How can I learn to tie a necktie better?
June 10, 2006 8:52 AM   Subscribe

How can I learn to tie a necktie better?

So I've been trying to tie neckties for years now, and I still feel like I'm not very good at it. It can sometimes take me many retries before it comes out looking kinda right, and it still doesn't look perfect. I've been trying to do the four-in-hand knot because it is supposedly easier.

Am I missing something big? Are there any secret necktie-tying tips you can share? Here's what I've already found.
posted by grouse to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The fabric and thickness of the tie influences what the knot looks like, which means there is no universal knot for all ties. A full Windsor on a thick tie looks like a balled-up napkin, for example, while a 4-in-hand on a thin silk tie will look limp. The problem could also be with the ties you have. Some ties (and price isn't the only factor) just don't tie well in my experience. "Slippery" might be the best description.

The full-windsor and half-windsor aren't much more complicated than the 4-in-hand, and they're considered more balanced, so using them might get the look you're after.

As for actual knot-tying tips, you have to keep everything tight, which really isn't any different from shoelace-tying. Beyond that, getting the length down right usually involves some trial and error and almost everyone needs a few do-overs sometimes.
posted by cardboard at 9:10 AM on June 10, 2006

I can do the 4-in-hand pretty well after years of it when I was a theater manager back in the 80s. I hardly wear ties anymore, but it's like that bicycle cliché.

It's funny, tying a necktie and parallel parking a car are essentially the two primary things I learned in high school. The former because instead of shop class I took home economics and never looked back. (Technically, I guess I learned to balance my checkbook in there too, but I think I already knew how to do that from having a savings account as a kid.)

In the long run, the main thing was just doing it over and over again until I knew how each particular tie I owned needed to be tied, and then relearning that for each new tie.

Never did get the hang of the full-windsor, but I suspect I could now that I'm a little more patient.
posted by smallerdemon at 9:31 AM on June 10, 2006

I had to tie my own tie as part of my school uniform for over 10 years. If a four year old can do it, so can you! So don't get too discouraged.

Cardboard's advice of keeping things tight is key, I believe.
posted by Chorus at 9:33 AM on June 10, 2006

Find a good, old-school men's clothing store where you live.

Pick a time when they're not horrifically busy (middle of the day on weekdays is a good bet), go buy a few nice neckties from them, and confide your "problem" to one of the older salesmen. A few minutes of consultation and a few hours of practice will have you sorted right out.

I don't know what it's like in Cambridge, but here in New York City, it seems that a lot of recent college grads have *absolutely no idea* how to dress themselves for a business situation, and everyone from Brooks Brothers to the few mom-and-pop clothing stores that are left are doing a brisk business in wardrobe consulting, including helping people pick out business-dress and business-casual wardrobes, and, yes, learning how to tie a necktie.
posted by enrevanche at 9:33 AM on June 10, 2006

If you're a nerd at all, you might enjoy a book called The 85 Ways to Tie a Tie. If you can find a copy, buy it. It's written by a couple of physicists and essentially looks at every conceivable way to tie a necktie. Having read it, I feel it helped me understand the concept behind tie knots, and now every time I tie a tie, I do it differently.
posted by etc. at 10:12 AM on June 10, 2006

they have section on what ties to use with what collars and what knot looks best with the type of knot.

so brooksbrother + practice + practice = success!
posted by ruwan at 10:46 AM on June 10, 2006

I use a half windsor knot these days, to the extent I can't really remember how else to tie a tie... The key, however, is not the knot, but a nice think (material-wise) tie, to give you a decent size knot when you're done.
posted by prentiz at 10:53 AM on June 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

they have section on what ties to use with what collars and what knot looks best with the type of knot.

so brooksbrother + practice + practice = success!

Many years ago, I was going to buy a bowtie at Brooks Brothers, but I had to tell the sales guy I had no idea what to do with it. At the time they had a xeroxed sheet with all the 'tie lore' you needed to know on it in blobby, tiny print. At this location, at least, standard procedure was to offer the sheet of instructions to important customers with discretion so that "nobody has to know that you didn't know". Great approach. Too bad their online Flash page doesn't seem to have a printable version.

For what it's worth: if you have a tie that's longer than what you really need, a good full Windsor can take up the extra length and help it stop at the correct place.
posted by gimonca at 11:22 AM on June 10, 2006

Four-in-hand is easy, but can end up skimpy and lopsided.

