The Tie (and How to Tie It)

  • Style
  • Sep 19, 2016

I remember asking my dad when I could wear a regular tie.  A real one, like his; not the clip-on kind I’d been wearing since diapers.  I grew up going to religious meetings, and although my two brothers were content with the ease of a clip-on to satisfy decorum, I wanted to dress like my dad.  With a real tie.  So one evening, when we were getting dressed for the meeting, I asked him.

“Do you know how to tie a tie?”

The look of stupefaction across my face elicited a smile from his, and he motioned for me to step in front of him as he was facing the mirror.  Popping my collar up, he took one of his ties, draped it on my neck, and adjusted the blades a bit before giving instructions.

“OK, ready?  Over, under, over, through.”  

In less than ten seconds, I was wearing a tie.  His hands moved like a blur.  It could have been pure wizardry and I wouldn’t have been more amazed.  It just seemed so…complicated. 


“Want me to show you again?”  Then slowly, “Over, under, over, and through.”

This time the sequence seemed more deliberate, and I was able to memorize the words, if not the steps themselves.  So he left me in front of the mirror for a few minutes and finished getting the rest of the family ready while I repeated the words again and again.  When he came back, I think I had a knot, but it looked more like the knot I used for my shoes.

“Let’s go.  Put on your other tie, and I’ll show you again after the meeting.”

I don’t remember anything at that meeting, but I do remember looking at my dad on the stage that night, and I remember his solid brown tie, because I thought a black leather one would be pretty dope, or maybe a green square knit.  All the clip-on ties I had were equilateral triangles and weirdly bulbous, but grown-up ties had organic shapes and that puckering at the bottom.  Clip-on ties seemed like drawn-on mustaches, and they never fooled anybody.

One thing I did remember was ties generally seemed to stop just below the belt line, and there was some coherence between lapel width and tie.  Even though this was the early 80’s when fat ties were still around, the balance was more or less what you see today.  Speaking of today and recent trends: you never saw the back blade longer than the front.  Never.  EVER.  That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.  In fact it did – all the time, due to our short stature as kids.  But we tucked it in our pants, and even had a name for it:  the “peepee napkin.”

Later that night at home, before I took off my meeting clothes, I reminded my dad that he would show me how to tie a tie.  So he got out another one, took off my clip-on, and went through the steps again.

“Over, under, over, and through.  Got it?”  I didn’t.

“That’s OK.  We’ll do it again for the next meeting.”  He loosened the tie, took it off my neck, tugged both ends, and just like THAT…  The knot was gone!  My dad had more style than Michael Jackson, even if he looked like Treat Williams.

I don’t remember exactly when I tied my first tie successfully, but I’ve never wondered when I needed to wear one.  You just know.  And I’m glad I know how.  I guess I can thank my parents for that.  Now that I’m older, #menswear has evolved into a fashion-y, mercurial soup of peacocking posing as creativity, but classic tailored clothing – or “meeting clothes”, as I came to call them – will always be cool to me.  And more than anything else, the tie – tied correctly – makes the difference.  So when the situation calls for it, do it.  Do it well.  Because who wants to keep dressing like a kid, when you can look like a grown-up?

Video: The Armoury

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Peter Zottolo
Peter works in construction, but has an extensive collection of custom suits which he gets so that he can wear suits on the weekend. Even though he lives in San Francisco, he has never used the word "impact" as a verb. He writes about classic menswear and is one fedora away from being a complete dork.
Peter Zottolo

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  1. Mario Guarrella

    September 21, 2016

    Ottimo articolo, Peter.

    • Peter Zottolo


      September 26, 2016

      Grazie, Mario

  2. chuck pollard

    September 22, 2016

    this article took me back. well done!

    • Peter Zottolo


      September 26, 2016

      Thanks. All credit goes to my father.

  3. Vandna Gandhi

    October 3, 2016

    As a bespoke tailor selling custom suits in New York, I meet a lot of clients who will spend a lot of money on tailor made suit only to then skimp on the accessories. The tie is almost as important as the suit and learning how to tie a great knot is an art that every discerning gentleman of taste should know.

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