A Gentleman knows how to dress. There is no arguing that, but lately there seems to have been a loss of certain fashion skills that were once simply a part of growing up. Among these are polishing shoes, pressing slacks, and prehaps most important, how to wear a tie. Notice I said how to WEAR a tie, as there is far more to it than simply tying a knot and going about your business. If you want to be taken seriously in a suit, or even just in polite company, than this is a skill that cannot be overlooked.
First lets start with the basics. The knots. There are many techniques and styles to tying your necktie, each with their own history, and uses. The four major styles are outlined below: the Four in Hand knot – also known as a Simple Knot, the Half/Single Windsor, The Full/Double Windsor, and the shell knot.
I wish I could tell you that I learned my techniques working in the fashion industry, or the business world, but the truth is that I knew what I was doing far before I started wearing a suit for a living. This story of how I learned to wear a tie is far more mundane… My father taught me. He started with a simple knot. A knot that I didn’t learn was called the Four in Hand until years later. Over, Under, Around, and Through… it is that easy to remember, and is probably how you have knotted your suit for Easter sunday and never even knew it. This is a simple, classic style, and goes best with traditional peaked collars and slim fitting suits.
My personal favorite, and go-to knot, is the Single Windsor. This one is a bit more complicated, but is easy enough once you practice it – just add one more loop through the collar. I hesitate to explain it, as the diagram will be far more helpful than words ever could be. This knot, when tied correctly, comes out to a wide, but flawless triangle. There will be two dimples on the body of the tie just below the knot, and it may take some adjusting to make these even, but the look is outstanding. The Single Windsor is sophisticated without being pretentious, and can work with either traditional or spread collars. It compliments the wide shoulders and broad faces that might be accentuated by a slim Four in Hand knot, and whats more, it tells a potential boss that yeah, you really do know how to tie a tie.
The Double, or Full Windsor, is a bit larger look than the Single Windsor, and is tied in much the same way. This is a more elegant look that was originally worn by the Duke of Windsor (thus the name) and was meant to be a bit looser. Something comfortable, but not informal, and a bit of an answer to the ascot – which thankfully no one wears anymore. Many people swear by a Full Windsor knot, and by all means try it out for yourself, but in my mind this always seemed to belong more in a country club than a board room. A Full Windsor is something a groomsman would wear in a tuxedo, not what I’d wear to close a deal. If you don’t believe me, just take James Bond’s word for it. He’s the one who said “Only a cad would wear a Double Windsor.” This, by the way, is from Ian Flemming’s books. You won’t hear Roger Moore or Sean Connery utter this line, but its still applicable.
The Shell Knot is a knot that I, admittedly, do not have too much experience with. I have tried it on occasion, and I did not like the twisting involved – it was too easy to make a mistake. It is, however, a sleek and elegant look that can be pulled off if you practice with it. Give it a shot. You might like how it looks.
Taye Diggs wears a suit well, but this spread collar
with a Four in Hand knot looks completely out of place.
Now that we are past a few of the basic styles and knots that go into wearing a tie, we will touch on something a bit more advanced: how to actually wear it. Most dress shirts that you will buy will have one of three types of collars. A traditional, or peaked collar, which is just your basic pointed collar and the majority of your wardrobe likely consists of these. The peaked collar is my basic go-to collar, and can be worn with basically any style of knot or tie, just make sure that it stays pressed and crisp, and though most come with plastic splints already in the collar, you might want to invest in some metal stays to slip in and keep it pointed. Next is the button down collar. You have probably seen these on some higher end shirts, and may even have a few yourself. They keep your collar flat against the shirt, and look very good with slim knots, like the Four in Hand. I have worn them on occasion with larger knots, but they can, depending on the individual shirt, give off a bunched appearance, so try them out and see if you like the look. Last, and probably the least well known, is the spread collar. The spread collar points out toward the shoulders at wide angles, and was developed to allow more room for substantial knots like the Windsor and it’s variations. This is a sophisticated look, and can be very professional if it can be pulled off, but you have to know how to wear it. I have seen people wear a spread collar with a slim Four in Hand Knot – even fashionable celebrities (Taye Diggs is guilty of this on occasion) and I can’t stand the look. It gives a wide front with a slim knot that just looks completely out of place.
This next point ought to go without saying, but here it is anyway. Button the top button. Don’t be “that guy.” You’re going to work, not trying out for a reality TV show, and the douche bag look is just not in anyone’s best interest. All you are saying to a potential client or boss is that you don’t know how to wear a suit, and aren’t professional enough to find out.
There are many looks that you can play around with and figure out what works for you, and that is how one develops their own personal style. Knowing the simple rules of fashion will give you the confidence and swagger to pull off wearing a suit without looking like a tool, and that little extra is what is needed these days.