5 things to know about the knotty affairs of the tie


Some love it, some hate it but the necktie is one accessory that a gentleman simply cannot ignore. But what’s the story behind the tie and are there more ways to tie the tie than the one you use?

Words Aninda Sardar

Most men I know have worn it at some point in time in their lives and increasingly I find that most men seem to hate it. Perhaps it reminds them of the strict disciplines enforced in schools back in the day or maybe it is a symbol of being tied down to the boredom of a 9-5 deskbound job. As for me, it is an accessory that should be a part of every evolved man’s wardrobe for there is no denying that when worn right, it makes us look dashing. This is the tie.


1. The story of the tie is also the story of conflict
France. It’s somewhere between 1618 and 1648 and The Thirty Years’ War is at its peak. In the mélee between the Roman Catholics rallying under the Papal banner of Ferdinand II and the Protestants led by Austria’s Hapsburgs, somewhere are King Louis XIII’s battalion of Croatian mercenaries. They are distinguished by their neck cloths that they wore as part of their uniforms. About half a millennia later, we can’t tell you whether they fought well but what we can tell you is that the neck cloth caught the fancy of the French monarch who had hired them. In fact, in order to honour their loyalty King Louis gave the neck cloth a name – La Cravate (a reference to the Croats, we are told), and made it mandatory for men to wear one at Royal gatherings.


2. Ian Fleming’s James Bond uses a four-in-hand knot for his tie
Shave off about 200 years and the cravat, as we have now come to call it, is a very popular and important part of a gentleman’s attire. So much so that touching another man’s neck cloth is grounds for a duel! But away from the violence, a quiet verbal revolution ensues as more and more people start calling the cravat by the name we know today – the neck tie. By the end of the 19th century we see the arrival of the early tie, two broad triangles of cloth that went over each other. We also see the emergence of the four-in-hand knot, something that Ian Fleming’s James Bond always uses, even though King Edward VII of Great Britain prefers the Ascot, which is of a more formal fashion.


3. The modern tie was invented in the 1920s
The modern tie as we know it was invented by this gentleman named Jesse Langsdorf sometime in the 1920s. He basically patented a way to cut the fabric at an angle and sewing it all together in three parts so that no matter how you tied the thing, it would retain its original shape once you took it off. The result was a spate of different kinds of knots as the world of the gentleman reveled in its newfound freedom. And so we have the Windsor knot, invented by the Duke of Windsor himself, a half Windsor, a Shelby or Pratt, the old Four-in-Hand and many more. These are in fact the most popular ones, especially in India.


4. There are 85 ways to tie a tie!
But do not for a second think that these are the only ones in use. In fact there are hundreds of different ways to tie that piece of cloth around your neck. In fact researchers Thomas Fink and Yong Mao of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory in the 1990s, distilled the types of knots to a staggering 85, after they had sorted out a fair few that didn’t match their parameters. All of it was later put in a book titled The 85 Ways to Tie a Tie! Of the 85 however, Fink and Mao shortened the list to 13 that according to them looked aesthetic on account of their symmetry. It was however the four types mentioned already that were deemed the most aesthetic and have gone on to become the most popular ways to knot a tie.


5. And then there is the bow tie
In addition to all this there is still the bow tie that is reserved for extremely formal occasions and black tie events. And to be honest, the old fashioned cravat can still look pretty dashing when worn right. Ties are pretty versatile too and you can use them to tell the world what a great character you really are as you vary between conservative stripes and solids to bold floral prints and even cartoon characters. Either way, the only thing to remember when tying that cloth around your neck. Just make sure it reaches the point where the tip touches your belt buckle. Not more not less. That really is the mark of a gentleman who knows his neckties.