carolina, my wife could place a phone order with Kent, and he always got it right. Another purchase proved to be more successful, although I had no hand in it. On this  occasion, I was with friends – an older couple, Mr. and Mrs. Talcott Williams, who had taken a  poor American boy under their wings. We were having a pint in a pub near Piccadilly in London  and the lady left for a few minutes. When she returned, she said she wanted to buy me something  and asked me to accompany her down the street to a men’s clothing shop. The name of the shop  was John Ericson Ltd., 37 Jermyn Street, St. James. When we got there, my lady friend had  selected a good-looking Royal Air Force officer’s tie. Apparently, the clothier had questioned my  bona fides – sort of like the situation in Cambridge with the college ties. The gentleman asked if I  was an RAF officer. I said no, but after crossing my fingers, I told him I was an American Air  Force officer, stationed at RAF Chicksands, in Bedfordshire. I introduced myself as “Left-tenant  Grant.” He thought for a moment, mumbled something about wanting to accommodate “our  American guests,” and said he would put the tie in a bag for me. My lady friend pulled a £20 note from her handbag. (The rate of exchange in those days was £1/0 = $2.40). I do not know how  much that tie actually cost, but it was expensive. I still wear it with great pride today – 52 years  later. And when I do, I think fondly of my benefactor, Mrs. Helena Williams of Carlton,  Bedfordshire.  

On another occasion, Mr. and Mrs. Williams took me to the horse races at Newmarket.  Talcott Williams was a graduate of Wesleyan College in Middletown, Connecticut. He served as  a U.S. Army officer in the South Pacific in World War II. (In fact, he has the distinction of being  one of the last horsemen in the U.S. Army Cavalry.) After the war, he went to Oxford to study  English literature, where he met his wife, Helena. Talcott remained in England and taught literature  at a boarding school in Northamptonshire.  

In the bar at the Newmarket racecourse, I commented on Talcott’s attractive silk foulard  tie. He mentioned that he had purchased it at an exclusive shop called Edouard (pronounced A doo-ar) on Regent Street in London. It was a misty, cold, gusty day on the racecourse – typical  British weather. As the afternoon progressed, I noticed Talcott wiping his nose on that beautiful  tie. Needless to say, I made a mental note not to accept any gifts of ties from him.  

On another one of my weekend jaunts, I visited Oxford University. And as I was wont to  do in those days, I went into a public house and ordered a pint. I noticed that there were many  neatly-knotted ties – perhaps a hundred or more – tacked to the wall near the bar. The display was spectacular and very colorful. The innkeeper seemed to know what school, college, regiment, or  club each tie represented. It was fascinating to hear him regale anyone who would listen about  their provenance. 

My all-time favorite tie was purchased during fall semester 1966 at a store on Cumberland  Avenue in Knoxville, Tennessee. Over the course of my career, I have become almost completely  impervious to a salesman’s pitch, but when I was in college, I was not quite so hardened. The store  manager was a great salesman and took the time to explain how the buyer had hand-selected this  particular tie for the discerning young gentleman who wanted to portray his school spirit in a  definitive, tasteful way. He was careful to point out that the bold orange and the thin white stripes represented the colors of the University of Tennessee, and the thin green stripe was meant to  portray the beautiful sward of Bermuda grass on the floor of Neyland Stadium, and the navy stripe  was juxtaposed to the orange to provide contrast, while also representing the university’s handsome navy and orange band uniforms. He was really smooth and did the two things all good  salesmen do. (1) He made me feel like I was the most important customer that had ever entered  his store, and (2) he convinced me that I just had to fork out $7.99 for that beautiful orange and  blue tie. And for once, I am glad the salesman prevailed. That was the best and the longest-lasting  tie I ever owned. Although it is frayed and tattered, I would not hesitate to wear it today – 56 years  after I purchased it. 

I hardly ever wear ties these days. I have been retired since 2009, so I almost never dress  up. And believe it or not, there was a period in my life – perhaps twenty-five years or so – that I  did not even own a pair of blue jeans. Somehow it seems like a sad commentary on what I have  become when I admit that I wear jeans just about every day now – sometimes with a rumpled J.  Press shirt, tartan tie, and a 3-button, natural shoulder navy blazer. The notable exception being the occasional pair of cotton khakis, with 1¾ inch cuffs, of course, which are in keeping with the  “standards and discipline” of the Southern Collegiate Style. 

Nunc est Bibendum

James H. Grant,  

Hickory, North Carolina

19 Comments on "Every Tie Has A Story"

  1. Thanks for sharing. FYI, the Weejuns in the add are scotch grain Logan model. Most wear the ox blood Logan model.

  2. A wonderful piece of writing. Standards and discipline. A man after my own heart.

    Kind Advent Regards,


  3. Thank you for the sharing these wonderful memories. Our son is presently in his fourth year in Knoxville and has had the opportunity to study in London. His school consists of an orange and gray stripe.

