My Kinda Clothes: Motif Ties

We interviewed Benton Nilson back in April. Now he takes on our regular series My Kinda Clothes, which is named for a delightful little phrase used by Charlie of The Andover Shop.

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In my eyes, motif ties are like a secret handshake but better. They not only let you hide your Ivy obsession in plain sight, but they represent some of the elements I love most about this style: subtle humor whose tongue is firmly in cheek, but executed with the same quality and seriousness as any other piece of clothing.

Some have simply repeating patterns, such as whales or golf clubs, but some tell a story that unfolds on the narrow silk canvas draped over your chest. Some even contain cryptic jokes — (IITYWTMWYBMAD – If I Tell You What This Means, Will You Buy Me A Drink?) — that range from playful to the scandalous. However, the ties usually provoke no more of a reaction for most beyond “Oh, that’s cute.”

And this is what I really love about them. I love that some motif ties can only be decrypted by those in the know. These can be a way to show the devilish mischief in your heart, to those who are willing to listen. Not only that, they’re a great way to share a laugh with someone and spark a conversation. Sure, you’ll get plenty of people rolling their eyes, but some will share a hearty laugh with you and then you’ll see who your friends really are. Either way, they’re a great way to show your personality and infuse your sense of humor to your wardrobe, and maybe a little to the world. — BENTON NILSON

11 Comments on "My Kinda Clothes: Motif Ties"

  1. I like your style Benton.

    Probably the best novelty ties on the market are made by Chipp. In addition to dog ties, ancient madder, etc. there are novelty ties that have phrases or symbols that might get you ejected from a courtroom or fancy restaurant:

  2. LeRoy Strohl | September 4, 2019 at 4:50 pm |

    OMG, back in the day I wore the Athletic Supporter tie home for a break at Penn. My mother was horrified, and of course my dad loved it…he wore it for years. I still have the ‘black sheep of the family’ and the Scottish terrier from Chipp and I have two Christmas Robert Taylor motif that are broken out annually.

    Love the new segment.

  3. Old School Tie | September 4, 2019 at 5:33 pm |

    I think their is a (not so) fine line to be drawn between motif ties and novelty ties. The former is most definitely an acceptable bit of fun, the latter is non-U taken to extremes. The difference probably comes down to subject matter or portrayal of such subject matter but it is pretty obvious when confronted by one or the other, a bit like cheap cologne….

  4. My favorite:

    Not sure if it is a motif tie or novelty… might be club.

    Cheers, BC

  5. Double harumph!

  6. Love the dog breed ties by Chipp. I have and wear (on occasion) the black poodle and West Highland White Terrier models. Good fun, and they always crack up my college students once they realize what they’re seeing. Having fun with dressing up is a foreign concept to most of them.

    Best Regards,

  7. Great article, Benton. I like that you chose to use the platform to talk about a small niche that is important to you rather than a full, overarching overview of your style; that’s an interesting way to go about it.
    My all-time favorite tie is a vintage Alynn Neckwear tie with the repeating mailbox motif in the title is “first class ‘male’” so I understand the ‘being in on the joke’ aspect. I think, despite what others here will say, Vineyard Vines does a good job with their ties and making sure they stay out of the realm of novelty. Classic Hermes ties are great too, but nothing beats a cool club tie with the crests and symbols to decipher.

  8. Charlottesville | September 5, 2019 at 11:32 am |

    As always, Mr. Nilson looks great. I wish more twenty-to-thirty-somethings would follow his lead. Or any age, really.

    I have a few ties of the sort with a pheasant, duck or similar motif. One jacquard tie has tiny sailboats woven in, even though I am not a sailor which will surely horrify some. I also have one with Santas and another with each of the gifts from The Twelve Days of Christmas woven in, which I break out for Christmas parties in December. These are admittedly clichéd, but all seem fine to me, although some of the ties I have seen out and about seem to cross Old School Tie’s invisible line, but to each his own. I don’t even have a problem with some of the Vineyard Vines stuff if it is worn at a garden party, or other informal setting. At least they are better than what the late Tom Wolfe called “pizza grenade neckties.”

  9. @Charlottesville: I had to Google what a pizza grenade necktie was, so for those who are curious: “It was the sort of tie that looked as if a pepperoni-and-olive pizza had just exploded on your shirtfront.” (p.98, from “A Man in Full.”)

    My uncle had a closet full of those ties from the 90s and early aughts. Thankfully he no longer wears those ties anymore.

  10. Charlottesville | September 5, 2019 at 12:33 pm |

    Mitchell — I well remember the look. A similar splashy tie fad moved through DC and NY in the mid to late 80s. Not quite pizza perhaps, but definitely not trad. I still see that sort of thing in department stores from time to time. Truly awful stuff. Glad your uncle outgrew it.

  11. Vern Trotter | September 8, 2019 at 7:22 pm |

    I used to see many of these I admired. No longer. I don’t like Vinyard Vines. Not distinctive at all. Or maybe too distinctive. I think the all time best were the Zodiac ties by Brooks starting in the late 1950s and sold by them for decades. Then all those by Chipp were very good.

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