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Friday, November 04, 2016

So long, slim: A eulogy for the skinny tie

by JEREMY FREED, Special to The Globe and Mail

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Let us observe a moment of silence for the skinny tie. The death knell sounded this week when menswear stalwart J.Crew quietly announced it was widening its neckwear from 2.5 inches to 2.75. A quarter of an inch may not sound like a lot, but, as in darts or aerospace engineering, a quarter-inch makes a big difference in the fashion world.

The skinny tie (1.5 to 2.5 inches wide or thereabouts) rose to the height of its fame in the 1960s, thanks in part to the Beatles, who wore theirs with the slim-cut black suits and Chelsea boots that would become synonymous with a new era of mod cool. I don’t have to tell you that things got a bit weird in the decade that followed, with the advent of flared jumpsuits and men’s platform heels accompanied by the “kipper” tie, a piece of neck flair that approached half a foot in width. The kipper marked the high-water point in neckwear, and ties have (thank heavens) been getting steadily narrower ever since.

Despite how cool Bruce Springsteen looked sporting a bolo tie on the cover of Tunnel of Love, for some reason this look wasn’t adopted widely in the 1980s. Instead, a standard width of 3.5 to 4 inches persisted in the working man’s wardrobe until the mid-aughts, when the baggy suits of the 1990s were replaced by narrow lapels, tailored silhouettes and slim neckwear, not unlike the Sullivan-era Beatles.

In a previous decade it might have been safer to predict that, like hemlines, tie dimensions will continue to ebb and flow with the whims of fashion, but I’m not so sure. Telecommuting means fewer of us work in offices now, while steadily relaxing dress codes mean that those of us who do are less likely to don a tie every morning, skinny or otherwise. And that’s to say nothing of the juggernaut of athleisure, which could see us exclusively wearing five-way-stretch microfibre separates in a matter of years. On the other hand, that’s probably what people said when the Beatles swapped their sharp suits for floral prints and mandarin collars. Fashion is predictable in its unpredictability.

So long, skinny tie. What you lacked in width you made up for in tenacity. Indeed, perhaps we haven’t seen the last of you yet.

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