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Power Tie-in

the-spirit

From the trailers for The Spirit, it seems that the forthcoming movie is about some kind of masked comic-book hero in a fedora and trenchcoat. The film’s true star, however, is a red tie forever flapping in the wind.

Bondage by Tom Ford

The Los Angeles Times has a long but excellent article on the new wardrobe 007 in Quantum of Solace, the latest James Bond movie. Ditching Brioni, Bond now has Tom Ford as his custom tailor. That helps to explain the above three-piece suit, a style Ford has tried to re-popularize in recent years. While a three-piece is appropriate now that the franchise is looking back to its early years (e.g., Sean Connery wore one in Goldfinger), it’s a shame that the vest was cut so voluminously and short. Also, Connery’s Bond knew not to fasten the bottom button.

In any case, Ford, acting like a sartorial Q, at least gave Bond some tricks up his pants:

one of Bond’s coolest secret weapons this time around is a small button tab inside the cuff of each trouser leg that never has a second of screen time, and whose sole purpose is to keep 007’s pant legs precisely where they should be

Izzy has never before heard of such a thing, and is curious how it works. Another interesting tidbit from the article is that the costume designer

desperately wanted to source a very specific, very expensive suiting fabric known as “mohair tonic,” a wool-cashmere blend with a subtle sheen not unlike that of a subdued sharkskin suit. “It was extremely popular in the ’60s; all the Mods and all the wannabe Bonds wore it,” she said. “I’m sure Sean Connery would have worn it at least once.” According to a Ford rep, when a sufficient quantity could not be found, the Tom Ford team developed the proprietary fabric to specification in its Italian mills (and cloaked in Bond-worthy industrial secrecy, she declined to identify the specific mill).

Note that the costume designer does not say that Bond himself ever wore such shiny fabric, which, whatever its merits, has never been considered high class.

X Marks the Toff

Hackett tie with bowler hat and crossed umbrellas

Of all the items on eBay Izzy has missed bidding on, this Hackett necktie is truly the one that got away.  Featuring a bowler hat and umbrellas arranged like a skull and crossbones, it is the ultimate accoutrement of the Anglophile dandy.

On Tightening One’s Belt

James Cook of Turnbull & Asser

If this interview of James Cook, the bespoke manager of Turnbull & Asser, can be trusted, economic downturns turn out to be booms not just for bankruptcy lawyers but high-end conservative tailoring.   According to Cook (who, incidentally, wears his jacket sleeves unusually short—perhaps to show off T&A’s best work: their shirts?):

In the 90’s, many Americans came into Turnbull & Asser in London and every single person was talking of the dot com craze and how they would never have to buy a tie again. They were only ordering shirts. And then there was a massive crash, and everyone went back to a tie because the Bank Manager showed up, or the Finance Minister. Gradually people started wearing less and less ties again until this recession.

You notice in this recession that people are dressing up again. Every time that [an economic downturn] happens, people have to get suits and shirts. They have to sharpen themselves up again.

Everyone forgets about history; the shirt, the tie and the suit never change. I don’t know why people think it is okay to be casual at work…. [I]f I show up and my bank manager isn’t suitably attired, I am not going to trust that person with my money. Same thing with my lawyer.

The Wright Stuff

Paul Stuart propeller tie bar

Although nautical motifs in menswear are as common as barnacles, aeronautical references (with the exception of flight jackets and aviator glasses) are as rare as a test pilot who has lived to old age.   Paul Stuart bucks that trend with this elegant propeller tie-bar made of sterling silver.  It certainly has an impressive visual thrust-to-weight ratio.

Madras Makes Your Eyes Bleed

madras nightmare

A little while back, the folks at Kempt analyzed the ultra-preppy style of Southampton, New York.  No doubt schooled at a radical madras-a, these men are in effect saying, “I’m so rich I can buy a hideous jacket I wear once a year as a joke.”  But even worse is the implied incivility: by wearing such obnoxious jackets, paired with clashing bow ties no less, the men are showing little concern for the eyeballs of anyone else.

