“A well-tied tie is the first serious step in life,” wrote Oscar Wilde, and while Wilde’s personal proclivities may render his judgment in many areas suspect, when it comes to men’s neckwear he was dead-on.
A gentleman’s tie, in venerable United Kingdom circles, used to announce his educational pedigree, army service, or club affiliation. Patterns of stripes, colors, and emblems were badges: a wide white stripe with red borders on green meant the Hampshire County Cricket Club, not to be confused with the blue and yellow pinstripes on a navy background of the Yorkshire County Cricket Club. Dark red and navy horizontal strips with white borders meant the University of London, and across the pond thick green and white chalk strips, running diagonally, meant Dartmouth College.
Which isn’t to mention emblematic ties, like the Royal Navy: gold crowns on a navy background. A red “M” inside of red diamond-crossed lines on dark blue denotes a member of the Missouri Athletic Club, and robins’ egg blue on black means an Old Etonion, or alumnus of England’s Eton preparatory school.
Unfortunately, two things have happened to relegate club ties to sartorial history: there got to be too many clubs, schools, and regiments for people to keep track of which color dragon meant membership in which collegiate eating club, and secondly, men stopped caring. Men are defined even less by their affiliations today than organizations are by their ties.
This, as you may have guessed, is a terrible tragedy. Not because the organizations which represent themselves with patterned ties tend relatively towards exclusivity, but because so many lesser ways of declaring allegiance have sprung up.
Consider the sea of rubber bracelets men wear to show their support of causes ranging from cancer research to ice skating, or gaudy gold lapel pins in different shapes and sizes, or oversized jewelry, or bumper stickers. In comparison to these, a tie is a subtle and stylish declaration of allegiance to a cause, club, profession, team, or military unity. It isn’t insistent, but a nod to the initiated. And unlike bracelets, jewelry, pins, and bumper stickers, a tie is nice to look at.