The following is a repost of a post from my old, now defunct, blog – Adventures in Missing the Point.
The necktie originally served a purpose, although today its only purpose is to bring its wearer to near asphyxiation. As with all things that are useless, we can thank the French.
When Romans Were Men and the French Were Decent Fighters
The Roman legionaires wore what was known as a focale – a simple kerchief wrapped about the neck for wiping your face and protecting your neck in the cold.
Centuries later, in 1661, Louis XIV noticed Croatian mercenaries wearing similar handkerchiefs around their necks, and seeing the instant fashion value he rushed home and appointed one of his courtiers as “tie maker for the king.” This person’s sole responsibility was to help the king arrange and knot his elaborate neckties. And people wonder why the French don’t win wars anymore.
The Modern Torture Apparatus
For centuries since, men have been tortured by having to wear useless slips of fabric around their necks at the office, in school and in church. Since the French did it, it must be cool. In many ways, the French of the 17th and 18th century were like the “Gangsta rappers” of today. Everyone tried to look like them but just winds up being laughed at. I mean, would you take George Washington seriously if he was standing in front of you in tights?
During the following two centuries, the tie was worn in various styles. Men desparately tried to get rid of them, but instead, their wives made them wear frilly ties with lace fringe. There is just nothing more masculine then lace, am I right?
It was the 1800’s when the Victorian fashion of the starched collar became popular. Now, not only did men get to enjoy the sublime comfort of a knotted piece of material around the neck; they also got to wear a collar with the consistency of sandpaper that encircled their neck, chafing off skin and eliminating any capacity for the lateral movement of the head.
In 1925 the American tie maker Jesse Langdorsf patented a long tie, less crumpled and more stable, sewn from three pieces of fabric and cut to a taper. The modern tie was born, and immediately people began tying it incorrectly.
Speaking of tying the knot incorrectly, allow me some literary indulgences. Oscar Wilde in his “The Importance of Being Earnest” said:
“A well-tied tie is the first serious step in life.”
As evidenced by his boring and often pointless plays, Mr. Wilde really needed a life. Thinking like this is the reason that no one knows who he is anymore.
At last count, there are four accepted methods of tying a necktie.
1. The Windsor Knot – aka the RIGHT way.
2. The Half-Windsor Knot – aka the SLOPPY way.
3. The Four-in-Hand Knot – aka the SKINNY TIE method.
4. The Pratt Knot – aka the USELESS BRITISH system
Once again, a literary allusion, this time from Molire’s immortal The Wife School.
“A sacred knot will unite us until tomorrow.”
I’m pretty sure that has NOTHING to do with tying ties, but it makes me sound splendiferously scholarly. However, let me comment that if you don’t use a Windsor knot, or at least a Pratt knot, your knot is not sacred at all. Stick with polo shirts because you look ridiculous. Hey, I hate the things, but if I have to wear them then I’m gonna look good in them.
In 1820, an anonymous Frenchman said:
“With the tie I take perfect care: it is the true ritual of elegance. I labor persistently for hours so that it appears tied haphazardly.”
Hence the reason he remained anonymous – as all Frenchmen should.
In short, the necktie is a particularly useless thing. Even its original purpose (which was probably something cool like staunching blood flow from neck wounds) is gone. Now, its only purpose is to clash with our shirt or our shoes, and with the modern pastel combos, even that purpose is fading.
The tie is a dying accessory and rather than declaring it an endangered species, I think we should give it a pleasant funeral, share some wacky anecdotes and memories then dump it in a shallow grave and start the party.