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Sunday, November 11, 2007

A quarter inch can make a big difference

By Dick Hirsch

A quarter of an inch this way or that is not even worth mentioning if you are discussing the width of a slice of pizza or the length of your brother-in-law’s sideburns. But a quarter of an inch assumes a critical role when assessing the size and appearance of neckties in the wardrobe of today’s fashionable men.

I should admit at the outset that I am no longer the expert on ties that I was at one time. However, for what it is worth, I believe I can still justifiably claim some expertise about shirts, socks and underwear since I still regularly utilize those items. The story is much different with ties.

For years I wore a tie every working day, and, in addition, I always wore one to most social or entertainment events of any consequence. I had a rack in the closet with a sufficient selection, enabling me to rotate them, trying never to wear the same tie two days in the same week. During those years, if I happened to be walking through the men’s department, accompanying my wife to ladies’ shoes, I would often feel an irresistible urge to fiddle with the ties on the display racks. Sometimes I would buy one, take it home, only to discover that I already owned a tie that was almost identical. That is another story.

That activity now seems so long ago that, even as I type these lines, I shake my head in wonderment when I realize that the first (and perhaps only) major decision of the day was which tie to wear. I gave up regular tie wearing years ago. Yes, it was part of the office “casual Friday” revolution, true. It was also a step I must have been subconsciously yearning to take for years. I tried it on Friday and soon adopted the casual attire for every day. I wasn’t alone; I was part of a trend, a new experience for me.

Many of my good friends have continued to wear ties throughout the casual period and I salute them for their dedication to the old ways. Some wore ties and jackets out of habit, but most were responding to the dictates of their occupation or profession. Lawyers, bankers and clergymen were among those who continued daily tie-knotting, anticipating the day when ties would return to fashion as staples in the office. There have been a number of recent press reports indicating that the tie, in retreat for so long, is making a comeback.

Concurrently, I found a report in a trade journal heralding the news that ties were getting narrower, with widths of three inches or even less being worn at some of the in spots in places like New York and Los Angeles. That was nasty news; just as ties were regaining some popularity, the dimensions were being changed so all the ties on everyone’s rack would become somewhat obsolete. As you must know, the neckwear industry tampers with the dimensions every now and then, creating a trendlet to stimulate business. Once, years ago, in the wake of such a change, I spent considerable time attempting to track down the individual or individuals responsible for suddenly making ties much wider. I was unsuccessful; the neckwear industry dropped a cloak of security over the matter and I was unable to gather any meaningful information. But when I heard the news this time, I thought there might be a positive side.

Even though I have no immediate plans to once again become a regular wearer, I thought that the passage of time might have worked in my favor, making the old ties on my rack stylish again. I took a ruler into the bedroom closet and began randomly measuring a few ties at their widest point. They all seemed to be around three and a quarter inches.

I consulted John Huber, a retailer and a man well-known for his expertise in all matters dealing with men’s apparel, a respected traditionalist, yet a man who is always open to new ideas.

“Three and a half inches,” Huber said, defining the current most popular size. “Some manufacturers will go to three and three quarters.”

Too bad; just my luck. My ties are too wide to be trendy and too narrow to be traditional. Some clever designer must have planned it exactly that way.

“With ties, a quarter of an inch can be very noticeable,” Huber observed, with an knowing smile.



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