If you read my article on cashmere, you’ll know I’m unafraid of statements that might make most Woosterians howl and fray their handlebar mustaches; here’s another: take off your tie. Take it off; gently drape it over a hook; whisper that everything will be okay; smooth its tired, wrinkled neck; and pop open your second button. Really, it’s a second Golden Age of menswear; shopping, as a man, is not only acceptable, but fun–and easier than ever, with the JackThreads and Gilt apps–and an entire subculture is flourishing of modish gents care about what they wear. This is the good news. The bad news is that, with any fad, there are people who understand it and there are poseurs.
(“When is he going to talk about ties?” “Be patient, please.”)
The true classic sir thinks about clothes in terms of function; the poseur imitates. The poseur sees some Italian gent on Tumblr in blue blazer, knitted necktie, rolled-up selvedge jeans, and suede driving shoes and, I imagine, thinks something along the lines of “KNIT TIE GOOD.” Then, he’ll never be seen without one. To him, to be well dressed means to wear a tie–”Buy first, ask questions later” being a probable mantra. This can be the only explanation of the proliferation of pre-tied bowties I see out on the sidewalk.
(“Jesus can this guy get any more pretentious?” “Just wait.”)
It’s my belief that to dress well does not mean to buy and wear something that you see on Tumblr (not that there’s anything–necessarily–wrong with that). In other words, there’s a not inconsiderable distinction between menswear and #menswear. Scott Schuman understands this probably better than anyone else, but now I’m really digressing. Back to your second button. A necktie’s function is to make you look snazzy, to communicate to the world you care. They are the opposite of sweatpants. But I’ll make the cavalier argument that wearing a tie does not necessarily make you a snazzy dresser (read: those terrible, terrible pretied bows), that there plenty of ways to communicate to the world that you think about what you wear, and that there is plenty of space in between a tangerine knit necktie and sweatpants.
Here’s the secret: being well-dressed means dressing appropriately, not blindly idolizing. Nick Wooster (as fabulous as he is)–appropriately for age, occasion, and weather. Here, finally, is where your second button comes in: this is summer, and what more appropriate neckwear is there than bare skin, a tuft of chest hair, or (for the very brave) cotton paisley neckerchief? Or, rather, what more effective way to look like a doofus than to be all button-up during summer’s dog days? Oscar Wilde quipped, “You can never be overdressed or overeducated,” which is something I vehemently disagree with–at least the first part. For being overdressed is just as great a sin as being under-dressed.
Going tie-less, then, poses the question: How, as a classic sir, do you not wear a tie? The answer lies in the laws of transference. If you ditch the tie, you have to do something. It’s sort of terrifying, I know: a tie is such a safe way to elevate your style that going without requires everything else to be extremely well-tuned. I’ll suggest two out of many possibilities: a summer pocket square, and a bandana.
You should invest (for they really are an investment) in a few flamboyant silk pocket squares–which are oftentimes helpfully called “summer pocket squares” from designers such as Paul Stuart and Thomas Pink and Drake’s of London fame. These are not for the novice. They are oftentimes intricate seascapes or fantasias of toucans and flamingos, and peek above the rim of a blazer’s breast pocket in a confident poof. The risk, though, is worth it: a summer pocket square such as these serves the exact same function as a necktie, while keeping you nice and cool. If you’re the tie-and-jeans sort of fellow and don’t really wear a blazer for the pocket square to poof out of, then twist up a Western Bandanna tightly and knot it loosely around your Adam’s apple to make a neckerchief a la Fred from Scooby-Doo.
I warn you (or am I giving too much away?): it will feel weird, like everyone is staring, sort of like dressing up as a gent from yesteryear, as if, say, you were wearing a monocle. But unlike a monocle, a neckerchief is casual and fits perfectly within today’s utilitarian vein. And, also fitting within today’s utilitarian vein, they are sometimes almost literally a dime a dozen.
Learn to tie the neckerchief properly
To tie one properly, fold it diamond-wise so that two opposite points overlap a little, then fold that in half again, then again. Twist it up–but not too tightly–and knot as close as you can to the ends, then tuck under your shirt so as only the part exposed is by your chest. I wear them on occasion–usually the day after I see some badass walking around totally killing it in one. But I often find myself fidgeting with them, subconsciously expressing my self-consciousness. I’m probably missing a pair of Ray-Bans or something. In any case, not wearing a tie conveys to the world that–somewhat paradoxically– you’re confident enough to go without one.
Just the other week I saw a young guy walking around downtown absolutely killing it in something only ostensibly basic: jeans, a polo, and sneakers. Everything fit perfectly and he had a fantastic haircut. Around his neck was tied a bright teal silk pocket square, which at once arrested my attention and perfectly elevated his otherwise quotidian ensemble. He strutted past me like a model hurrying to the other end of a catwalk. This guy, I thought to myself, he knows exactly what he’s doing.