From a school age, the tie represents a certain way of dressing. You learn from a very early age the importance it has to a man’s wardrobe and the character it embodies. While at first you wore it out of formality, hopefully you can find the joy of having a collection that you proudly knot around your neck. Given its importance, this small guide aims to dissect the tie and explain its components.
Like with suits or shoes, it’s nice to know how a tie is made so you can at least appreciate them at deeper level and recognise the workmanship that goes into one that is well made. Yet many men are unaware of how a tie is constructed, and what discerns a well made tie from one you find at a bargain rack. Broken down, the tie has five main parts – the envelope, keeper, tip, interlining and stitching.
This is the main body of a tie and the part you’re most familiar with. Whether it is silk, wool, cashmere, cotton or linen, the quality of the fabric affects how the tie will hang, or drape, and its resistance to wear. On that note, polyester ties should be avoided at all costs. Most ties come in plain, printed or woven silk and even then, there are a myriad of variations.
After a pattern has been cut out of fabric, it then has to be folded to form the slender shape that we all know. Check inside the tip of some of your ties to have an idea of the construction. Most ties are 3-fold, meaning one fold on either side and then another in the centre to be stitched under. I have a few ties that are 7-fold and I’ve seen some go up to 12. More folds add body and weight to fabrics, which finer silks need for a better drape and knotting ability. Higher fold ties are also harder to make, and can be a sign of the workmanship that goes into them.
Be careful because a higher fold doesn’t necessarily mean a better quality tie. Just like the Super grades count on a suit, Chinese manufacturers and brands take advantage of this simple number and ill-informed consumers will happily believe those mass-made seven-fold ties are better.
The keeper is the little loop of fabric stitched to the backside of your tie that you can use to keep the end of the tie in place. It can be either made of the brand label or the same fabric as the envelope. Some ties have two keepers, with both the label and the self-keeper attached.
Each end of a tie has to be finished so as to achieve a clean finish and long lasting point that remains strong. This can be done by either two ways. The first, and most common method, is by another piece of fabric that is stitched inside out on an end on an inward seam and then turn out the right way. The attached material is called the tipping. A tie can be also left untipped, where the edges are hand rolled and sewn much like how a pocket square is finished. If it has been hand sewn, look out for any wrinkles on the front side, a sign of sloppy stitching.
The interlining is a piece of fabric, usually wool or a wool-blend, placed inside the tie before it is folded. It helps with keeping a tie its structure and drape. Pure wool is best for interlining because of its comparative ability to resist creases and durability. For ties that are unlined, more folds are needed in able to give the tie its body necessary to hold its shape. Untipped ties are almost always unlined.
Finally the stitching, which ties everything together. Luxury ties, like the ones made by Hermes or Charvet, are entirely hand stitched. Look out for artisanal details like a slip stitch that runs the length of the tie and hand stitched bar tacks that keep the ends enclosed. The slip stitch is loosely sewn and will allow the fabric some flexibility when being tied and help the tie return to its original shape when untied. You’ll find machine made ties stiffer in the hand than ones that made have been hand made.