Ikea, Monsanto and The Death of Style (Or, In Praise of the Necktie)

By Dan van Voorhis

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I don’t know enough about GMOs or Monsanto to offer any advice about produce or product labeling.  And, I only know enough about the Swedish furniture warehouse to curse the Allen key and particleboard. Yet I do believe that both of these major companies are on the forefront of a cultural movement that is killing creativity, aesthetics, and the art of dressing well. Both companies have implemented a trend in employee micromanagement destined to kill the soul. They have banned the necktie.

They have banned the necktie in any management attire as part of a dedication to a philosophy of “form following function”. That is, everything is worth what it does. And thus, a necktie, not actually doing anything needs to go. The boomer generation has rejoiced (Virgin CEO Richard Branson likened wearing a necktie to being led around like a slave). The khaki and polo shirt set can rejoice that every day is like casual Friday. Meanwhile, the sci-fi costume designers are getting closer to the day when their homogenous and androgynous pant suits are becoming reality.

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Dear reader, the Man About Town does not wish to crush your dream of dressing like captain Kirk or force the top button of your shirt closed. This column is devoted to allowing you the freedom to move about your life in liberty and comfort. But, alas, utilitarian arguments to eschew anything that is merely ornamental must be fought. And like those brave Croatian soldiers fighting for political and religious liberty in the seventeenth century that introduced the rest of the western world to the necktie, we will fight on behalf of the right to wear something that serves no purpose other than ornamentation. (Croatian soldiers wore strips of decorative cloth around their necks and draped between their lapels that became synonymous with what other countries called their soldiers: “cravats”.)

A tie, or scarf (women must be enlisted in this aesthetic war, as well) properly worn can proclaim liberation from the drab, featureless and utilitarian work environment in modern America.

Perhaps the tie, scarf, or other neck accouterment isn’t your bag. That’s cool. Please do not see this as an argument as to why you must wear one. This is a defense of the freedom to wear one, and a primer on how to wear one should you so choose.

Many of us wore ties for the first time as part of a formal ceremony (from confirmation, wedding, or funeral) and associate the tie with the custom of wearing a button down shirt that had to be tucked in. Thus the removal of the tie was the first step back towards our preferred attire of t-shirt and jeans. Sometimes our resentment of the tie is bound up in our distaste for anything formal. I’m suspicious that some of this goes back to pent up rage against either parents or authority. That, or the difficulty of finding a proper shirt with a collar that fits, and thus doesn’t feel like it is crushing your windpipe when you strain to button the last button before fumbling around with the strip of silk or cotton that you were never sure you knew how to tie, anyway.

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Regardless, let’s know our knots and spend time worrying about being repressed by our elders or ill-fitting collars on another day.

You might have a closet of ties you have inherited from your old man, or a collection  slowly assembled over years of celebrating Fathers Day with well-intentioned but aesthetically challenged children.

If you are going to go buy a new tie there are a few things to consider:

What kinds of shirts do you tend to wear (or already own)?

Will you be wearing these ties with jackets?

What colors best suit your complexion?

What is your facial/body structure/shape?

A Few Questions:

Are your collars wide? Button down? Narrow? Check out this guide.

If you are wearing a jacket, how thick are your lapels?  A quick rule of thumb is that your tie, at its widest should be the same width as the widest part of you lapel.

Are your ties cotton, silk, polyester, knit?  I’m not a snob about fabric, but make sure the knot fits the fabric (that is, a thick fabric wont be useful for tying a thick knot).

As is important with hats (also frames and haircuts), know your facial structure!

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Some unsolicited advice:

If you are looking for a new style, check out various magazines (GQ, Esquire, Men’s Health) or find someone who has a style you would like to emulate and steal it from them (by the time you are done adjusting it for your own specifications, it shouldn’t look like you are trying to be a clone).

There is a peculiar trend amongst American men to rely on the full or half Windsor knot. Yet, many designers are tailoring shirt collars and lapels for a more thin and fitted look. If you are looking for something elegant and simple (but less bulky), consider the Pratt or St. Andrews knot. You can check out various knots here and YouTube has saved me hours of time with simple how-to videos.

I, myself, wear the four-in-hand almost exclusively when I wear a long necktie (and have adjusted my collars and lapels accordingly). It is the simplest of knots and can be tightened or loosened accordingly. It also works with a variety of fabrics and does not require perfect symmetry. It is the evergreen of knots and can look both formal and stylishly tousled.

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If you want to make a sartorial splash and attempt to make a statement, try the trinity or rose knot. I am lousy with precise knots (I never made it past the Webelos and would be useless as a deck hand) but these might offer a nice change of pace without the garishness of a Merovingian or Boutonniere knot.

Lastly, a word about the bow tie. This is my tie of choice for a number of reasons. I don’t have to worry about soup or coffee stains and I like to pair them with my frames and a dash of color in my socks. It is easy to fall into the mold of an uptight accountant or aspiring hipster, but the bow tie can also make a statement about fashion for its own sake. A self tied, slightly off-centered bow tie in stripes or paisley can add a bit of fresh air to your wardrobe and be a conversation piece. You might not want to make it a signature look (I have, to break rules, done this to an extent, however). But the bow is back and should be celebrated beyond the confines of weddings and award shows.

Don’t be a slave to old rules about stripes and colors. Avoid the pitfalls of appearing priggish by being too uptight about coordination. Unless you are offered a column to do so, avoid giving unsolicited advice. And, as always, know the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.

All the Best,

The Man About Town

Article Written While Listening to:

Antonio Sanchez: Birdman [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] 2014

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