The Undone Tie

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A loose tie knot is much derided by style aficionados and those of a traditional bent to menswear. But it can work well. As with all these style quirks, it depends on using traditions of menswear as a weapon, understanding them and then subverting them.

The dark suit, white shirt and dark tie is often used as an archetypal ‘cool’ outfit worn by movie stars and rock stars. While it becomes very formulaic if everyone wears it, and plain dull if it is the only thing to appear on a red carpet, it is striking. The stark lack of colour and high-contrast silhouette suggest aggression, while a loose black tie gives the impression of laid-back nonchalance. Danger and indifference – two time-worn elements of cool.

However, a loose tie only works when it is contained. The image included in this post, of two men posing for a shot on The Sartorialist, shows how a loose tie knot can work well. It is a world apart from the portly gentleman with jacket unbuttoned, letting a wide, loose tie flap around on his gut. That undermines every flattering and stylish aspect of a tie.

To wear a loose tie well, you should bear in mind width, colour and boundaries. The tie should be narrow if possible, as shown on this gentleman in the Sartorialist photo. A loose tie knot risks dragging the whole silhouette of a man southwards, as the wide bottom loses the harmonious balance it holds with the taut knot at the neck. Suddenly both ends of the tie are pointing downwards. A narrow tie avoids this problem by removing the breadth of the tie at its bottom end. You have a vertical line rather than a downward-pointing arrow.

The tie should also be dark if possible, or plain at the least. This is because the tie is there to draw attraction to its louche silhouette, not to its pattern or colour. The outfit is about line and contrast, not tonal harmonisation.

But the most important aspect of wearing a loose tie well is boundaries. A loose tie looks bad when it flops, flaps and ruins silhouette. If the jacket (or waistcoat) is buttoned, that tie is contained and will not flap or flop. Equally, a collar that suggests it is containing the tie works well. You will notice that in the picture the gentleman both has his jacket buttoned and wears a button-down collar. That combination makes the tie an effective part of the whole rather than a distraction.

It kind of looks cool as well.


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Simon Crompton is a journalist and a style enthusiast living in London, who blogs at permanentstyle.blogspot.com. He has too many suits.