This article is part of our series on neckwear. If you’d like to read about other types of neckwear, see our neckwear home page.
This page’s purpose is to provide in-depth information on the following; click any of the links to jump right to that section:
- How To Tie Different Knots
- Styles & Patterns
- Classic Materials
- Width, Knots, & How Those Interact With Body Type & Face Shape
The necktie is just as much celebrated as it is maligned in the modern man’s wardrobe. For decades, it was part of the male uniform, with everyone from schoolboys to businessmen.
The dress-down culture of the 1990’s saw the tie nearly vanish from our offices, and though it’s made a resurgence as tailored clothing has regained popularity, it is still relatively uncommon to see a man wearing a tie because he wants to as opposed to because he has to.
How To Tie A Tie
If you’d like step-by-step instructions for how to tie some common (and a couple less common) tie knots, head over to our page on how to tie a tie. We’ll have you knotted up in a flash.
Necktie 101: Terminology, Wovens, & Prints
First, a few terms you’ll hear in the necktie world:
- Blade: The ends of a tie. Neckties have a narrow blade and a wide blade.
- Hand: A term used to describe how something feels. High-quality ties have a lustrous “hand,” for example.
- Four-in-hand: Synonym for “necktie.” Also, a rudimentary but popular tie knot.
- Tipping: The material used to cover the backside of the bottom of each tie blade, similar to a lining. “Self-tipped” ties use the same material as the tie itself for tipping and are thus more expensive.
- Bias: A method of necktie manufacturing in which the silk and interlining are cut on a bias (a 45-degree angle) and held together by a slip stitch. Allows the tie to knot properly and retain their shape over time.
If we may be allowed a Biblical reference:
If neckties were one huge family, wovens and prints would be Adam and Eve. If we take the biblical Creation story at face value, we are all one family as all of us can trace our lineage back to these first two humans. In the same way, every necktie is classified as either a woven or a print as its first defining factor.
The terms deal with how the patterns on the ties are achieved. We’ll describe in more detail below:
Woven neckwear is generally considered to be the final word in neckwear in terms of quality and brilliance. “Wovens” are so named because different strands of silk are strategically woven together to create detailed motifs. They are typically the dressiest, most expensive neckties.
You can see the individual strands of green thread in the woven floral tie below:
It’s easy to tell a woven tie: touch it. If it feels quite textured, it’s more than likely a woven.
Printed neckwear is the other major tie style. A younger tie-making method than weaving, printed ties weren’t really in the same class as woven ones until after the 1920’s, and the printed neckwear explosion didn’t really take hold until the 1960’s. The method is simple: stamp a pattern onto raw or dyed silk as you see on the floral tie below:
As you might imagine, this is a less expensive way to make a necktie and as such prints are more popular in terms of raw sales numbers as a result.
Printed neckwear can still be plenty dressy, though they lack the texture that woven neckties offer.
Styles & Patterns Of Neckties
The mainstay of any man’s wardrobe, every guy should have at least a few solid ties in his closet. In fact, the capsule wardrobe calls for red, blue, and yellow solid neckties as the key starting point for men.
Ancient madder ties are silkscreen printed ties that are renowned for their ability to pair beautifully with tweed. The typical colors we see are dusty yellow, faded green, ruby red, indigo blue, and dark chocolate. These colors are achieved through natural dyestuffs (which is the “madder” portion of the term) being silkscreen printed on a special gum-twill silk.
It was what’s called a “chalk hand,” meaning that it has a chalky feel to it. Its somewhat faded, powdery look is highly prized by the best-dressed among us, especially in the autumn.
Macclesfield ties get their name from the British town of Macclesfield. A tightly woven geometric pattern, it utilizes small geometric shapes such as circles, squares, and diamonds.
Worn by well-dressed British men in the 1920’s, this style of tie was originally made in black, white, and grey. This gave the tie a silvery effect and was for a long time known as the “wedding tie” due to its inherent formality and ease of wear with morning dress.
Spitalsfield ties are another woven, just like the Macclesfield. Another British invention, they were originally made in the town of Spitalsfield, which is on the outskirts of London.
Spitalsfield ties originally distinguished themselves from Macclesfield ties by having larger, fancier motifs in a wider range of color combinations. They are now made all over the world and also qualify as a geometric pattern.
Repp / Regimental Stripe
Repp stripe ties are easily the most popular type of patterned tie. A simple striped motif wherein the stripes are on the diagonal, they can be either woven or printed and they look just as good at the office as they do on a dressy date. They also have an interesting history in terms of their British origins and American reinvention.
They’re called regimental stripes because of their English military history. Different regiments of the British military had different color schemes, most often seen on the mess jackets of those regiments’ officers. The rank-and-file also wore cravats with these striped motifs, and when the soldiers came home, they often would wear ties that indicated their old regiment.
In the early 1900’s, Brooks Brothers introduced the tie to the American market. While this rubbed many a British veteran the wrong way (“How dare someone wear my regiment’s tie?!!?”), they sold -and continue to sell- like hotcakes in the States.
An important note here is the direction of the stripes. The British originals’ stripes descended on the diagonal from left to right. This follows aesthetic logic in that it syncs with the left-over-right buttoning mechanism of a man’s blazer.
Brooks’ ties, on the other hand, descend from right to left. This was not an accident; it was done in deference to the originals.
The most playful tie pattern that a man can wear in the real world, dots are a type of “neat” pattern, which refers to a type of print that’s repeated all over the entire tie (they’re also referred to as “all-over neats”).
