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Tied like a master

Tie knots - Windsor knotWe tie our tie all the time, and if you’re like me, you have seen them done in a bunch of different ways. For a moment, I will assume that you already realise that you should untie your tie at the end of each day, and let it return to its original condition.A gentleman should know a range of different knots to use, and when each is appropriate. Most generally, there are only a few knots that everybody should know:

  1. The Windsor (Father’s knot)
  2. The Reverse Half-Windsor (Uncle’s knot)
  3. The Four-in-Hand (Mother’s knot)
  4. The Bow Tie
  5. The Ascot

Of these, the first three are for our day suits, the Bow Tie for formal occasions (or perhaps during the day if you’re a professorial type, a barrister or looking to distinguish yourself like someone from The Apprentice. The Ascot has long been for short wide ties, though is also used with a scarf. Here I will explain why you should wear your ties with a Windsor or a Reverse Half-Windsor, and leave the Bow Tie and Ascot to another day.

The Windsor knot, popularised by men’s style icon, the Duke of Windsor, reinforces both sides, and is the thickest knot commonly used. This reinforcement leads to the knot having a strongly triangular shape, and should also be worn with a single dimple along the centre of the vertical part of the tie. Use it with spread collars to balance the size of the collar, with thin ties or when you otherwise want to emphasise the knot or the tie more. With a tab-behind collar, such as the one in the picture above, the collar itself already pushes the knot forward, so a Windsor knot is unnecessary, and would tend to make the tie look imbalanced.

The Reverse Half-Windsor only reinforces one of the ‘sides’, though can still retain the balanced triangular look. This should look much like the Windsor, and is especially suited to thicker ties, such as seven-fold ties, and narrow collars such as the tab-behind or a conventional collar. Again, a central dimple along the tie should be seen, rather than no dimpling or random dimples.

I don’t wear a Four-in-Hand, though it was the knot my mother taught me to tie. It is very easy though seldom looks good in my opinion; the balace of a Windsor or Reverse half Windsor look far more finished. Despite this, the Four-in-Hand, with its inherent assymmetry and imperfection, is worn by many holding positions of power and influence, perhaps reminding us that style and class really have no boundaries. Some would suggest that it brings our leaders more in touch with the ‘common’ people, as if such condescension would be a good thing… In short, use a Reverse Half-Windsor or a Windsor unless you really want to have an air of attitude to go with your half-knot.

Your neck size and your personal style should also play a role. If you have a wider neck, perhaps after years of football or indulgence in various fluids after work, a thicker knot is especially important. While the knot should always come to the top of the collar, keeping the knot looser can help give it more volume and thereby width. Remember to adjust your collar size to fit you, rather than complaining of the tie being too tight because you use that to tighten your collar – another good reason to select a custom-made shirt!Perhaps those images of men complaining about collars that are too tight will be a thing of the past when we are all wearing high quality custom made shirts and suits.

Of course bow ties are a different thing entirely… few men know how to tie them, even fewer tie them well. I once marvelled at a well-respected barrister tying his bow tie while smoking a cigarette and carrying on a conversation – with me, he was showing just enough “I don’t care what you think” attitude while appreciating the finer things.