On the surface, a tie isn’t an overly complex item of clothing, though the more you learn about their various methods of construction, the more you realise that they vary greatly from maker to maker.
Choosing a tie that will last a long time and always look good is made much easier when you know the few key things to look for which make all the difference.
Fold count is irrelevant:
It’s become popular to market a ties quality based on the number of folds it has. Years ago, a 7 fold tie (folded in on itself 7 times and generally without any lining) was seen as the benchmark for luxury and quality, the reasoning being that it it required more silk to make and added a great deal of fullness to the finished product.
It’s no longer surprising to now see 11 fold ties manufactured with the same methodology being applied (more silk, more cost, more fullness). As much marketing goes into the finished product, it remains largely irrelevant. As with most things, it comes down to balance. The thickness of the cloth needs to be properly balanced with the construction method and it takes an expert to know that balance. A 3 fold tie with the right weight of cloth and lining will look (and knot) much better than a 7 fold tie with the wrong cloth which is too thick. One of my favourite ties is from Anna Matuozzo in Naples, it’s a linen 3 fold, has no lining and it’s perfect. Anna and Simona know how to find the right balance and, as a result, the tie works. I’m all for ties with a high fold count (I own several 7 folds) and when the right balance is found, they can be great, just don’t make it a primary consideration when choosing a tie.
Quality and size of the knot:
A lot of us won’t even try on a tie before buying it. If the colours and feel of it seem OK, that’s usually enough to make a decision. Problem is, if a tie won’t reliably hold a knot, it will drive you quietly crazy within a few wears. If the cloth won’t bind against itself, the knot will constantly slip, leaving a gap between the top of your tie and your collar, forcing you to constantly adjust it. So, if you have the opportunity, try the tie on, shift it around a little bit and get a feel for how well the knot holds. Once you’ve found a maker who you’re confident with (as I am with Drake’s) you can then be reasonably confident in picking up more of their ties in the future without having to worry about trying them on. My feeling with Drake’s is that they’re as bothered about this stuff as I am, so they’re unlikely to produce a tie which they’re not equally happy with.
Secondly, make sure the size of the knot suits your proportions. If you use a traditional four-in-hand knot (widely regarded as the only true tie knot) you’ll want to make sure the size of the knot suits the tie. If an overly thick wool or silk is used, it often appears too chunky for anyone of a standard-ish build, but may look perfect on someone who’s 6.4′ and broad shouldered. This leads nicely into the next point; width.
I’m 5’10 and slimmish. A 9 centimetre wide tie (measured at its widest point) looks ridiculous on me, yet a 7 or 8 centimetre tie is perfect. It’s a small change, but very noticeable. Put that same 9 centimetre tie on the 6.4′ guy mentioned above and odds are he’ll look great. Find your sweet spot, then you can reliably choose ties with that measurement from then on. Length also matters, but if a tie is a little long, you can always slip the rear blade into your waist band. I still do it with several of my ties and anyone who has a problem with you doing this is being overly precious and fussy.
Bias cut and slip stitch:
Quality ties are cut on the bias, (the weave runs diagonally across the tie, which you can see if you look closely at surface of the cloth). This gives them the ability to spring back consistently to their original shape, even with all the pulling and tugging they receive from being being tied and untied. Bias cut ties are not as rare as they used to be, but they remain just as important as ever. If you’ve read my Hermes article, slip stitches are covered there in detail. A slip stitch combined with a tie cut on the bias means your tie will always go back to where it’s meant to be.
This one is a lot harder to assess, and will end up coming from knowing and trusting the manufacturer. Silk goes through a number of treatments before and after it’s dyed. How it is treated will have a lasting effect on your tie. During the dying process a number of gums adhere to the silk making it stiff and slightly more rough to the touch. These gums need to be removed for the silk to soften. Mills who really care about this process will put a lot of care into the silk after it’s dyed, but most do the bare minimum and move on. Hermes is famous for the secrecy around its gum removal process but few would argue about the quality and handle of their silk. When you first pick up a new silk tie, if it’s been well cared for during the pre and post dye phases, it will feel soft and malleable. If it hasn’t been properly treated, it will feel fairly stiff and cardboard like. The problem is, if the issue is due to poor gum removal there’s a good chance it won’t ever soften. Again, this will end up coming back to trusting the manufacturer and knowing they pay attention during this part of the process.
Final word on care:
If and when your ties need cleaning, take them to a high quality or specialist cleaners. The chemicals used in most dry-cleaners will damage silk and delicate material. If you’ve spent a few hundred dollars on a tie, spend a bit on having it cleaned properly.
Always untie your tie. At the end of the day, it’s tempting to just pull the knot out, but you’ll damage the cloth, the slip stitch and shorten the life of the tie. Secondly, wherever possible, use a tie hanger for your ties, the weight of the cloth will pull out any creases which have crept in during a days wear. If you don’t have a tie hanger, roll them up loosely. Do the same for knitted ties (roll them up), as the additional weight can often stretch them if hung up.
If there’s anything I’ve left out or that you’d still like to know, as always, feel free to comment below or email me.