Raising the Bar: An Appreciation of the Bar Stripe Necktie

Frequent comment-leaver Old School offers this appreciation of the bar stripe necktie, also known as Brooks Brothers’ #3 stripe.

It all started in my freshman year in college in 1961. My French professor was an Englishman who came to school every day in a black suit, white broadcloth shirt, and a bar stripe necktie — a style also favored by Fred Astaire and JFK. The tie had so much class it didn’t matter that he never changed it.

But in spite of my admiration for the distinguished, ambassadorial appearance of the tie, I never actually acquired one until I turned 65 and decided it was time to retire all the regimental and patterned red ties in my wardrobe. I switched to exclusively navy and black ties, either with a discreet pattern, Churchill dot, or the bar stripe in navy with stripes of gold, white or red, or black with white stripes.

The school ties of Westminster, Eton, Cheltenham, Princeton, Dartmouth, North Carolina State, Auburn, Towson, and Virginia Tech are all slight variations on the bar stripe. According to Ben Silver, the bar stripe is also the motif of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, Merton College, The Old Connaught Rangers, and The Royal Sussex 4th Battalion.

Variations on the bar stripe come down to the thickness of the stripe and the distance between stripes (or their direction, as in the “Rep Blazer Stripe” from Turnbull & Asser). I have ties from Brooks Brothers, J. Press and Ralph Lauren. The Brooks stripes are .5 centimeters in width, while the distance between stripes is 2.7. The Polo stripes are the same width, but the distance between them is 2.5 centimeters. J. Press’ stripes are .6 centimeters in width, with an inter-stripe distance of 3 centimeters.

Of the three, I find Brooks Brothers’ measurements to be the most aesthetically pleasing. The J. Press tie looks fine by itself, but when contrasted with the Brooks version, the slight difference makes it look a bit bold.

Far more conservative than multi-width, multi-colored regimental stripes, and more distinctive than a solid navy or black tie, I find the bar stripe to be the tie I automatically reach for. In fact, if I had only one necktie, it would be the BB#3 Repp in navy and white. In fact, I’ve just placed an order with the Brothers Brooks for duplicates of the ties I already have, just in case something happens to them or Brooks stops making them. — OLD SCHOOL

Fred Astaire was so fond of the bar stripe he wore it all his life — some 40 or 50 years. Here are some shots of him through the years:

40 Comments on "Raising the Bar: An Appreciation of the Bar Stripe Necktie"

  1. I love ties – and your article is a great read. Fred Astaire and Cary Grant wore them with subtle elegance. Found your personal trend interesting.

    Great post.

  2. How is Towson, Virginia Tech (VPI in the old days), or NC State an example of ivy school fashion?

    Towson is a glorified community college outside Baltimore while VPI and NC State are third rate schools in each respective state. Behind W&M, UVA; and UNC, DUKE of course.

    Next I’ll hear that schools in California besides Berkeley and Stanford are preppy.

    Good article though minus these details.

  3. Ralph, your point is rather weakened by the suggestion that there’s anything preppy about Berkeley.

  4. The resilience of the barstripe is so great that what was once the appurtenance of exclusive British regiments and colleges has, for many, become the epitome of the “old school tie”, far beyond the confines of the Halls of Ivy, without losing any of its original cachet, whatsoever. If anything, perhaps it may have ever-so-slightly contributed to elevating the standard of dress of alumni of institutions of less academic repute: one cannot help looking like a gentleman when one is sporting the bar stripe–it imparts immediate distinction upon the wearer.

  5. Vern Trotter | January 4, 2011 at 7:39 am |

    I have always preferred the Brooks #3 stripe although I also like the #1 and #2. In addition, they look good as a bow.

    Americans should not wear stripes while in the U.K. because it is insulting to the regiments, schools and clubs they might denote unless one belongs. It is for this reason the stripes of American ties run the other way.

    I never saw JFK wearing a bar stripe.

  6. H.K. Rahman | January 4, 2011 at 9:10 am |

    Great article, as usual. Certainly my favorite of BB’s tie offerings.

    To Vern, who wrote: “Americans should not wear stripes while in the U.K. because it is insulting to the regiments, schools and clubs they might denote unless one belongs.”

    Are you kidding me? I’ve read and heard this nonsense before, and say the Brits who would be insulted by this nonsense need to chill the fuck out.

  7. Let me start off by agreeing with H.K. — this is a great article. I, too, am the proud owner of a BB #3 in navy and white.

    As for Americans not wearing stripes in the UK, that argument assumes that all Brits who wear stripes belong, or belonged to, a regiment, school or club, which as we all know is complete and utter nonsense. Shockingly, some British people just wear regimental stripes because they look nice. I doubt those folks get a lot of static from their peers about their neckwear choice at the local pub.

    I think that anyone in Britain who had enough free time to worry about such things would also notice that yes, American stripes run the opposite way, and are not intended to bamboozle unsuspecting Brits into thinking that some Yank was in the service of HRH during some glorious campaigns in colonial Burma.

