Are men’s neckties gone for good, or will they ever make a comeback? — Burton, Charleston, S.C.
As my colleague Guy Trebay, our men’s wear critic, said when I asked him about ties, “It never pays to sound the death knell in fashion since even the most seemingly defunct articles of clothing have a way of rising from the dead, and this is particularly so in men’s wear, where the repertoire is limited and largely based on centuries-old customs.”
Every generation, it seems, has a way of “discovering” items of dress that previous generations dismissed in triumph, recontextualizing them and claiming them for its own, like anthropologists unearthing buried treasures. Wide ties? Bell bottoms? So ironically cool! Corsets? Neato! Waistcoats? Funky. Spats? Erm … maybe for a costume party.
Indeed, there is a difference between a garment becoming a novelty item and a garment being a standard part of a wardrobe, and that, I think, is what we are talking about here. The tie as a de facto part of everyday dressing, like underwear, is probably a thing of the past. It has been quietly losing ground for years, between the advent of casual Fridays, the general blurring of lines between our personal and professional lives and the working-from-home days of the pandemic. The Men’s Dress Furnishings Association, the industry body that represented the tie-makers of America, closed its doors in 2008.
Derek Guy, a.k.a., @dieworkwear, told me that the owner of one high-end men’s clothing store told him that he “considers his necktie displays now to be part of the shop’s décor, like bars that display antique liquor ads or paper currencies now defunct.”
That doesn’t mean the tie is necessarily the vestigial tail of men’s wear (at least not yet). As one door closes, another opens. It is possible that the demise of the tie as a standard part of dress could mean the rise of the tie as an optional accessory to signify individuality (for any gender), not to mention it would make it even more effective in underscoring the formality of an occasion.
The Senate, in its recent dress code hoo-ha, is a good case in point. After everyone got over the ridiculous idea that the sky would fall if John Fetterman was officially allowed to wear hoodies and shorts on the Senate floor, the senators (including Mr. Fetterman) agreed that they, or at least the men, would wear jackets and ties when in the chamber, in acknowledgment of the seriousness of the occasion. The rest of the time they can wear what they want. That makes the tie a symbol of political ritual, and tradition, rather than just an item of clothing (and Washington into one of its last bastions).
To that end, I expect the tie will probably experience blips in popularity according to fashion. Alexandra Van Houtte of the fashion search engine Tagwalk noted that 4 percent of the looks in the spring 2024 men’s shows included a tie, which sounds low, except that figure is 3 percent more than the spring shows the year before. Mr. Trebay pointed out that sales of neckties at Hermès and Charvet in Paris, two of the best known high-end purveyors of ties, “have experienced double-digit percentage upticks over the past year.”
All of which means what? That everyone will probably still need a tie, but not a lot of ties. Mr. Guy also said, “I suspect that in another 10 or 20 years, the tie will be like a woman’s wedding dress.” Which is to say, a special event-only garment, a relic of tradition and redolent with historical meaning, but not relevancy.