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.