Monday, July 30, 2007

Tie Story

My father has impeccable taste in ties. Having honed his sartorial instincts as a young professional living in Paris in the late 70's, he hails the tie as a accoutrement with a make-or-break factor akin to that of a woman's shoe. It can ruin. Or it can elevate a look to a whole new level. And possibly inspire lust in the onlooker (well, maybe that last bit is an exagg, but you get the idea).

He was moved to such tendencies by his favorite uncle, a strikingly handsome scholar/dandy who moved from Karachi to Paris in the 50's to pursue his PhD at the Sorbonne entirely in French, and, I'm told, drove a number of French women to distraction. A hit with the ladies and always clad in the dapperest of dress, he was no small influence on my then young, impressionable pa, who devoured his stories with relish, staring with fascination at black and white photos of strange foreigners set against the backdrop of a beautiful city, and, though he didn't understand a lick of French at the time, "read" with wide-eyed interest love letters from a certain smitten Monique. It was this uncle who first taught him the proper way to knot a tie, and from that moment, my dad developed a penchant for neckwear. He blames his uncle, and I blame him for the fact that I knew who Ted Lapidus was at the tender age of seven. There are plenty of other fashion influences for which to bitterly j'accuse, including Bermuda shorts and the album cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, but those are tales for another day.

Back to the tie. Evolving from the cravats worn by Croatian missionaries arriving in France circa 1650, the tie has long been a menswear staple, and its role as a phallic symbol has been hotly contested over the years by fashion cognoscenti, cultural critics, and social psychologists alike. I myself am in the yea camp, as one can't ignore the fact that a tie does, after all, point South to a guy's nether regions, as if serving as a helpful reminder that, "this is where my penis be." Besides being a symbol of virility, the tie has also been said to reflect ideas of subservience, conformity, and general squarishness. Consequently, it is sometimes viewed with derision and abhorred by some who claim that it's an evil instrument of "The Man." Some have chosen to make a statement by not wearing one (see Barack Obama).

The look has also been subversively appropriated by counterculture, often worn by musicians (early Beatles, foppish indie bandmates, and rocked to great effect by influential pop icons like JT). More recently, it has experienced a revival through ironic-hipster fashion, (whatever that is). Whether your style is straitlaced preppy or vintage throwback, there are a ton of options available right now. Here are a couple of choice picks.

Black tie by Aquascutum. $145 @ Milk.

Basketweave tie by Band of Outsiders. $115 @ Jake.

Basketweave detail.
P.S. You might want to review your knotting skills with this handy guide full of helpful illustrations that demonstrate a variety of techniques. Like Mr. James Bond, I've never been a fan of the Windsor, but it might be fun to do it up Italian style.
Photo credit: 1 - 2, 3 -

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