Esquire’s Encyclopedia of 20th Century Men’s Fashions: Neckwear


November 5, 2013 by Ville Raivio


For generations the necktie has been married to the shirt. Or, more correctly, it has been married to the shirt collar, since the space left there for the knot has naturally influenced the styling of the tie.

In the early 1900s (when the terms “necktie” and “scarf” were interchangeable), the popular wing collar called for a fairly large four-in-hand. The high starched collar, however, left a very small area for the knot and so was worn with a relatively narrow four-in-hand. Nevertheless, most of the time little beyond the knot was on view, since suit jackets were of the high-button variety and were almost always worn with a waistcoat or vest. Yet there were some notable exceptions. The puff tie, for instance, required no tying at all because it was composed of two broad ends that crossed in front and were held together by a tiepin. Consequently, the puff tie managed to cover the area beneath the collar and above the vest.

The ready-tied scarf was also very popular, and two prominent styles were the Teck and the Joinville. The former was available with both straight and flowing (pointed) ends; the latter was strictly a straight-end model. The 1900 Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog showed both styles, but described the Joinville as “the most popular and swellest gentleman’s scarf ever produced. These scarfs were 6 inches wide and 34 inches long, and are made from purest woven silk specially imported by us. We have an immense assortment, comprising more than three hundred different designs: all light and medium colorings in nearly every color and shade ever thought of. They consist mostly of combination colors, just a few of which are blue, lavender, light green, cherry, strawberry, olive, myrtle, moss green, turquoise, opal, red, etc., all combined with light contrasting shades of cream, white, bright sun-shiny yellow, pale blue and a host of other beautiful shades; handsome brocade patterns in Persian effects, Oriental effects, Dresden fancies, Chameleon grotesques, Roman novelties, Scotch and Highland checks, and an almost endless variety of artistic and fashionable designs. The De Joinville scarf is popular with fashionable gentlemen, because of its exclusiveness and because it can be tied into several different shapes”. Among the shapes were the Prince of Wales knot and the puff, with a finger ring sometimes slipped just below the knot for added elegance.

“An untied man is ever an untidy man!” wrote the Sears Roebuck catalog copywriter, offering the reader a sumptuous collection of other neckwear fashions, which included silk Teck scarfs for 19 cents (“The kind that you usually pay 35¢, 45¢, and 50¢ for “); piqué Teck scarfs elaborately embroidered in silk down the entire front; white China-silk band bow ties for standing collars; fancy silk bow ties for the new turned-down, or fold, collars; the new pull-band bow ties of French madras or cheviot (“Very popular for outing wear”); and reversible four-in-hands in pure China silk (“alike on both sides and reversible…in very nobby patterns”).

The high-band Belmont, a white starched collar, created a sensation when it first appeared and resulted in the introduction of the small-knot narrow tie whose knot appeared at the bottom of the collar. Equally popular at the same time, however, was the Henley shirt with a detachable collar that was worn with a wide, full-blown necktie that all but covered the shirt front. This shirt, with its wide openings and greater space between the points, attained fashion supremacy in this youth-oriented era. Naturally, such a shirt called for a wider tie with a larger knot. Two entirely new forms of ties were also introduced during this dynamic decade: the butterfly bow and the long tie with the sailor’s knot, both of which are still in vogue today.

The start of the Jazz Age decade saw a most important invention for the neckwear industry: a resilient construction making use of a loose stitch and a bias-cut wool interlining hat permitted the tie to spring back into shape after knotting. Prior to this time, flannel had been used for linings.

Young fashions dominated the menswear now that the ex-doughboy was dictating what he wanted. Even the ultrasophisticated moneyed men of Palm Beach were, in 1924, showing a marked preference for regimental and club stripes in brilliant, youthful color combinations – colors, as one fashion reporter put it, “much more vivid and clashing in their contrasting combinations than heretofore.” A brand-new necktie this reporter singled out for particular attention, however, was a washable linen four-in-hand, printed in vivid colors in “fantastic futuristic designs of unusually large bold patterns.”

A survey taken at Princeton University the following year indicated that the best-dressed students on this enormously fashion-conscious campus leaned strongly toward colored shirts and figured foulards, black-and-white shepherd plaids, polka-dotted silks, and red-and-blue crocheted ties.

