One of my friends was going to a job interview. He had to appear before the Board twice, and wrote to ask me “Should I wear a tie?” My default answer was “Yes”. Yes for job interviews, TV appearances, , an initial meeting with a new client or customer, Board meetings any formal occasion. When he clarified that the second interview was over dinner I suggested a suit and shirt, without a tie.
Ties have become much less important over the past decade, with only 6 per cent of men wearing a tie every day, and the rules are no longer clear. If you aren’t sure, it is probably best to go more formal, not less – dress up rather than down if you are making an appeal to power.
So is it OK to go tie-less these days? Clearly if you wear more casual clothes like jeans and jumpers, polo shirts or button downs, a tie is not especially appropriate. But if you wear a suit because that is norm at work, or because you are a manager, or because you like to look smart, then a tie is now optional, rather than required. These days lots of men are wearing suits without ties, and leaving the first button or two open, and they generally look good. Smart, but also relaxed. In any industry that sees itself as modern leaving off the tie means “I am approachable”. It says “I am not trying too hard, I am not uptight, I reject old-fashioned male stereotypes.” Hugh Grant usually looks great in a suit and an open-necked shirt.
In a way it is similar with women. Women no longer have to wear a suit to work. We can wear co-ordinating separates, or a dress and informal jacket. The rule, it seems to me, is that on the occasions when a woman would wear a suit or formal costume then men should wear a tie. When I would wear separates, or a dress and cardigan, or something a bit unstructured men can be tie-free. It is not a very clear rule and I would add that for men with a more contoured shape, or those carrying a bit of weight, a tie will look better than an open neck, as skinny Mr Obama shows. James Corden’s tie is doing something very important for him – it is creating a strong vertical stripe down the centre of his body making him look much slimmer than if he was tie less.
The nice thing about a tie is that it is one of the few elements where men can express their design choices and wear some colour. It can create a bit of individuality in a world where everyone has a grey or blue suit. For men who suit bright, light or warmer colours, the tie can be a great opportunity to bring in a colour that works better with your complexion. I feel sorry for men who, having been given a tie as a present, then feel obliged to wear it. Encourage the men you know to express themselves with their ties!
My husband went to a National Aids Trust event and was standing on his own. He was wearing a navy Jaeger suit and colourful silk tie. It had a tasteful patchwork print in red, navy, black, white and yellow. It contained some floral elements and polka dots. He realised that a tall, beautiful woman was starting at this tie. He looked at her and after a few moments realised she was Princess Diana.
If you wear a tie consider the colour, the pattern, the width, and composition. Here is Jon Snow who has some nice ties, many made by Victoria Richards. Victoria has a studio in South London and I have bought many ties from her, and if was she who inspired me to take up painting on silk. I don’t think Jon looks great without a tie – perhaps a bit washed out, with the open shirt revealing a somewhat scraggy neck. He really suits cool and bright colours and the two colours here are nice. But the horizontal tie is much better on a slim, tall man with rather a long face, compared to the blue vertical stripe. Generally choose a pattern that flatters your face and body shape.
- angular men can choose geometric designs, strong stripes and harder lines
- straight bodied men need a softer look, patterns that run in lines for example
- contoured men can wear more abstract patterns, paisley or small dots.
- smaller men should choose smaller patterns, ensuring the tie is not too wide; wear a vertical stripe or a stronger single colour to create length
- heavier men should wear a vertical stripe or plain deeper shade, making sure the tie is not too narrow, and long enough to reach the waist line of the trousers.
- a bow tie was always regarded as a bit pretentious even if you were an architect, academic or gynaecologist. I love them with a dinner suit ( it needs tying rather than clipping on) but they need a fair amount of confidence to pull off with business wear. But just as beards and moustaches are having their day, I am sure the bow tie will have it’s moment too.
Never wear (or give) a polyester or gimmicky tie. If a tie gets a snag, or a grease stain, bin it.
My male colleagues keep a tie in their office in case they need to dress up quickly. Here is journalist Jon Land, on his way to meet the Housing Minister, The tie is nice, and overall colour scheme is great, but I think the shirt would have been better buttoned up. Put simply – open shirt/no tie; buttoned up with tie. OK?