We’ve already talked about how suits and sportcoats can be differentiated by era and how you can pull them off. Ties can also be categorized similarly, as I believe that vintage ties are a great source of quality pieces which still have a place today. In general, most ties pre-1960 had thin interlining, forming a great four-in-hand knot, and untipped edges that will not look out of place even in modern outfits. But if you pay close attention to their shape and designs, you’ll also be able to recreate a vintage look, if that suits your fancy.
This is an overview of ties by decade, considering the patterns, shapes, and constructions that were peculiar of each generation. Keep in mind, however, that the same patterns and designs were sometimes sold for lengths of time, overlapping each other, so by no means is this guide definitive.
While the modern tie as we know it has been around since the 1860s or so, ties at the turn of the century through the 1910s were different than those you see today today. Like the oddly shaped suits of the era, there really wasn’t any “standardized” shape or length. Some models were short and exceptionally wide while others were slim and angular; in general, there were a lot of variations similar to the the different suit cuts and designs popular during this era. Woven brocade silk was the name of the game, but prints were still widely available, with florals and stripes being the most popular. I don’t own many myself, but I find that these designs are sometimes a little too dandy to be worn with contemporary tailoring.
Ties of the 1920s got closer to the shape we know today, thanks to the growing popularity of turndown collars, which allowed for the four-in-hand cravats and bowties to be worn. The novelty shapes seen in previous decades continued to be worn, but went out of style in favor of more standard styles by the mid-late ’20s. Woven silks and shiny brocade/jacquards dominated this era, with many designs directly influenced by the art deco movement. Style as a passion for collegiate youth began to take off in the late 1920s, and more men began buying neckties to show off their style. Some of the most beautiful ties I’ve ever seen come from this era, with some being wonderful interpretations of the classic patterns and prints we see today, just with a little bit more creative freedom.
1930s and 1940s
Of all the eras, my favorite ties come from the ’30s and ’40s, although they were definitely less “artsy” than the decade that preceded it. Most young men preferred simple stripes and foulards. Geometric prints, two-tone plaids, and university stripe reps dominated the fashion illustrations of Laurence Fellows, who was one of the most prolific menswear artists of the time. Ties of this era were characterized by being 3-4” wide, but tapered through the body, widening out again to the back blade. The length was short, but perfect for high rise trousers. While silk was the mainstay of tie fabrics at this time, wool and rayon began to be popular choices as brands tried to one-up each other for the market. One fabric that is popular among collectors today is Palm Beach, made by the suit company that patented its own unique blend of wool and mohair (later cotton too); these ties are hard to find and often fetch a lot of money on eBay.
The bold look of the late 1940s to mid 1950s had a big effect on ties. The four-in-hand was cast out in favor of the wider Windsor knot. Tie patterns also got crazier, with large scale abstract designs being favored in place of the classic patterns. Novelty prints came in full force, with some ties featuring pin-up models, animals, and scenery. These ties were often painted by hand.
As tailoring began to become wider and elongated, ties designs also followed suit (pun intended), with ties from the early 1950s featuring long, vertical patterns. However, this fad was soon cast out during the ultra-conservatism of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Thanks to Mad Men, the ties of this next era will be familiar to most. As men began to wear their trousers lower, the ties became longer, as well as slimmer-seldom going beyond 2.75” in width. Foulards and vertical designs were still made, but most men preferred stripes and solids to go with their sack cut business suits. This conformity was in reaction to the bold era that preceded it.
1960s – 1970s
This theme of rebellion continued in the late 60s and early 1970s, as crazy designs soon took hold. A return to fashion in the minds of consumers helped bring back abstract designs, featuring crazy paisley prints, wide stripes, and a multitude of colors. In general, it looked almost like the 1930s-40s with one main exception: polyester was the new fabric. These synthetic ties were wide and thick, creating huge knots that went perfectly with wide disco collars. Ties like these can often found in thrift stores.
Just like tailoring, ties have changed quite a bit over the years. Like most of menswear, the manufacturing quality of ties decline after the 1960s as the best ties today are found by more artisanal makers like Kenji Kaga and Drake’s, who have not only preserved the untipped folded methods but have even brought back the vintage-inspired prints and patterns.
Personally, I’ll always prefer foulards and stripes from the 1960s and earlier, as they provide a vintage avenue for classic menswear that is often more affordable for younger guys like me. These vintage ties can be quite similar to high end ties today, making them easy to wear as well as making for an interesting conversation piece to those who notice it!
Post the pictures of your ties on the Neckties Thread on Styleforum.
You can read more about why I prefer vintage ties on my blog Street x Sprezza.
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