  4. Please add tie after school.

  5. Nicest piece of writing on this site in a long, long time.

  6. Every tie does indeed have a story, which makes it so disappointing when, for whatever reason, they become unwearable. The solution is to make more stories, get more ties, and care for them.

    A blessed Christmastide to all!

  7. G. Ellery Cobbold | December 21, 2022 at 3:58 pm |

    I took the train down to Midtown yesterday, to pay a visit to Squeeze. For some reason, I thought closing time was 7, not 6. When I arrived, the salesman, Nick Andry, was helping another customer. That fellow left and I told Nick I’d come back tomorrow. He wouldn’t hear of it. He locked the door, then let me try on a 16.5×34 OCBD to check the fit. I’m in a phase of gastric expansion. I said, knowing I also need a bigger blazer, “I don’t think I’m a 42 anymore.” He insisted I try on a 42 and a 44 and a 44L. Is that or is that not customer service? Hope Nick gets a nice Christmas bonus. (I bought three OCBD’s, by the way, in case you think I’d put him to all that trouble without opening the wallet.)

  8. Charlottesville | December 21, 2022 at 4:19 pm |

    Thank you, Mr. Grant. As our friend Paul has correctly observed, this is a truly fine bit of writing. Delightful stories, delightfully told.

    And to echo another comment above from Hardbopper, a blessed Christmas to all, and especially to John and his family.

  9. I, too, don’t wear a tie very often, or a suit or blazer. I still wear ocbd’s and khakis exclusively in retirement.
    I don’t own a pair of blue jeans. I never liked them.

  10. Gentlemen: Thank you for your kind comments. MacMcConnell: You are correct. The ad shows the 1965 Weejuns in the best-selling color and in scotch-grain. I wore both. Heinz-Ulrich: My father grew up during the Great Depression and served in the U.S. Army during WWII and Korea. He knew about standards and discipline, two qualities I fear are diminishing in America with each passing day. Andrew: I attended UT before Rocky Top was even written. That’s how old I am. Best of luck to your son. Paul & AuH20: Thank you for your generous comments. Hardbopper: I already have enough ties to last until I shuffle off this mortal coil. Some of them have a story I would not want to post on this forum. G.Ellery: There are salesmen and order-takers. Fortunately, Mr. Audrey was the former and not the latter. You rewarded him with your custom. And that is the way it should be. Charlottesville: We have corresponded before. I bought one of my orange and navy ties at Eljo’s many years ago. Thank you for your kind comments. Wriggles: When my grandfather was my age, he shaved with a razor each morning. He put on a clean white shirt, a tie, and the pants of a Kuppenheimer suit. And then he would sit around the house all day and read the newspaper, a magazine, or the Bible. Those days are long gone. You might want to give a pair of Levi’s or Wrangler’s a try. You might like them. (I had a customer one time who lived in Montana. He was a real cowboy. He said all cowboys wear Wrangler’s. He even had a new pair in the closet with a crease to wear to church on Sunday.) Thanks to all who responded to my article. Best Regards, James Grant

    • G. Ellery Cobbold | December 22, 2022 at 11:41 pm |

      I fondly remember your post on Southern collegiate style, Mr. Grant. Growing up in Augusta, Georgia in the ’80s and ’90s, I rarely saw a navy blazer with anything beneath it that was not khaki. No gray flannel, ever.

  11. On ties and stories, most of my favorites consist of BB factory irregulars, some 346, etc., purchased at the Garland store during my time at Ft. Bragg, NC. All the way, everyday! AA.

    And speaking of Garland, the store is a short walk from the factory. I never visited the factory. I just wonder if I could have walked in there, been measured, and purchased a few OCBDs, factory direct? At the time, BB had Oxford cloth available in some very tasteful patterns available mtm only. I have two and I could use a dozen more.

  12. Excellent writing. Hope to see more of this.

  13. Patrick Elliston | December 23, 2022 at 9:42 pm |

    For those who have not discovered the search function of this glorious site, more from Mr. Grant:

  14. Very nice post, thank you Mr. Grant.

  15. Great writing, I have many repp ties along with numerous other non-Ivy ones. Unfortunately I can no longer wear them in a wheelchair. In my last few years of work in technology I would be the only one with a tie on. It was assumed that I was a “suit” so no one asked me questions which created some amusing interchanges with clients.

  16. Lovely column. I too have a similar story of buying the official UNC tie at Julian’s in Chapel Hill, NC. It remains a special and perfect example of an Ivy repp tie in Carolina Blue and White.

  17. Great story, and you were certainly in the right place to purchase a fine tie in Jermyn Street! I had the good fortune of reading History and English at St. John’s College, Oxford, and the pub that you happened to visit in Oxford is The Bear, well-known for its extensive collection of ties. I purchased two St. John’s ties–one a traditional university stripe, the other bearing the seal of St. John’s–from Shepherd & Woodward clothiers in Oxford’s High Street. I confess, they did not ask to see any credentials! I still wear the ties today, and the striped tie, at least, is beginning to show its age.

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