In 1926 a Men’s Wear writer declared that colorful, exotic, and even weird neckwear ideas-“lightweight conceptions heavy with the atmosphere of the tropics”-were now standard summer fare from Main to California. “Only a few years ago the gentleman’s cravat was represented as something like the symbol hung on the door knob of the house of mourning. Gentlemen, we were told, did not sport the giddy scarf that blazes resplendently on the well dressed male bosom today” (Jan.20, 1926) It was reported that rose, taupe, and beige were prominent in ties while black lost favor, and there were crepe ties in colors that, according to this writer, sounded like a report from the fashion salons of Paris. “The tendency in neckwear colors and fabrics,” he concluded, “should suggest the sale of men’s neckwear to women as well as men.” Samples of the new look in ties were photographed and reproduced to illustrate this article: Japanese prints in faint pastel colors on white grounds; a crepe in two shades of blue with narrow maroon stripings and self-figures; a linen paisley motif with sand, white, gray, purple, and red figures on helio; and a foulard with black diamonds and red stripes on a white ground.

Yet, with all the diverting novelties, the broad knitted tie, a fashion staple, still found customers willing to pay $6 for it, particularly if the colors were bright. An analysis by Men’s Wear of the types of neckwear worn by 300 of the best-dressed men in Wall Street that year also found that knit ties had increased in popularity with these men, who at the time were reputed to have a tremendous influence on the style of younger men all over the country. The following is a quotation from this report: “The new notes in neckwear that should be carefully watched are the new silvers in heavy silk. Then comes the new gold neckwear. It is not yellow. It is gold and looks like gold. These silvers and golds are in figured ties with black or brown threads dominated by the silver or gold threads.

“The next important note is the increase in plain-colored patternless ties, in various shades of blue, grey, green and maroon. There are quite a number of greens. They are worn with the brown suits that are so popular with the best dressed men of New York right now.“ Although the figured foulard tie had definitely declined in popularity with the Wall Street men by 1926, it still accounted for 25 percent of the ties worn, but the new figured and solid color heavy silk was already in second place with 15 percent.

Bold allover printed were the vogue at Palm Beach in the late twenties. The fashionable business magnate en route to his winter quarters on Florida’s Gold Coast might stop in at the second floor of Cartier’s, New York, and buy a batch of these ties carrying the high-status Charvet label. But if he forgot in New York, there was no harm done; there was a Charvet shop in Palm Beach too.
Since no fashion roundup in this decade could be considered complete without delving into the Palm Beach scene, a 1928 Men’s Wear survey noted: “The newest note in neckwear as worn by the best dressed men here is the variety of brighter colors that appears in the still popular small geometrical patterned foulards. Polka dots, which are included in these small patterns, were most popular in deep shades of blue or light shades of blue with white dots”.

Men’s Wear that spring looked in on a house party weekend at Princeton and reported an impressive number of animal pattern ties. Few stripes were seen, for the good reason that crepe, then a leading spring-summer tie fabric, did not lend itself to striping. But the most popular ties seen that weekend was the Spitalfields, a high-grade silk featuring small geometric patterns, named in honor of the London district where the silk was woven.

A nationwide college survey taken in the autumn of 1928 began: “College men are extremely particular about their ties.” Just any tie could not be sold to the collegian, “who insists on what he wants to the last ditch.” And what the American college man was insisting on varied according to the geographical location of the seat of his learning. At Princeton and Yale, for example, an increase in stripes was noted, with the general movement away from the old type of regimental stripes to more varied stripe effects. A striped tie that it was felt had great possibilities among men in Ivy League colleges was the so-called Grecian stripe, which was a figured spaced rather widely on a dark-tone background. An avant-garde minority at Yale however appeared at football games in satin ties. But the small figured and solid-color neckwear continued in the lead, accounting for 56 percent of the ties worn that year on the two campuses.

At Midwestern universities it was discovered that rep neckwear had almost doubled its percentage in popularity and the Spitalfields type had shown a slight decrease. Also, 95 percent of the men surveyed favored the four-in-hand with only 5 percent wearing bow ties. In the South crepes and heavy silks, along with foulards, accounted for nearly half the neckties worn by students, though reps still held first place largely because of the returning interest in stripes. On the Pacific Coast the stripe that was so popular in the East was not at all active, with students preferring solid colors in lustrous silk. (A year later stripes would be second in popularity, with solid colors still in first place but this time in satin rather than silk –proof of the fashion influence exerted by the men at Princeton and Yale, whose innovation inevitably appeared a year later on campuses throughout the nation.)

