Buried on page 86 of the October J. Crew catalog is a sentence to chill the blood of any man who has shopped for clothing in the past five years:
“We widened our ties by ¼” to keep up with today’s changing proportions.”
It is almost an aside. Nearly an afterthought! But for the loyal J. Crew neckwear client, who has been investing in 2.5-inch-wide ties since the year 2011, it signals a potentially seismic shift. See, the width of ties across the broader market had actually been shrinking since the start of the decade. Could it be that men’s neckties are again expanding after an all-too-brief moment of discreet, clean lines? Is that modest quarter-inch the start down a slippery, silky slope into ties the size of mainsails?
Don’t panic. Loosen your collar, take a breath, and absorb some context: The J. Crew customer is a relative youngster, with a boyish figure and a breezy air that helped him carry off a 2½-inch tie in the first place. More staid brands such as Charles Tyrwhitt and Thomas Pink never went so narrow with their standard ties, each holding the line at 8 centimeters, or 3.15 inches.
Second, this is not an abrupt about-face—yet—just an indicator of future change. The 2½-inch tie remains the most popular width sold by Tie Bar, according to company President Allyson Lewis. But, she noted, “In the last year, we’ve seen three inches get a little more pickup.”
“The average mainstream tie is roughly 3 to 3¼ inches at this point,” said Andrew Tarshis, owner of Tiecrafters, the country’s preeminent tie-cleaning and alteration service. “It’s a nice, safe width.” A look at such big brands as Brooks Brothers (currently 3.25 inches) and Hermès (eight centimeters for its boardroom-ready classic, as opposed to 7.5 centimeters, or fewer for its “contemporary” models) bears this out. So does Lewis’s experience at Tie Bar: Seven years ago, the company’s most popular tie width was 3½ inches. These days, they don’t even manufacture that. With the exception of old stock, the widest model at Tie Bar has “migrated down to 3¼,” she said.
Basically, since the end of the ‘00s, tie sizes at mainstream companies have been generally shrinking, a result of the influence of such fashion-forward designers as Thom Browne and Hedi Slimane, who pioneered nipped, short suits (Browne) and ultra-slim, boyish silhouettes (Slimane for Dior) on the runway a few years earlier. When the influence of these suits eventually made it to the world’s shopping malls, ties were narrowed to match increasingly smaller lapels. Without even realizing it, your fashion-agnostic dad is probably wearing a narrower tie than he did 20 years ago.
But the skinny suit is gradually falling out of fashion on the runway, replaced by softened shoulders in the Italian style and a general air of relaxation. With suit lapels no longer resembling boning knives, it is only natural that neckties should move further away from the Reservoir Dogs collection.
Here’s my prediction: The slim tie of the hepcat and the plump one of the company man are on their way to converging at the mutually happy medium of the 3-inch wide tie. I don’t think we have to worry about anyone’s neckties returning to the napkin-like dimensions witnessed at mid-‘90s NBA draft nights and mid-‘80s insider-trading trials. (“The wider stuff was too much,” Tarshis un-fondly remembered of an earlier era. “You look at old episodes of the Tonight Show, some of Johnny Carson’s ties were 4-, 4½-inches wide.”)
That said, broader ties will always look good on burlier men and those who favor spread-collar shirts. And there continue to exist fashionable men who favor wider ties for lavish philosophical reasons. Some of Tom Ford’s current models come in at 9.5 centimeters, or 3.74 inches. “There is something a bit meager and uptight about a skinny tie and jacket,” Ford once told an interviewer. “I think that accentuating the natural V of man’s body makes men look more masculine, less boyish, and in general, more powerful.” It’s a knotty issue.