By J. Eric Eckard | Photography courtesy of J. Eric Eckard
The death of neckwear has been greatly exaggerated.
Granted, neckties sales today are nowhere near the $1.8 billion in annual revenue generated in 1995. But after a dismal time during the Great Recession, tie sales bounced back to about $850 million in 2014.
“We still sell a lot of ties,” said Joe Yarber, owner of MLM Clothiers in Tupelo. “But it’s true, you just don’t see people dressing up as much anymore. Today, it’s more casual.”
Yarber said he remembers his father, wearing a tie most every day. But then, Casual Fridays came along.
“Casual Fridays carried over to Casual Mondays, and then it was casual all week.” Yarber said.
In recent years, ties have made a comeback of sorts, particularly bow ties – and particularly in the Southeast. In 2014, Bows-N-Ties, an online neckwear retailer, indicated that nationwide Google search data revealed that Mississippi men were all about bow ties.
The traditional Southern gentleman in his seersucker suit, bedecked with a colorful bow tie, apparently still resonates in Mississippi – and other parts of the South, as well. South Carolina, Alabama and Kentucky also are in the top five of that Google search analysis.
“There are more good men’s clothing stores in the South than any other part of the country,” said Randy Hanauer, who has been making neckwear since 1986. “Men in the Southeast just have more personal style than in any other place in the country.
“The Northeast has some good stores, but not a lot.”
Stan Shanks owns Landry’s in Oxford, Miss. Landry’s started out as a dry goods store in 1891 in Clarksdale, Miss., and it’s evolved into a men’s clothing store.
“We do fairly well with our bow ties,” Shanks said. “It’s a traditional look – even a bit preppy.”
Hanauer, who runs the South Carolina-based R. Hanauer company with his son, credits millennials for the resurgence of bow ties. Current sales figures indicate that bow ties account for about 10 percent of all tie sales in the United States.
“Bow tie sales are very strong among young people,” Hanauer said. “For college students, they’re a really big deal.
“And now, high school kids are wearing them.”
History of the modern tie
The modern necktie originated with Croatian soldiers, and King Louis XIII popularized them during the 1600s. The French dubbed it a cravate. Since then, neckwear has evolved into one of the most widely used accessories in men’s fashion.
The four-in-hand, or long necktie, has gone through dramatic changes throughout the years. Each generation puts its own mark on neckwear. From the 1-inch skinny ties of the 1960s and ‘80s to the 5-inch wide ties of the 1940s and ‘70s, neckwear styles have been cyclical.
Skinny or wide?
Today, long ties vary from 2-to-3-1/4 inches wide, depending on geography. Yarber said that skinnier ties are making a comeback in some metro areas.
Although there are plenty of wool, cotton and linen ties out there – and even some novelty materials like wood – silk rules the tie world. And the most popular colors are anything but basic. Pinks, purples and reds sell big, and paisleys and stripes fly off the shelves, Yarber said.
But bow ties remain a bit more traditional. Hanauer said that the width ranges anywhere from 2-to-2-3/8 inches. And although red and navy-blue bow ties are popular, black is the No. 1 seller.
“By far – we sell hundreds and hundreds of them,” Hanauer said. “But we like to do seasonal things. Like in the spring, there are lots of colors so it all doesn’t look the same.”
Caring for ties
Because ties are delicate, caring for them is vital so they’ll last. Removing a tie at the end of the day might seem simple, but experts recommend reversing the knot-tying process. Pulling the short end out and loosening the knot could damage the material over time.
Hanging the tie also helps its longevity. Rolling them up – skinny end first – is acceptable for traveling, but hanging them helps with any wrinkles. Hanging them while you’re showering also can help steam out some wrinkles.
Inevitably, a stain will make its way onto a tie. Whether you use an on-the-go stain remover like Tide® To Go or Shout Wipes or natural cleaners like club soda or seltzer water, the key is to blot. Don’t rub.
And if you do take your ties to the dry cleaners, make sure they don’t iron them – a big taboo for most ties.
Ties have become so optional at work that it’s no longer a habit for men to wear them. So now, some men struggle with deciding when it’s appropriate to wear neckwear. It’s typically a good bet to don a tie at funerals and weddings.