Decades ago, dots were squarely in the domain of womenswear. Sir Thomas Lipton, a London businessman of Scottish descent who was active in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, is credited with making dots acceptable for men. He always wore a navy bow tie with white dots.
Dots can be as large as polka dots or as small as pin dots and pair particularly well with stripes.
Paisley is, in our opinion, the most interesting of all the tie patterns. Its origins date back to ancient Babylonia, and they have a particular association with English taste. Freud though the pattern symbolized virility due to its resemblance to sperm.
A fun tie just shy of “novelty” status, paisley has a certain Ivy League aesthetic similar to the critters that we see on the GTH (meaning “go to hell,” or loudly patterned) pants often worn by this set. They’re available in a wide range of color schemes and scales, making paisley a versatile pattern indeed.
Plaids & Tartans
Plaid ties can be either printed or woven and were originally made of wool as a nod to their relation to Scottish kilts. Authentic Highland plaids were gentrified in silk for City wear and continue to enjoy popularity to this day.
Essentially a series of boxes, plaid ties are chock full of right angles. As such, they pair quite well with striped shirts and suits.
Club & Sports Ties
Club ties are -big surprise- British in origin. The name “club tie” is pretty self-explanatory in that wearing one symbolized membership in a private, often elite social club. Similar to regimental ties, the colors of these ties offer insight into the wearer’s membership in a club.
A sports tie is a style of allover tie that has sporting motifs on it. This usually looks like sailboats, golfers, polo players, and so on.
Nowadays, a “club” tie can be used to describe a tie that has a series of symbols on it, regardless of their meaning (or lack thereof).
Like the ugly Christmas sweater, a lot of guys keep a novelty tie or two in the rotation. Sometimes they light up, sometimes they make noise, and sometimes they are just insane. Sometimes they’re just what the doctor ordered -think boozy holiday parties, being the fun teacher that every kid loves and learns a lot from- and sometimes they’re just terrible-looking.
Use your best judgement when looking at novelty ties. If you don’t have good judgement, ask a friend or spouse with good judgement for input.
Classic Tie Materials
Ties aren’t just made of silk, though that’s always been the most popular cloth to use. Below we’ll outline the most common types of tie cloth.
As we said, silk is hands down the most common material to use in neckties. It has a beautiful hand, a handsome sheen, and lasts a long time when properly cared for. One thing that needs addressing, however, is the ubiquitousness of the claim “100% silk” on so many neckties.
It is true that the outer portion of silk neckties are, in fact, 100% silk. The lion’s share of ties have filler/interlining/whatever you’d like to call it, and more often than not, this part isn’t silk at all. The materials vary, but silk they are not.
True 100% silk ties are often seven-fold ties, meaning that they’re made from a huge piece of silk that has been folded over itself in such a way that it has the heft and thickness required to make for a good necktie. As you might imagine, such ties are often quite expensive, and few makers bother making ties this way.
Raw silk contains sericin, a gummy substance that protects silk during processing and is typically removed at the final stage of tie production by boiling the silk in soap and water. Ties that skip this final step are referred to as raw silk ties.
These have a more casual élan as they have a nubby texture, which contrasts greatly from fully-processed silk’s smooth, lustrous hand.
Shantung is a type of material that originates from the province of Shandong in China (the word “shantung” is itself a corruption of Shandong). Similar to raw silk in its nubbiness and irregularity, its an intentionally coarse silk that’s often used for bridal gowns but occasionally makes its way into men’s neckwear.
Wool ties actually come in two aesthetic styles: one is the relatively inexpensive English country wool tie, the other is the more tailored, thinner, cashmere tie.
The former is great for odd jackets and trouser combinations in the autumn, as its scratchiness and heft pair well with such garments. Knots tend to be larger and the overall presentation more informal.
The latter is phenomenal for suiting in cold weather, as it tends to tie a smaller knot and more resembles the dressiness of silk than simple lambswool.
If you live in a place that gets cold throughout the year, you need at least a few wool ties in your rotation.
Cotton ties are a perfect neckwear solution for warm weather. Typically lightweight and smooth, they make for a relatively dressy option for wear with khaki and seersucker suits.
They take very well to prints, especially floral ones.
Linen ties, though somewhat uncommon, are also great for warm weather but are generally a bit more casual than their cotton counterparts. This is because linen is highly textured and a bit rough to the touch.
Linen’s weight makes is an excellent neckwear option, and any guy who lives in a warm climate could use a few in his wardrobe.
Tie Width & Your Body Type: How Does It Work?
The rule of thumb dictates that tie width should roughly sync with the width of your lapel. While this is fair, it’s only part of the picture.
The widths of ties (and jacket lapels) change with the winds of fashion. In the 1930’s, we had wide, short ties. In the 1960’s, we had slim ties. The 1970’s saw four-inch-wide bib ties, and the 2010’s have seen a return to super skinny ties.
Should you wear a skinny tie or a wide tie? What’s a good middle ground?
Acceptable tie widths range anywhere from 2.75″ on the narrow end of the spectrum and 3.5″ on the wide end. The only exception we’ll make to this are for knit ties with flat blades, which tend to be 2″ wide.
Your ties’ widths should sync with your body type, first and foremost. If you’re a big guy, a wider tie will make more sense on your frame while overpowering a small guy. Conversely, men of slight build would do well to stick to somewhat narrower ties, while these will simply amplify a large man’s size.
With all of that being said, it is important to know that the length of a tie should always sit at the same spot regardless of the man wearing the tie. To learn more about the how long a tie should be visit our comprehensive tie length guide.
If you’re interested in other kinds of ties, check out our homepage on neckwear.