Saying it with silk; the power of the tie

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Saying it with silk; the power of the tie

When an American architect, Michael Graves, visited Seoul a few years ago, he and his two assistants were invited to a dinner at an elegant Italian restaurant.

Spaghetti swathed in bolognese sauce arrived. Mr. Graves looked down at his gray silk tie and announced, "Now gentlemen, I'm going to flip my tie over my shoulder. I don't want the sauce to ruin my tie."

In etiquette books, gentlemen are not supposed to do that.

But, the Korean CEO who hosted the dinner laughed, and said, "Yes. Me, too."

The two Princeton-pedigreed architects followed suit, saying, "Sure, why not?"

As accessories, neckties don't have a true function. They cover the shirt's closure and add a clean vertical line, creating a proportionate and beautiful elegance for a wardrobe.

In the 17th century, King Louis XIV of France noticed Croatian soldiers wearing red scarves and tied a scarf around his own neck. The cravat, which is derived from the word "Croat," quickly spread throughout the continent and became a symbol of status among gentlemen.

Ties used to be made from a single piece of silk folded seven times diagonally. The high price of silk makes that impossible today, so ties are lined. The outer material should be 100 percent silk; the lining should be wool.

To check a tie's quality, feel the silk. It should be smooth. Check the lining. Fine-quality wools are marked with a series of gold bars. Look inside the inverted "V" in the back of a tie for a black thread that is hanging loose. Called a slip stitch, it helps retain the shape of the tie after it has been tied and untied.

What is the necktie's standard size? The width varies depending on the shape of the shirt collar and the suit lapels. But generally ties should be 2 3/4 to 3 1/2 inches (7-8.8 cm.) wide and 52 to 58 inches long. A tie, when knotted, should reach the top of the belt buckle.

There are a few ways to tie a knot. The classic Windsor takes up more length than others. Most men today prefer the simple four-in-hand knot.

A tie should coordinate with the shirt and jacket that it's being worn with. Most lightweight silk ties work well with cotton and light silk shirts. Woven ties can be worn with heavy materials, such as tweed or corduroy. Cotton and linen ties are good for summer suits, but they often fail to create a clean-cut look. A tie's pattern shouldn't conflict with the shirt's pattern.

The colors and patterns of ties play an important role in delivering subtle messages about the wearer's attitude.

A solid red tie against a crisp white shirt and a dark suit says, "I'm the most important person." To convey authority, try the classic foulard bearing small patterns in burgundy, blue or yellow. Tiny polka dots are a safe choice.

To make a good impression at job interviews, try a regimental or diagonally striped tie. It says, "I'm well-educated and conservative."

Looking for your ol' pals? Wear a club tie bearing a school crest or a club symbol. But be sure not to wear a tie that has absolutely nothing to do with you.

Ties that don't belong to the above-mentioned traditional ties are categorized as fun ties. A gold lame tie, a tie with purple flowers that your ex-girlfriend gave you and a tie with a limited edition print by Pablo Picasso are for pleasure.

You want to look sharp this coming season? Stripes are back. They are bold in new, retro color combinations -- gold, brown, turquoise blue, sky blue -- worn against pale striped shirts.

If your suit is a '70s dandy, opt for wider ties with candy colors. If your suit is more conservative, go for solids in textured gray or burgundy-based stripes.

Choi Sun-hee, the fashion editor at Esquire Korea, says that for this year's spring/summer look, most of the leading Italian menswear brands are endorsing mismatched stripes.

"The latest look is to wear a finely striped shirt and a pinstriped suit and match them with a boldly striped tie with strong, trendy colors," says Ms. Choi. "This creates a strong and beautiful contrast."

by Ines Cho
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