The twenties were in fact such a dynamic period in menswear that in retrospect it might seem that the fashion press was mesmerized by the idea of polls and surveys. In 1928, for instance, even the denizens of Tin Pan Alley were polled as to what they were wearing, from hat to shoes. When it came to neckwear, it was reported: “The present mode is for patterns that are bold, to say the least. The traditional Christmas necktie has nothing on those favored by these young men.” The chief note in striped ties was an interesting brightness in colors and a greater variety to the kinds of stripes. An extremely popular type was the “multiple stripe,” featuring variable stripes in different effects. All in all, it was concluded that “the bright – yes, verily, vivid – cravats adorning the necks of these sons of ragtime are so dazzling that even the rainbow is paled into insignificance.”

In the late 1920s the silk-and-wool tie became prominent. The two fibers had previously been combined in poplin ties, but new interest arose in the ripple weave that gave these ties a three-dimensional effect. Although the shape as conventional and the colors conservative, these ties had exceptional shape-retaining qualities, and that plus their three-dimensional look made them popular throughout the country.

In November, 1929, one month after the stock market crash, Yale men started home for their Christmas holidays wearing ties with white stripes. The big questions: Would this white striped college tie have the same success as the satin tie introduced the previous year at Yale? Many fashion experts thought it would. Why? Because, as one writer put it, “When Yale, Princeton or Harvard students are at home, they are the social ‘kingpins’ in their home towns. To the younger generation of Americans, college men as a class comprise our American aristocracy.” A sample of this new Ivy League tie had a 1-inch diagonal stripe of medium blue, below it a 1-inch stripe of maroon, then a 1-inch white stripe light blue, and then a 1-inch white stripe or one of very light gray. The Yale man not wearing this new striped tie was almost certain to be wearing an expensive, crunchy, hand-crocheted tie with spaced diagonal stripes. In any event, the stock market crash notwithstanding, the Ivy Leaguer was determined to look non-chalantly expensive.

1930- 1940
Although silk was still by far the predominant neckwear fabric in all price ranges, by 1932 wool ties were being developed in such an amazing number of colors, effects, and designs that a trade journal used the following headliner: “Will the New Wool Neckwear Repeat the Performance of Silk and Wool?” Stores from coast to coast were reporting outstanding sales in woolen ties in solid colors and pastel shades, in plaid patterns or foulard designs, stripes, small figures, and sports figures. Although they had been designed primarily for sports and country wear, these ties were also being seen in town with sack suits.

Autumn neckwear in 1934 echoed the trend toward rough fabrics in suits by the introduction of wide-wale twills, wide-wale reps, bouclés, wools (both cashmeres and homespuns), tweedlike silks, rabbit’s hair mixtures, crocheted silks, and knitted wools. Argyle plaids, once seen only in socks and sweaters, were now turning up in ties of bouclé or a wide-wale twill silk outstanding for their rough texture and brilliant color. One neckwear firm went so far as to cooperate with a sock house, producing crochets that had backgrounds matching certain hosiery styles.

British fashion influence was enormously strong in the United States during the Depression years. The fashion-conscious man of affluence, for instance, wore a short-warm coat, a double-breasted ulster, a double-breasted guards’ overcoat with a regimental striped muffler, or a double-breasted waistcoat- all English inspired fashions. This pro-British trend dictated dressing for the occasion, and, according to Esquire in 1934, that meant a well-dressed business executive wearing a colored pleated shirt with a white starched collar and a four-in-hand Spitalfields tie and a college man wearing a solid-color crocheted tie or a striped rep.

The bow tie was more popular than ever by the mid-thirties, and Esquire presented its readers with a batch of them: a pointed-end India madras (elegant with a natural-tan summer suit, white shirt, and brown leghorn hat); a foulard (sporty with a yellow cotton flannel shirt, tweed jacket, and knickers); a plaid (the last word with a single-breasted gabardine suit, a brown-and-white candy-striped shirt, and a straw hat with a club-colored band); and a regimental stripe (collegiate with a Shetland sports jacket, gray flannels, and saddle shoes).

