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Are Ties Really Dead?

While it’s increasingly rare to spot a tie in the workplace, this once-essential accessory could be making a comeback in less-expected settings.

By Todd Plumber
Wed, May 11, 2022Grey Clock 3 min

IN 2019, Christian Conner was pondering buying a membership to Soho House, a social club in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. The then-28-year-old media consultant showed up for a tour of this playground for the hipster elite in his classic “preppy with a twist” uniform—sport coat, trousers and one of his prized Gucci ties. All was going swimmingly, he recalled, until his guide turned to him and said, “Hey, you should take off your tie. We want to create a more casual atmosphere and discourage people from wearing ties.” Mr. Conner was gobsmacked. “I thought, this is crazy. This tie is cool as hell, so why would you tell me not to wear it?” (When asked for comment, a Soho House representative sent a link to the House Rules page of its website which requests that members and guests “keep it casual.”)

Interest in ties has been waning for some time, but the last two years of schlubby-comfy pandemic dressing have particularly dimmed their future. Business formal has taken on a near-death mien, and for many months, our collective dance card of tie-required events like weddings, bar mitzvahs and blowout birthday fetes was effectively erased. Even as we’ve approached a new normal, fewer and fewer back-to-the-office and party dress codes call for a smartly knotted tie. Can this once-essential accessory be saved?

Certain men feel strongly that it should, yet even some professionals who once wore ties daily now hesitate to sport them to work for fear of being teased. Investor George Birman, 33, of Shelter Island, N.Y., spent years building out his tie repertoire for business dinners, client meetings and the like. His prized collection now sits “neatly folded in its drawer,” lonely and dusty, he said. “And if I show up to the office with a tie these days, someone will make a joke and ask, ‘How was your interview?’”

Even so, the tie market isn’t quite catatonic. According to Macy’s men’s general business manager Sam Archibald, ties are having “healthier…momentum than what we expected” in 2022 so far. The days of widespread office-mandated ties may well be over, but “occasion-based” ties are moving. “You see less of what you would see as a ‘banker’s tie’ and much more business in what I would call ‘casual neckwear,’ said Mr. Archibald. “Brights and prints are definitely working. Floral neckwear is working for us.”

Smaller retailers also have noticed the shift to party-time ties. Larry Mahoney, longtime manager of the Andover Shop, a menswear store in Cambridge, Mass., remembers when ties were a “prominent part of any well-dressed man’s wardrobe,” and you wouldn’t dare head to the office, dinner or a professional engagement without one around your neck. “I would say that maybe 10 years ago, the tie started to begin its decline, although it did hold its ground for a while.” Today, the shop’s tie business, he said, is driven more by men heading to events than businessmen.

The tie can also still be found on the fringes of culture, in communities that historically haven’t worn ties. Leon Elias Wu, founder of Los Angeles gender-inclusive custom suiting brand SharpeHaus, sees the tie as less of a sober, wear-to-work proposition these days and more of a novelty fashion statement, especially when its traditional maleness—and its traditional function as a tool to help one fit in—is undercut. “Just throwing on a tie because it’s an occasion doesn’t work for everybody,” he said. “But look at what Avril Lavigne did with the tie 20 years ago—it can totally be used to make a statement,” whether you’re a formal guy, a female rocker or just a person trying to stand out.

Three Guys on the Ties They’ll Never Ditch

Ties aren’t just formal fashion accessories—they can hold sentimental value. Here, notable neckwear devotees shed light on the ties they’ll forever hold dear.

Ken Fulk

Interior Designer

I’m a creature of my upbringing—of my preppy years growing up in Virginia when I had every color Izod shirt, every color Polo shirt, wore them religiously and washed all of them until they were pastels. I remember this beautiful ritual of my father standing behind me and showing me how to tie different tie knots—and I still have this blue and yellow repp stripe tie from Eljo’s in Charlottesville.”

Michael Strahan

Television Personality and former New York Giants Defensive End

“Most of my ties remind me of special moments. When I went up to space [with Jeff Bezos on Blue Origin in 2021] I got some space ties with spaceships and stars and rockets…That’s the great thing about a tie. It can have its own individual story. It’s something you can share or keep close to yourself…But the one tie I’ll never part with is a black tie. A straight-up black tie.”

Simon Kim

Restaurateur

“I have about 75 ties, and 90% of them are Hermès. But I have this one Hermès tie that my sister gave me. She is an art dealer with very meticulous taste. It has a red background with little blue-and-white turtles. She gave it to me when I was straight out of college and whenever I wore that tie to an interview, I had a 100% success rate in landing the job.”

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: May 10, 2022.

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