Early last month, the media caught on to a startling development. The Men’s Dress Furnishings Association, formerly the Neckwear Association of America, announced that it was disbanding. This event was seen as the death rattle for the necktie, that universally-donned item of masculine dress.
I predicted the death of the necktie in “A Rakish History of Men’s Wear.” My prediction was based on the variety of research I did for the exhibition, where I found various opinions, academic and industrial, that seemed to confirm a move away from regular wear. The general consensus centered on the growth of the casual sportswear industry for men, and the eternal quest for physical comfort. In terms of quantifying the necktie’s loss of popularity, however, I’ve found myself more at a loss. Until now—I recently went shopping for my husband at Lord & Taylor and discovered that the store’s square footage of sales space for ties had greatly diminished...
Men have been wearing something distinctive around their necks since at least Tudor times. From starched linen ruffs, tight neck collars, and intricately-tied cravats, to the four-in-hand and Windsor tie, neckwear was an essential part of male dress. Yet garments can become defunct over time. A good example can be found in breeches, those trousers worn to just below the knee. The French Revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic Wars allowed men to discover that long pants were more comfortable and effective, but breeches survived to almost the middle of the 19th century. They were worn mostly by older men, and still appeared at royal court events, before fading away. Today, we see a vestige of the breeches garment used in sportswear. Will the necktie survive?
The situation reminds me of Yoda’s statement in The Empire Strikes Back: “Very difficult. Future always in motion…”