Polka dots were big news, and big dots by this time, and Esquire showed one example (a black foulard with white polka dots) as part of a British inspired layout, gift-wrapping the entire presentation with the following fashion tribute to John Bull: “How do we get these fashions? We have observers, trained almost from birth, who practically commute to England where they haunt the very best places and ignore all but the very best people, slyly keeping statistics.” Another very British-looking model sported a black cashmere tie with yellow polka dots, part of a horse-country outfit consisting of a bold-checked double-breasted suit, a tab-colored shirt, and a rough felt homburg hat. And equally British in spirit was the silk foulard or light-weight wool square or muffler seen at the country club or on the deck of a cruise ship; tied nonchalantly at the neck it obviated the necessity of a collar and tie.

Apparel Arts in 1934 devoted a double page spread to “The Evolution of a Hand Made Necktie,” observing: “No way has yet been devised whereby a better product can be constructed by machine than by hand.” A dozen photographs and terse captions told the story:

Lining cutting. Good lining, expertly cut, is the foundation of all good neckties. Good lining at its best is pure wool cut o the bias, determining not only the shape of the tie but its life.

Cutting. All really good neckwear is bias cut with a short knife against heavy cardboard patterns. The large and the small ends are cut one next to the other in reversed positions.

Hemming. Here occurs one of the few machine operations in hand made neckwear. The standard 24” width goods requires a tie made of two pieces that are joined on the bias.

Piece pressing. The joint at the neck, or piecing, is pressed flat in this operation to insure that there will be no bulkiness to inconvenience the wearer at this portion of the neckband.

Laying in lining. A simple gauge of heavy cardboard is here used to place the lining in its proper relation to the tie itself so that the planned shape will be maintained at standard.

Pinning up. Here the unsewn tie is wrapped around the lining and pinned in place every few inches in preparation for the next operation – comparable to the basting operation in clothing.

Slip-stitching. In this all-important operation the main seam which forms the tube of the tie is completed. Resilient construction is dependent upon loose, even stitches sewing lining to back.
Shaping ends. This operation may easily be eliminated – but only at the expense of the product. It entails the insertion of a cardboard form to maintain a standard shape at the ends.

Pressing. Without exception, this operation is done by hand for all fine neckties. Neckwear, because of the lightness of the fabric, requires hand pressing to avoid a flat, dead look.

Labeling. Either by machine of hand, depending upon the requirement of the customer, this small but necessary operation is accomplished – becoming the basis of a long-lived “advertisement”.
Inspecting and trimming. This operation involves the elimination of unnecessary loose threads or ends by careful inspection and additional trimming of the loose threads by hand.

Packing. Because of its peculiar shape, neckwear requires exceptional care in packing. Banding, boxing and similar operations also play a part in adding the last finishing touches. (Vol. 5, no. 2, 1934)

The wash tie won plaudits in 1936. As a Men’s Wear fashion report saw it, “The wash suit carried the cotton tie into fashion’s festival last year. Now, the crisp, cool-looking wash tie is right near the top of summer neckwear offerings.” Or, in the words of still another writer, “Wash ties will travel in smart society.” He added: “The neckwear mart abounds with interesting ideas in tub materials. There are striped seersuckers, printed twills, striped oxfords, silk ginghams, cotton boucles and crepes. Even the dishrag material has invaded the neckwear sanctum” (Men’s Wear, Apr. 22, 1936).

A few years earlier wash ties had not been taken seriously, but now, in 1936, they had been improved in both design and construction. Wash neckwear, both four-in-hands and bows, was available in a twin-ply design, which gave added strength and wrinkle resistance. Spiral seams in the new wash neckwear also prevented ripping, produced resilience, and added to the life of the tie. Furthermore, designed in bias shapes, the ties guaranteed a perfect knot. Finally, hand bar tacking eliminated that old bane of a wash-tie wearer; loose stitching that unraveled after the tie was laundered.

The wash bow tie proved to be an especially big seller because of the popularity of the widespread collar, since a bow was considered a “natural” for this type of collar. And so, too, was the big-knot four-in-hand that eventually became known as the “Windsor knot”; through a series of loopings, it produced triangular-shape knot. Although the Duke of Windsor publicly stated that never tied his tie in this manner, the name Windsor knot became part of the fashion vocabulary. But not every man took a liking to the Windsor knot, and in 1939 Esquire, devoting a page to an “object lesson in restraint,” showed a long, narrow bar tie of handwoven silk.

