Setting The Bar High: Boyer on the Ups and Downs of Tie Bars

No doubt fueled in part by the popularity of “Mad Men,” tie bars have become ubiquitous. But while there’s general consensus that they’re in vogue, there’s less agreement about how they should be placed: high or low, straight or angled. We asked legendary menswear author G. Bruce Boyer to give us his take.

In the 1950s, what I call “shirt jewelry” — i.e., collar pin, tie bar, and cuff links —  was taken for granted. A man, regardless of his age, would have worn all three items if he wanted to create an impression. Even young men in high school wore shirt jewelry. The most popular collar style at the time was the rounded club collar worn with a collar pin.

But by the end of the ’50s jewelry began to disappear from the masculine wardrobe. I have no sociological or aesthetic reason to offer, and did not begin to return until the invention of the silk knot cuff links of the ’70s. The tie bar has followed discreetly in the wake, and there has been some resurgence among dandies for the collar pin.

Exactly how to wear the tie bar is of course a matter of taste and preference, but the various ways do connote an aura. A bar worn higher up than the midpoint of the tie reflects a more Edwardian aesthetic, which echoes the stickpins of the early 20th century. Worn angled and on the lower half of the tie is a bit more modern, emanating from the 1930s. The look of the moment seems to be for the bar to be worn very high, so that it shows above the lapel spread of a high-buttoned coat.

Personally I prefer the modern approach, wearing the bar somewhere on the lower third of the tie and angled downward a la Fred Astaire. Men who wear their bars at midpoint or higher and straight across always remind me of Midwestern grain salesmen, no matter how elegantly they may otherwise be dressed. They seem to be trying too hard: It’s much too studied. Self-confidence is signaled to others through simplicity, understatement and discretion when it comes to wearing jewelry. — G. BRUCE BOYER

Top image, high and straight at J. Press. Below, mid, straight and short for Thom:

Ditto for Pete:

Low and straight for John Gavin (see our post on him here):

Dressed by Flusser, it’s the ’30s look for Gekko:

As originally demonstrated by Fred:

Finally, Ralph Lauren has generally been styling tie bars angled downwards. For Fall, however, only two outfits for the look book include tie bars, and these were shot angled horizontally.

Click to see tie bars by Paul Stuart, Brooks Brothers, J. Crew, and J. Press.

17 Comments on "Setting The Bar High: Boyer on the Ups and Downs of Tie Bars"

  1. I do as I was taught, and Marine Corps regulations taught me to place the tie clasp midway between the 3rd and 4th buttons from the top – Parallel to the deck. If I see one anywhere else, it just doesn’t look right to me.

  2. Well, military dress isn’t exactly known for nonchalance and sprezzatura.

    I prefer low and angled myself.

  3. Thanks, as always, to Valet for grabbing the story:

  4. They seem to be trying too hard, is what i think when i see an angled tie bar worn low,

    each to their own, i like mine high to keep the tie curved slightly away from the shirt.
    coincidentally between the 3rd and 4th button.

  5. I wear it the proper way. Straight across

  6. I find a tie bar a refreshing change of pace with certain of my vintage ties that lack a keeper. I go for near the 4th button (usually just below), ever-so-slightly angled down.

    A military tie bar in the context of a uniform looks good straight across. A civilian tie bar–not so much.

  7. A tie bar is meant to keep the tie neat and out of the way. Wearing it up high never made sense to me. It seems like up high is some kind of recent thing stylists have been pushing. It drives me crazy when you see it like that in a J. Crew catalog sticking out over the sides of the tie.

  8. Straight and between the 3rd and 4th buttons, never above or below the shirt pocket. Also must be visable with a jacket on. why hide it?

  9. I’m all for a discussion of the “correct” or “proper” way to wear any given accessory. But, what I appreciate most about the tie bar is it simple variety. Most tie bar look similar or identical from a far, but where a man places it–high, low, straight, angled–says volumes about the style of the man and the man himself. Rarely does something so small say so much. I remember reading a post taken from Patricia Highsmith’s “Talented Mister Ripely” which praised the small simple wardrobe. The tie bar seems to exemplify this efficiency of use. I think it’s the essence of great men’s style: elegance and subtlety in choice.

  10. Gregorius Mercator | August 5, 2010 at 7:43 am |

    I hadn’t thought about the tie curling effect, so I guess there is a logical reason to place it high. I personally prefer to keep it somewhere around the middle so that it serves its utilitarian purpose of keeping the tie from flying all over the place throughout the day.

  11. The base of the sternum always feels like the right place for me–just slightly visible when the jacket is buttoned. I have an orderly personality, so I can’t imagine intentionally wearing it so that it lists to one side…

  12. Then again, there is the dégagé use of a collar pin as a tie bar. Fred Astaire liked to do it, and he always wore his tie bars/pins at a rakish angle.

    Then again, most of us (including me) don’t have as much style in our whole bodies as he had in his toe jam.

  13. That reminds me, Henry, that when P. Sears Schoonmaker sent me the photos for his profile, I asked him about the tie bar. Turned out to be one of those jotter pens! Now that’s some style.

    And worn angled downward, as I recall.

  14. Mostly I like the thumb print clasp from J. Press, worn low as to not be seen when the coat is buttoned. In addition, they have the large safety pin but it leaves a hole so I only use it for knit ties.

  15. Christian,

    P. Sears is an incredibly well-dressed and stylish man. Can you find a few more people like him to do articles about?


    I believe the safety pin-like contraption is actually a collar pin, and its use as a tie bar is something that Fred Astaire did. In some of his movies, Fred left his jacket open in certain scenes, leaving whatever he used as a clasp or pin on display.

    I don’t like poking holes in my ties, but I could see using a pin on a knit tie.

  16. I’m happy to see this return–such a great opportunity for art in daily dress.

  17. With the coat closed a tie bar must be invisible (this means PUT IT LOW).
    A tie bar too much high is vulgar.

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