Skinny tie, four-in-hand, thrift store sports jacket means early eighties bar band. They didn't call it the "skinny tie wars" for nothing.
posted by gimonca at 11:25 AM on June 10, 2006

Don't do the four in hand, it never looks that good. Learn the 1/2 windsor and you'll get it in a while. My tip is to make sure the tie is held flat not bunched when you cross it over, and at 45 degrees. Then you get a nice shape knot.
posted by lunkfish at 12:53 PM on June 10, 2006

enrevanche said precisely what I was going to say: find a nice, expensive clothing store, find an older salesman, tell him your ties never look right, and ask him to teach you. It's so hard to tell what you're doing wrong from the web or a printed sheet that this sort of in-person consultation is definitely the best way to go. (And you definitely won't be the first to ask him; no one knows how to dress up these days, and good sales people know that.)
posted by raf at 12:57 PM on June 10, 2006

The brooks brothers site is good. First off, as others have said, never, ever, ever do a four-in-hand. It's unbalanced, and looks awful.

The Windsor is a nice knot, when you can get it right. However, you have to tighten down the tie quite a bit to get it small enough to look good, which isn't good for the tie. (The tightness is all in the knot, not around your neck.)

My personal favorite is the Shelby, which is a variant of Brook Brothers' "Small Knot." It has some problems that make it not-good for a novice. First, it's a real knot, so you have to actually untie it at the end of the day, not just pull on it at both ends. Second, it involves starting the tie backwards, which takes a lot of getting used it. But, at the end, you have a small, balanced knot that looks great.
posted by printdevil at 1:30 PM on June 10, 2006

Another recommendation for the half windsor. On most of my ties, I end up with a pretty short piece of material in back when I'm finished, so that's kind of awkward, but I like how the knot looks better. The four-in-hand looks cheap and lazy to me now.

The main thing about tying the tie the correct length is to start consistently. Get in front of a mirror and watch how far the distance is from your first crossover to the small end of the tie. If the tie ends up being the correct length, note this distance in your head and try to duplicate it the next time you're tying ties.

Unsolicited advice: stay away from the godawful cut-away collars that are so popular in the UK. Your collar tips should not point at your shoulders.
posted by beerbajay at 2:58 PM on June 10, 2006

The four-in-hand looks terrible with a cheap tie, agreed. It can look fine with a well-constructed, substantial tie. It also consumes relatively little of the tie's length, making it especially useful if you're tall or stout want to have a proper hang of the front of the tie (exactly to your belt buckle) with enough of the tail to tuck away into the label.
posted by MattD at 5:37 PM on June 10, 2006

The 85 Ways to Tie a Tie (at Amazon)
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 7:01 AM on June 11, 2006

Thirding the recommendation for The 85 Ways to Tie a Tie. Experiment a bit with them and see what works for you. You won't have to try all 85 ways, as there are fairly simple principles behind them. I've used RLCLRCT since I read it.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:48 PM on June 11, 2006

Very often (in fact, upon checking, *all* of my ties - mostly silk, none cheap, none v. expensive) there are a couple of diagonal seams on the outside of the tie, one of which is approximately 1/3rd along from the narrow end, the other halfway.

With the tie around my neck unfastened, narrow end to the left, I cross the ends over (wide over narrow) and then adjust the length of the wide end (now in my left hand) so that one seam is right at the back of my neck (hard to judge) and the other - easier to see - isn't yet quite touching the cross-over point.
Once the half-Windsor is then tied, the narrow end of the tie hangs down perfectly to tuck into the loop/label that's near the wide end...

I've just had a play around with some of the other knots as illustrated on the site Prentiz linked to - it takes a while to get your head around looking at the diagrams... until you can mentally use the illustration as if it is your mirror image. Print the instructions, and stick them to the wall next to the mirror in which you're practicing! The Pratt/Shelby is strange, but looks good - and as you're coming in cold with tie knots, you won't have to "unlearn" which way around the tie goes! My vote, however, for a good all-purpose knot is the half-Windsor - easy, balanced, smart... and as others have said, I now struggle to remember how I used to tie my school tie (which I have just discovered was a four-in-hand)...

A small (cautionary) anecdote: When I first tried to tie a bow-tie, foolishly, I didn't practice in advance, and left it until the evening I was going out in it... I spent just under two hours before I got a satisfactory shaped knot - and even then it wasn't tight enough - but in doing so, my hands went a hideous purple colour, with prominent veins, and chronic pins and needles, all from holding my hands up to my neck for so long. Practice is very important, but give yourself enough time, and mind the circulation! :)
posted by Chunder at 3:04 PM on June 11, 2006
posted by kc0dxh at 2:55 PM on June 12, 2006

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