That same year Esquire ended the decade by offering its readers a guide to chooseing ties based on hair color, complexion, and age. Among the neckwear included were a two-tone brown check; a solid-color rust knit; a green-and-yellow paisley; a black with spaced stripes of red and gold; a blue-and-white geometric allover design; and a navy blue with gray-and-white geometric figures. The overall effect was conservative, muted, “an object lesson in restraint.” With the military atmosphere of the months immediately preceding and following the outbreak of World War II in Europe already being felt in the United States, this understated neckwear clearly previewed the serious and cautious personality of the coming decade.

The popularity of the Windsor knot continued. Esquire in August, 1940, sketched a debonair gentleman wearing a two-button suit, a blue-and-gray striped shirt, and a red-ground foulard tie with blue-and-white figures “fastened with the popular Windsor knot, larger than the usual four-in-hand, to fill the space of the wide spread collar.”

By now the conservatism of the forties had taken hold, and in May, 1940 Esquire stated: “This ultra conservatism saddens us, and we find a perverse satisfaction in introducing the most flamboyant colors that the Fashion Staff serves up to us.” And what were they? A gray suit and a blue suit, though the copywriter hastened to add, “This is no ordinary grey, that is no ordinary blue. The grey is Granite Grey, and the blue – ah, the blue is Burgess Blue.” What manner of shirt and tie did these “flamboyant colors” carry? The man in granite gray wore a broadcloth shirt with a separate white collar and tie that was solid colored except for a few stripes of blue, red, white, and black. The gentleman in burgess blue wore a blue-and-white striped broadcloth shirt and blue, red, and white tie of white-warp heavy silk. And those ties were the liveliest items on the page.

Silk went to war in 1941, to be used in parachutes, and rayon became the top tie fabric. Recognizing the new status of rayon, Esquire showed a regimental tie of blue, silver, and red stripes – “an example of the textile technician’s skill,” because it was rayon with a dull finish (“so the silks from the Japs are not missed”). The wool tie maintained a strong position in smooth-finish materials done in stripes, checks, and plaids. Wool’s appeal was its wrinkle resistance, and at least one manufacturer advertised it as “wrinkle-proof”. In fact, a wool tie, button-down shirt, and single-breasted three-button suit constituted an extremely fashion-wise outfit during the early forties. The panel, or center-stripe, tie gained a measure of popularity. This was a simple design featuring a vertical stripe of a solid color running down the center of the tie, or the center panel might be made up of herringbone, check, or some other type of weave.

Esquire in 1942 referred to “this new era of simple taste” and, as an example, sketched a handsome middle-aged couple (the man was clearly beyond the age of military conscription), with their elbows on a dining table (“an Emily Post-mortem attitude”). The most eye-catching part of this gentleman’s outfit was his tie of a heavy silk-and-rayon mixture; it was wide enough to fill the space of his shirt’s extremely widespread collar.

In 1943 Esquire photographed a model at a showing of wartime posters in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, wearing a double-breasted suit of understated gray flannel. His printed foulard necktie in a geometric design showed plenty of spirit, however, and the caption writer suggested: “The psychiatrists might be able to tell you why there’s been a trend from the conventional figures to angular patterns such as this.”

“The newest things in the civilian wardrobe are accessories in the brave new colors inspired by American Service Ribbons,” Esquire announced the same year. Neckties boasting these “campaign colors” cropped up in the magazine’s pages with patriotic regularity, and among them were ties utilizing Middle East maroon, Far East green, Africa brown, Pacific blue, and Asiatic gold. And there were socks, suspenders, and garters that harmonized with these ties.

By 1944, with the war well in the Allies’ hands, men’s civilian clothes had assumed a more colorful, more aggressive personality. A case in point: Esquire’s sketch of a cigar-smoking father pouring beer for his young Marine officer son, wearing a boldly plaided double-breasted suit with broad shoulders and slight waist shaping, a widespread-collared shirt, and a wide tie featuring a zigzag pattern in victory red on a white ground, giving it the appearance of a bolt of lightning. That year the rayon tie still reigned supreme, and Esquire showed a giant close-up of a checked figured tie of printed rayon, “favored by men who are among the first to take up a new idea.” The next year, the magazine was showing a pale blue shirt as “an admirable example of the technical advancement in summer textiles. It is designed of rayon, made of one denier staple. It looks like silk, launders like cotton.” With this shirt breakthrough the model wore a regimental-striped rayon rep tie.