  8. Vern Trotter | January 4, 2011 at 9:57 am |

    When I worked for the tie buyer at Brooks, Stan Birdsey, a retired Royal Marine, in 1959-60, I was so informed. You can do whatever you want, of course. You will just be thought of as an ignorant Yank and life will go on.

  9. The old school tie thing ius alive in DC, I was a research affilate at an Ivy League University for a short while and it iwas noted on my bio. I gave a presentation in my old unit tie. As I started giving my presentation, two learned gents to me left sitting together waved their same university ties at me. I later went and bought a school tie. I had been told!

  10. Well, I suppose being thought of as an ignorant Yank by someone who judges intelligence by neckwear choice isn’t too much of a bad thing. I’ve been called worse — although it does raise the intriguing question of who the “real” ignoramus is….

    And, with all due respect for age and tradition, one man’s opinion from 50 years ago hardly counts as the KJV of sartorial wisdom. I’m sure ol’ Fred Astaire didn’t lose too much sleep over it, and he knew a thing or two about style himself.

  11. I think we would be wise to heed this advice and be careful about wearing striped ties in Commonwealth countries. It seems to me a matter of consideration for those who are entitled to wear them. However, I understand it’s OK if the stripes go the other way (a Brooks innovation, I hear); is this correct, Vern?

    I have a couple of pseudo-bar stripe ties. Both look like bar stripes from a distance, but closer inspection reveals the bars to be made of three stripes: two darker ones on the outside, and a lighter one in the middle. They retain their somber authoritativeness, yet have extra interest. Perfect for meetings.

  12. Vern Trotter | January 4, 2011 at 1:35 pm |

    I have worn the stripes going the other way, (the Guard stripe, by Brooks) in London and in the best clubs in St. James. It happened because I was unprepared and could not change. I was not comfortable but because I was in the presence of gentleman, I was given a pass. Most were sympathetic to my predicament.

    It is a gentleman’s thing; one should never wear a Yale sweatshirt if one did not attend Yale. A waiver is permitted if your son is the quarterback.

  13. Thank you for the thoughtful response, Vern.

    I feel the same way about college sweatshirts: I will not wear one unless I either attended or taught at the school in question. In my case, that allows for not quite a dozen different sweatshirts.

  14. Great article. I, too, recently made a move away from red and towards darker, more subdued ties, specifically some navy conservative patterned ties and a black knit tie, all of which I purchased used. I think I may now add a brand new bb #3 to those.

    I wonder whether commenters are a bit too concerned with whether one may wear stripes in the UK. If you are an American abroad and you have the sense to wear any tie at all, I imagine you are ahead of the curve anyway. I also think that etiquette would compel the host to be gracious about the guest’s sartorial customs and not the other way around.

    I find Vern’s prohibition of wearing collegiate sweatshirts with the name or crest of a school one did not attend dubious. I attended the University of Wisconsin, and I am awfully proud of that (and heartbroken over this year’s Rose Bowl) but I also enjoy wearing University of Delaware shirts (I was born in Wilmington) and many other collegiate emblems. Many people who are fans of a school’s sports program but did not attend enjoy wearing the school’s colors or emblems with no harm felt by anyone, and so on.

    Ralph: Berkeley is no more preppy than Hampshire College, Stanford no more than NYU. That said, I invite students at all institutions to dress like I do–or any other way they want.

  15. Matin–I think they were signaling that they wanted to take you home after the presentation.

  16. A truly classy piece, about a truly classic piece of clothing… I was a bit skeptical as the fishing rod suspeded from my wall is hung with an onsalught of colored ties, plaid, paisley and all sorts of crests and seals- but I have to say I’m liking the whole stick-with-one-classic idea..Well done Old Skool.

  17. I’m pleased to share that Brooks Brothers keeps their classic striped ties (as well as a few solids and dots) in stock from season to season. No need to worry that come Fall Brooks will deem the striped tie “out”. All of the neckwear with a “#” are indeed considered basics; these specific colors and patterns that are in constant production.

    Also worth noting is that, within these swatch options, special order ties are available. Be it slim, wide, bow, extra-long, or anything else you might need, Brooks’ classic Repp selection can be tailored to your liking.

  18. Scott,

    When I see Brooks Brothers producing stuff like this:


    I really do start to seriously worry that the day may come when their classic basics decrease in number and eventually disappear.

  19. Agree. The BB blue/white bar stripe is a great tie that goes with almost anything.

  20. Jist found another photo of JFK wearing a bar stripe tie:


  21. JFK in a bar stripe tie on the Jack Paar Show, 1960:

  22. I know this post is really old but I don’t care.
    I am intrigued by The claim of Virginia Tech’s school tie being a bar stripe. Both my parents graduated from there and I’ve been through campus stores and looked through old pictures but I’ve never seen an “official” Virginia tech school tie. I essentially assumed they didn’t exist. If you or anyone has a picture of link to one I’d love to see it. The only tech related ties I’ve seen are those cheap novelty ones sold on the campus bookstore.

  23. Jake
    I doubt there are many official university bar striped ties, The point is to get a tie with the school colors.

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