My father constantly told me never to purchase a polyester tie. Every time I picked up a promising cheapy, he would look at the label and point to the tiny and disappointing print; “Look; 100% polyester! I wouldn’t buy that.” It was always thus; I would fall in love with a tie and, hearing my father’s voice, I would search through the tie’s lining for the little white labels. It wasn’t until I had amassed a collection of good silks, with a few polyesters (if a tie cost less than a pint, I didn’t care if it was made from seaweed), that I understood why it was that my father had issued such dismissive noises when confronted with a ‘poly’ tie.
Firstly, silk looks better. Polyester is far better than it used to be in mimicking but it’s still fairly obvious, in the right light, that it isn’t silk. It’s often too shiny. Poly is also stiff and resistant and the fibres don’t grip each other like those of silk which can be a problem in knotting. This was made evident when I used my university ties – I possessed a cheap polyester one in addition to a smarter silk version; I could never produce the same knot or the same tie arch with the poly as I could with the silk. Since that time, I have reverted to my father’s teachings and avoid all polyester ties, however interestingly patterned. A lesson learned.
However, on some days wearing silk just doesn’t feel right. It might be one of those days on which I am wearing a particularly vivid and shiny silk pocket square when the thought of adding more sheen fills me with dread. Those prepackaged tie & pocket square sets from Moss Bros repulse me not because of some dislike for convenience but because they are crafted from the same material; over sheen, overkill. Perhaps, instead of a standard woven style, I should choose a slub silk? Possibly, although these are few and far between. Or, perhaps I could plump for a tie in a fabric that very few people contemplate when searching for neckwear?
Cotton is one of the most commonplace fabrics but it makes a fabulous neck tie. Cotton ties are nothing modern either, as this was the neckwear material of choice in the 18th and early 19th centuries, even for the elegantly attired uber-dandy Beau Brummell. Its matte finish contrasts perfectly with fine wool suits and silk accessories, rendering a complex ensemble of mixed textures, and, less formal than silk, it is perfect for ‘semi-informal’ garden parties, barbecues and al fresco brunches. It is also cheaper than silk too.
And where cotton is spring and summer, wool and cashmere are autumn and winter. Fluffy, cosy-looking and a refreshing break from the glutton of silk contained in tie drawers, woollen ties share the subtle matte texture of their cotton cousins but are thicker and more substantial. The perfect foil for Sea Island cotton shirts and paisley silk squares, a plain woollen or cashmere tie conveys an understanding of texture and subtlety. There’s more to ties than the silk/poly conundrum.