Filmed in Bandanarama

Peter Bogdanovich with bandanna

Izzy is more than a bit fascinated by the appearance of film directors, whose line of work makes them especially attune to visuals. Hence, he was especially happy to see an interview of Peter Bogdanovich about his trademark bandanna:

You have developed a very distinct signature style of wearing ascots. How did that start?

They are not ascots. An ascot is usually silk and an English thing. I’m just wearing a bandanna; it’s not so fancy. Most of the time they are cotton and different sizes. It started when I was shooting The Last Picture Show in Texas, and I liked wearing it because it made me feel secure. I don’t know why. But it feels cozy, and I kept wearing it.

Do you wear one when you are not working or making a professional appearance?

Yeah, I wear them all the time. When I make a professional appearance, I sometimes wear a tie so as not to be too unusual.

Do you think the bandanna is quite unusual?

People seem to have caught on and it seems to be a big deal.

How do you tie it?

Over and under, and over and under, twice until it’s a knot.

Do you think personal style is a professional asset?

Yes, until it gets mannered. I may have to stop doing this because it may get too mannered. But I prefer it to a tie.

So why don’t you stop?

It feels comfortable – I’d feel bereft if I got rid of it. The New Yorker ran a piece about me and they had a shot of me tying the bandanna and I though, “Christ, it’s getting to be a bit much.” But, you know….

But you do recognize that it has become part of your brand identity.

Yes, it has.

There is something else I do all the time that nobody seems to have noticed, something I picked up from Audrey Hepburn. When I did a picture with Audrey in 1980 called They All Laughed, I noticed that she never buttoned the buttons on her sleeves, and I asked her about it and she said, “It’s more comfortable this way!” And I tried that and it is more comfortable. I was never thinking about a product or brand; I just started dressing this way because I like it.

Has anyone ever said anything negative about your bandanna?

I think some people are annoyed because they think it’s an affectation. My friend Jerry Lewis hates it; he says it reminds him of a director from the 30s. But I ignore him, and he forgives me.
[…]

Who are your style icons?

Cary Grant; and I knew him too. The first time I went into his office he said, “Is that a Brooks Brothers jacket?” I said, “Yes.” And he said, “Right off the rack, right? They’re great.”

[…]
Do you have any advice for other professionals creating a logo?

Wear what feels comfortable and feels good on you. I wore a bandanna on every picture since The Last Picture Show, but I didn’t wear it in everyday life. Then I thought, “Why shouldn’t I? I should do it all the time.” It could still be a distant echo of wanting to be a cowboy.

Only at the end of the interview does Bogdanovich hint at the real reason of the bandanna: it reminds people of his long-past glory days following the release of his one big hit, The Last Picture Show, which not coincidentally was set in small-town Texas. And as for why no one notices his other sartorial signature, his not buttoning his cuffs, he should realize that that bandanna hogs people’s attention. In any case, one idiosyncracy should have been enough.

A Natty Tie

Ben Silver natte tieBen Silver natte tie close-up
The key to choosing a solid-colored necktie is the texture of the fabric.   Izzy contends that a totally smooth silk tie almost always looks cheap, no matter how much you paid for it. A better choice would be something like this pastel tie from Ben Silver woven in natte, a fine basket weave.

Niles Tributary

Niles Crane

If Izzy may be permitted a little immodesty, he was pleased as spiked punch to discover that the Guardian has praised his humble blog.  In the immortal words of that British newspaper, what you are reading is “a splendid American fashion blog that appears to be written by Niles off Frasier.”  As for the comparison to the fictional Dr. Niles Crane, a neurotic Jungian psychiatrist (is that redundant?), Izzy will accept it insofar as Niles was both over-educated and fastidious in his taste in art, culture, and clothes, even if he occasionally fell for 1990s fads seen above: shirts with narrow collars and widely-spaced stripes, impressionistic ties, and double-breasted suits with fat lapels rolled to the bottom button. Happily, in the show’s later seasons, Niles rarely needed sartorial therapy.

Overly Big Willie Style

Will Smith in three-piece suit

While attending the premier of his latest movie, Will Smith boldly wore an unusual three-piece, peak-lapel suit with a shepherd’s check and black detailing around the button holes.  Unfortunately, the gape in the in shirt collar and the billowing fabric in his vest make it look like his outfit was a cheap formal-wear rental, unlike the custom job it presumably was.