During the war years, when the scarcity of materials could not fail to have an adverse effect on styling, the hand-painted necktie satisfied many men’s yen for self-expression. It was seen in all sorts of patterns, everything from flowers to sailboats, and cost about $25. Such “art” demanded a larger-than-usual canvas, and most of these ties measured 4 ½ inches in width, earning them the nicknames “belly-warmer” and “scrambled egg” ties. A wartime phenomenon, the hand-painted tie continued to be popular for a few years after the war and, in a certain sense, paved the way for the “bold look” neckwear introduced in the fall of 1948.

Esquire’s bold look was heralded as the first truly new concept in men’s clothes since pony express days – “a keen, direct, look-you-in-the-eye-and-take-your-measure-look.” This “dominant male” look accordingly demanded a shirt with a widespread “command” collar and a big-knot necktie with big dots, big checks, or strong stripes. It was a look that appealed to men of all ages, but in particular to younger men who, after suffering the conformity of khaki or navy blue, were ready to break out and show their colors.

The bold look continued to gather momentum in 1949, and in its April issue Esquire held forth on the subject of the bold shirt and tie: “You may think that your face is a permanent fixture – and that in the normal course of things, only age, a hangover, or a punch in the eye can change it – but the truth is that you can do awful things to it with the wrong tie and shirt combination. A man who works over the stubble on his chin with all of the studied skill of a surgeon often picks his tie for the day as carelessly as he would pluck an apple out of a deep barrel. We don’t mind, or course, if your prefer to wear a black knitted tie every day of your life, or go in for explosive effects suggesting a disaster in a hothouse of shingle factory. But you should have a fighting chance, we figure, at the color harmonics and collar styles that mark you as a man of good taste and pleasing individuality. Vary the color you wear from day to day. Wear the style of shirt appropriate to the occasion. You might even experiment with a new kind of tie fabric than your usual – a lightweight wool, for example, will blend handsomely with your sport clothes, whereas with your business suit you might try a foulard with a small hand-blocked print effect characteristic of this fabric.” The bold tie, Esquire reminded its readers, was bold without being noisy.

The hand-painted necktie was still on the scene and sold well during the holiday season of 1949. Earlier that year Men’s Wear, casting a critical eye on neckwear in general and the hand-paints in particular, commented: “Some people have no real appreciation of beauty. They see a herd of steers on the wide open plain and all they can visualize is a thick steak. We looked at the works of art in the neckwear lines and all we could see were sales checks” (July 22, 1949).

The hand-painted ties with their sporting motifs faded away as this decade ushered in a return of ultra-conservatism. Assessing the trends in 1950, Esquire decided in favor of lighter-weight apparel stressing ease and naturalness. “Restraint is the password,” noted the fashion department, adding that the fashionable dresser must be “C-worthy.” For “C” was the key “to the right clothes for the way we live today: C for Color, C for Correct, C for Casual, C for Comfort.” That meant an oxford shirt and crocheted tie on campus and a broadcloth shirt with a graduated striped tie at the office.

The decade’s policy of cautious understatement was not fully crystallized, however until “Mr. T,” Esquire’s symbol of the new trim look, strolled on the scene in September, 1950: “You’re talking to an earthquake when you meet ‘Mr. T’ – the gent who symbolizes a tidal wave of top new fashions for men that has rolled back everything else in sight. This is not just another ‘idea’: This is the Big ‘T’- formation that is sweeping the whole men’s fashion field today. The ‘T’ is what men have been crying for, a top-to-toe formula based on smart and natural design principles that is stocking every major store in every community with a ‘T’-Line of taller, trimmer, and more masculine clothes”.

The “T look” meant tapered-crown hats, narrower shoulders, straight hanging lines, tapered trousers, narrow brims, less bulky shoes, pinpoint collars, and smaller-knot ties. As the fashion writer put it, “Every detail in your new wardrobe boosts your height, trims you down.” B y 1952, influenced by Mr. T, ties had slimmed down to 3 ½ inches in width, and even bow ties had narrowed down to where they had been in the 1930s, when the skinny ribbon shape was news.

Men’s Wear noted that the trend in ties for autumn, 1952, “has been earnestly represented by the manufacturers as tending to sparsely patterned grounds in rather neat effects. But conversely countless patterns and combinations of colors are produced each season and they all find takers. Just as there are those who steadfastly hew to the traditional lines in their selection of neckwear, so are there those who shudder at the thought of wearing the staid staples and are constantly on the prowl for more and newer novelties or the more subtly styled smart stuff.” But the really big news in neckwear during the first half of this decade had to do with the emergence of the new Dacron knits, which were being sold as washable, nonwrinkle, and no-stretch.

