The ties that bind

The knotty affair between a man and his tie started way back in the 17th century. Since then, men have collared their way to sartorial elegance with the help of the natty necktie. We take a look at the evolution of ties over time.

Jenjum Gadi        Print Edition: August 22, 2010

Personally, I have never felt the need to wear a tie on an everyday basis. Being a fashion designer gives me the liberty to wear pretty much what I want, both to work and when I go out. I usually only wear a tie when I want to make a style statement, and that too, depending on the ocassion. But for others, like the late fashion designers, Yves St Laurent and Hubert de Givenchy, who wore a tie to their ateliers everyday, this component of men's clothing accorded a certain sense of formality.

Even as the textbook definition of the necktie states that it is a "a large band of fabric worn around the neck under the collar and tied in front with the ends hanging down as a decoration", its history speaks volumes. The tomb of China's first emperor, Shih Huang Ti, containing the world famous 'terracotta army' showed the first known evidence of a necktie.

Under the rubble and mud in the vault, lay some 7,500 of the emperor's sculptured soldiers, each wearing a carefully wrapped neck cloth. Even art from the Roman Empire portrayed men wearing neckwear that resembles the contemporary necktie. The necktie also traces back to the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) when Croatian mercenaries traditionally donned small, knotted neck kerchiefs, which in true Parisian style was picked up as a fashionable piece of attire. In fact, right until the 19th century, European men wore neckties in various styles according to the traditions of their native countries.

Over the years, the tie has changed according to the mood of an era. After World War I, hand-painted ties became an accepted form of decoration. Before the skinny tie revolution of the 1950s, ties in the '40s were wider. During the end of the '60s, flashy floral designs became the dominant theme. By the '70s, the average necktie measured 3'' in width, which is still narrow compared to today's standard necktie (about 3.5''). Kitschy, statementmaking ties gained popularity in the '80s and '90s. Early in the 21st century, ties widened to 3�" to 3�'' with a broad range of patterns from traditional stripes to club insignia ties.

Haute houses, too, have done their bit to bring creative ties to the fore. Ever since Henri d'Origny introduced the first Hermès tie in 1949, the company has produced about 1,600 different designs. The marque produces five-fold silk twill ties made in colour combinations that it retires at the end of each year. These ties, which have reached an almost cult status, have serial numbers to help collectors locate out-of-print patterns from previous years. Italian menswear brand, Ermenegildo Zegna, is always a great choice for formal neckties. Zegna started pouring resources into tie fabric manufacturing as early as 1910 and has its patterns patented.

For a large part of India's corporate culture, wearing a tie has become a necessity. A handful of Indian designers have added ties to their portfolio. Rohit Bal has lotus and peacock motif digital print silk ties. Gaurav Gupta has slim ties made out of the same fabric and pattern of the pants and suits, which makes the look dramatic and trendy. Gupta's ties are in sync with the global trend of skinny ties making a comeback in full force.

It was seen in the collections of Alessandro Dell'Aqua (monochromatic), Lanvin (shiny and solid in navy and chocolate) and Rag & Bone (in grey flannel and midnight black). The trick to make a skinny tie work for you is to not wear it with a big, boxy suit. Instead, wear the skinny tie with a slim fit, two button suit. After all, as Oscar Wilde said, "A well tied tie is the first serious step in life."

(The writer is the co-founder of the design brand Koga)

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