Business Casual-ty

Ben Stein in necktie

Conservative curmudgeon Ben Stein, himself never seen in public without a necktie—whether a militantly preppy one with dogs on it, or a militantly elitist one from Yale Law School—recently responded on TV to the supposed demise of the tie.  Apparently he always keeps his high horse tethered nearby:

You see this lovely silken thing around my neck? It’s called a necktie.

When I was a lad and a younger man, men wore these to show they did not work with picks and shovels and pitchforks.

Ties were a symbol of white collar status, although even some workmen wore them under their leather aprons.

If you had on a necktie, it showed you had some sense of organization, some sense of dignity about yourself.

Even schoolboys wore them. At fabulous boarding schools like Cardigan Mountain in New Hampshire, where my handsome son went, boys still wear them. It showed, to use a word that you rarely hear, class.

Now, I read in The Wall Street Journal, on the front page, if you please, that men don’t wear neckties any longer unless they are in subservient posts.

This will probably come as a bit of a surprise to Senators McCain and Obama, as well as to President Bush. They generally wear neckties, at least on TV.

It will probably come as a shock to all of the network newscasters and the late night talk show hosts. They’re the coolest guys on the planet, and they wear neckties.

But never mind. The Journal says only 6% of men wear neckties to work, and the necktie is being run down by history.

I hereby quote my late great friend Bill Buckley and say, I am going to stand in front of the train of sartorial history and shout, “STOP!”

The necktie is a sign of a man who is there to work, not to play. It’s what a man who takes his responsibilities seriously wears. Men who want to look and act like small children dress like small children, or surfers, or hoboes, or something.

Plus, the necktie covers over a little part of one’s paunchy stomach. And it just generally makes a man look better, smarter.

My fellow men: stop dressing like children. Start dressing like grownups and acting like grownups. The necktie is a start.

Kids, it’s the perfect time of year to get your dads a necktie. Get with the program, before we become a nation of open-collared slackers.

I mean it. Right now. And then straighten up your room.

The Bowing Out of the Necktie

man cutting necktie

Recently, The Wall Street Journal published a (to Izzy) depressing story on the state of the world of accessories:

After 60 years, the Men’s Dress Furnishings Association, the trade group that represents American tie makers, is expected to shut down Thursday.

Association members now number just 25, down from 120 during the 1980s power-tie era. U.S. tie companies have been consolidating. Others have closed because of overseas competition as the U.S. market share for American-made ties has fallen to about 40%, from 75% in 1995.

Members have lost interest. But the biggest reason for the group’s demise: Men aren’t wearing ties.

According to a recent Gallup Poll, the number of men who wore ties every day to work last year dropped to a record low of 6%, down from 10% in 2002. U.S. sales have plummeted to $677.7 million in the 12 months ending March 31, from their peak of $1.3 billion in 1995, according to market researcher NPD Group. Although sales are expected to get a bump around Father’s Day, June 15, the future of neckties is very much in doubt.

But perhaps the saddest part the article was its mention of makers, and even popularizers, of neckties not wearing them themselves:

Scott Sternberg, 33, who founded the Band of Outsiders tie label in 2004, has quickly developed a following of young hipsters who buy his skinny ties, sold at stores including Jeffrey, Barneys New York and Ron Herman.

He says younger men find wearing ties more interesting today when they are “outside of obligation.” While he himself wears a tie on “whims and special occasions,” Mr. Sternberg admits that he doesn’t wear one to the office on a regular basis. “Ties get in the way,” he says.

To Izzy, this sartorial hypocrisy is good evidence that for Sternberg and his ilk wearing a tie is merely a matter of fleeting fashion, not enduring style.

Although the article doesn’t mention them as possible explanations for the demise of the tie, Izzy suspects that two major factors are the unfortunate decline of formality in all aspects of social life (whether in manners, rhetoric, etc.) as well as the widespread opposition to anything that smack of inhibition or self-restraint.

 

 

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