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Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Reason For The Death Of The Tie Might Be In The Words Of Honoré de Balzac

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting up with one of Sydney's more discreetly better dressed men. He is one of those aesthetes that takes the time to research and know about cloth before he makes a suit, a man who would take the time to know the precise difference between last styles offered by shoe makers. He is meticulous, I was once told by his wife, in every aspect of his life, from how he cooks and prepares his food to how he ties his laces.

We don't always agree on many subjects and to some extent his style is not always my cup of tea. He wears more grey than I like, his choice of blues for shirts is slightly off my own palette, his taste in shoes I find almost polemic. Yet, it is precisely our differences and his knowledge base which fascinates me and why I hold him in high regard. I can hold sartorial conversations with him that I can't with any of my other friends. I can take note of something he is wearing and in three words we both are able to articulate that we both understand the style and the history behind that particular fabric, cut, style or make.

Yesterday he wore a tie I would not do anything other than cut up and throw in the cabbage bin. It was a Drakes of London tie in a shantung silk that to my eye seemed like an old bit of rag turned into a tie. He showed it to me with great enthusiasm, along with some very beautiful silk grenadine ties by Tom Ford and Gallo of Paris. I loved both of the latter ties, but the Drakes I would only use for polishing my shoes.

At that point I made the remark "you know, I do not understand why you guys walk around the city with these drab and insipid ties, as though a plain shantung silk has any character in it" . He knew I had passed a shot across his bow but he was not going to rise to the occasion inelegantly and responded "in a work environment you can't walk around with such vibrant silks that you offer" and he stung me like a bee. I continued on "one of the things I find most appalling is the lack of character in ties these days. Men wear them to try and fit in, to be afraid of actually revealing any of their own personality. It reminds me of what Honoré de Balzac said with regards to the tie being the mark of the man and his individuality. I think he said that if the tie is ever standardized in design or knot then it will cease to exist because it is the only part of a man's attire that is his own creation."

At this point both of us agreed on one thing. Too many men in business and politics lacked any character when it came to what they put around their neck. With respect to that, we were both finally united in an opinion. I told him that I was interested in running for politics just so that I could be the first man to wear a pink suit in the Australian federal parliament. I think he thought I was serious. I think I might have been serious. "Why not?" I suggested. "Harry S Truman was a haberdasher that failed selling ties and accessories in Kansas so he went into politics" I said.

We parted company soon after but not before he picked up a bow tie and a couple of pairs of socks to match his beautiful rich deep blue silk dupioni cloth from Holland & Sherry suit that he was going to pair them with.

In the afternoon as I was serving a wedding party I was thinking on Balzac and that he was right in his conjecture. The tie will die when it ceases to be the individual's. When Balzac was around, people often made their own ties and tied them in their own way. It was before the world of long neck ties, before ties were bow ties even. As he rightly noted, most men did not have a hand in the work that was done by the tailor, nor a hand in the work that was done by the cobbler, nor even, by then, the shirt maker. Yet there was one thing he had a hand in, the tie, and it was up to him to source the right fabric and tie it in his own way. In modern society, we have lost that art, both the fabric, the cuts and the knots are all standardized - most being 8cm neck ties knotted in a four-in-hand in a variety of prints and weaves that are designed to fit in. It is that aspect of the neck tie that might in fact kill the whole art form, for if there is no individual expression in the suit, nor the shoes, nor the shirt, nor the even the tie, what then separates one man from the next?

In the words of Balzac:

“It is neither by study nor by effort that one is successful; it is spontaneously, by instinct and by inspiration that one ties his tie. A tie well tied is one of those traits of genius that is felt and admired but never analysed or taught. I would dare to say, with all strength of conviction, that the tie is romantic by nature: The day that it submits to static rules will be the day that it ceases to exist.

It is true that, of all the aspects of one’s dress, the tie is the only one to belong solely to men, the only one where a man can find his individuality. For your hat, your clothes and your shoes, all the credit is owed to the hatter, the tailor and the cobbler who have delivered these things to you in all their finery. There is nothing in them of yours. But, for the bow tie, you have neither help nor support. You are abandoned to your own devices. You must find whatever you need in yourself. The laundress leaves you with a heavy piece of fabric and you must use what knowledge you possess to make something of it. As though it were a block of marble between the hands of Phidias or those of a stonemason, a tie will only ever be as good as the man that wears it. In all truth, it is the tie that makes the man as it is through his tie that a man’s measure is revealed.”

Honoré de Balzac once predicted that when the tie is standardized  or kept to 'static rules' it will cease to exist. 

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