“Esquire’s Plan for a Man: RIGHT DRESS” was the title of a March 1952, spread that spelled out for the reader the items that belonged in the wardrobe of any man who truly hankered to be considered well dressed. For business wear, the fashion department urged the reader to express his personality with “the four-in-hand or the bow, in stripes, figures, plaids, or solids, Wools, silks, knits – many kinds!” For urban and suburban wear, it was “the four-in-hand or the bow tie, either one. Your taste will find many in woven fabrics, knits, wools, stripes, repps, figures, and foulards.” The next year the “feel of the fabric” was the headline news for spring. And the feel, said Esquire, should be rough, rugged, and breezy from head to foot – in short, the “nubby touch,” through fabrics with soft, irregular textures. And ties of course silk and shantung automatically had nubby touch.

Woven goods dominated the neckwear market for autumn, 1953, and reps were again important. Fashion news was in the color trend too, with most colors generally lighter than those usually seen in fall neckwear. Blue as the favored color that season, even in Chicago, a city where read as a neckwear color had long been preferred. Meantime, the narrowing-down of the tie shapes had more or less settled at about 3 inches, while some extra slims were as small as 2 inches.

By the mid-fifties the quest for new ideas in men’s accessories had led man designers, editors, and manufacturers to tour world-famous shops abroad, where, according to Esquire’s March, 1959, issue, “they are doing amazingly original things and yet at the same time these unconventional flights of fashion land by some creative miracle within the bounds of good taste.” Outstanding neckwear from Paris, for example, included designs based on grapes, wine bottles, wine glasses, historic statues, town crests, and famous paintings as well as cross stripes, graduated stripes, and swirl designs. A typical innovation from France was a double-knot bow tie attached to the collarband – not especially startling except that both shirt and tie were in a checked design of varied hues of gay colors.

Neckwear from Italy, often featured in Esquire, most frequently appeared in black-and-gold combinations, complementing the black and gold that dominated in the popular shantung suits. Neckwear from England included light-ground ties with dark stripes, as well as blends of silky fleece and angora mohair that were promoted as noncrush, no-wrinkle ties.

In short, the conservative years of the fifties were over, and a new, more colorful era had begun. Wash-and-wear all-cotton neckwear was introduced in 1956. A special resin treatment enabled a natural fiber to assume its original shape and appearance after washing. That year Esquire devoted a full page to the cross-pleat shirt and the splite tie, considered an ideal team for formal business wear. This new splite tie, faintly reminiscent of the panel, or center stripe, of the previous decade, featured an inverted pleat to match the knot. The clip-on four-in-hand appeared in 1957. Hooking on the front of the shirt, it was held in place by two “arms” resting under the collar. It had a brief and unfashionable life.

Bow ties became fancier that year, and for its spring, 1957, issue Apparel Arts tied a selection of them around champagne glasses, brandy snifters, and goblets, with the comment: “New woven textures, new prints and a multitude of new surface decorations add spice to a lively variety of autumnal offerings.” Among the fancier bows photographed were textured silk yarns handloomed in irregular stripes on square-end ties; a narrow cotton bow featuring black and bright gold stripes on a white ground; a butterfly of textured silk with the pattern in gold metallic thread; a tawny silk foulard with a printed design of brown demons; and an Americana print on striped cotton. Meantime the men on American campuses remained loyal to the knitted tie, practically a collegiate staple by now and seen most often in a crochet style.

By 1957 fashion writers were referring to “the elegant air,” expressed in coats and sports coats of opulent fabrics such as vicuna, cashmere, and llama fleece. Fabrics like those called for opulent neckties: a soft silk shantung featuring a Place Pigalle print in black and red on a pure white ground; heraldic stripes of deep brown, copper, and tan forming an underknot design of heavy, irregular silk in a coarse weave; and stylized black-and-white compasses parading across broad bands of clear read and blue on a straight-end tie. Furthermore, the elegant ties required protection from stains –and got it in 1959 when a finish that enabled stains to be washed out with plain cold water was introduced. One of the more widely advertised of these processes was called “Scotchgard.”

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  1. […] out what the heck a “Teck” was. The word was unusually Google-resistant. I found a post on a men’s fashion site that contained an entry from “Esquire’s Encyclopedia of […]

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"If John Bull turns around to look at you, you are not well dressed; but either too stiff, too tight, or too fashionable".
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