Ignore the presidents. Neckties are waging a comeback

US President Joe Biden and former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton showed up without ties at a recent fundraising event, rekindling ardent debates over whether neckties are dead. (AFP)
US President Joe Biden and former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton showed up without ties at a recent fundraising event, rekindling ardent debates over whether neckties are dead. (AFP)

Summary

Presidents increasingly don’t wear them. Neither do CEOs. Which might make ties the riskiest fashion accessory yet.

We’ve been here before.

On Thursday evening, President Joe Biden was joined by two former Democratic presidents, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, for a megawatt fundraiser at Radio City Music Hall in New York. None of them wore neckties.

A tweet merely remarking on the presidential trio’s tielessness has been viewed more than 22 million times on X. Publications ranging from the predictable (GQ) to the odd (NPR) covered the tielessness with fervor. What did it all mean for the poor, battered necktie, these pieces wondered? British commentator Piers Morgan summed up the general doomsaying with a terse tweet: “RIP ties."

Oh, brother. The so-called death of the necktie has become the Yeti of the fashion world: often reported, rarely realized. The Journal itself is guilty. We (and occasionally I) have debated the death of the necktie several times, particularly in the mid- and post-pandemic years.

This isn’t even the first politically rooted tie existential crisis in recent years. At 2022’s G-7 summit in Germany, world leaders including Justin Trudeau, Emmanuel Macron, Boris Johnson and Biden all forewent ties. Then, as now, commentators clutched their collars and declared it the final knockout to the necktie.

There is some truth to the tie’s wounded reputation. According to the Observatory of Economic Complexity,  a website tracking international trade data, the tie market fell to a modern low of $335 million in exports in 2020 before bouncing back to $534 million in 2022. That is still below pre-Covid levels.

“I don’t think we’re going to make the same kind of quantity of ties over the next 10 years that we made in the 10 years before Covid—of course not," said Michael Hill, the co-owner and creative director of Drake’s, a nearly 50-year-old British menswear institution that started out making accessories but has since evolved into a more holistic apparel brand.

And yet, even as everyone continues to put the tie on death watch, it endures. Go to any mall in America and you can find stores selling ties. Open up GQ and you’ll see tie-wearing models. Or look at how politicians dress when they’re not being interviewed by late night hosts. 

Biden wears ties the majority of the time, as does Donald Trump, who is basically never seen without his glossy, palm-wide red tie. Far from languishing, Hill and others say interest in ties is actually having a trend-forward turnaround.

“I’ve seen a little bit of a fashion revival with ties of late," said Hill, pointing to younger, Instagram-fit-pic-taking men and women who wear spicier ties—knit ties, ties with an off pattern, ties that no politician would wear—to send a conspicuous statement against the tie’s mainstream dismissal.

“I think about the ties as something rebellious," said Hill, who, obviously, has something to gain from this position. “And I guess it’s kind of easy to think why people would want to rebel against politicians."

It requires some mental gymnastics to think of the necktie—something staid, something corporate, something so associated with a school uniform—as a rebellious accessory. Yet, with banal fleece vests and safe half-zip sweaters as ingrained cornerstones of corporate dress, the formal tie has curiously been recontextualized as something risky.

“We are sons of that generation" who rejected ties, said Davide Baroncini, 36, the owner of Ghiaia, a California-based menswear brand. “We had to restart it." He likened the tie’s reassessment to pleated pants, another spurned, even detested, staple of ’80s and ’90s fashion that has lately waged a comeback.

In the coming months, Baroncini plans to produce ties, citing an uptick in demand for them. “The cool kids" today, he said, are already scouring eBay for vintage ties from stalwart Italian labels like Valentino and Giorgio Armani.

Count Dennis Balmaceda in that cohort. The 36-year-old content creator in Jersey City, N.J., has a collection of around 500 ties. “I always feel more confident dressed up, I’m just that person," said Balmaceda, whose girlfriend, Briana Williams, shares his love of the tie. He appears younger than he is, he said, so when he wears a tie, he gets treated with more respect, particularly by older acquaintances.

To some prognosticators, we are at the beginning of a new far-reaching trend cycle. Echoing people like Balmaceda, recent runway shows from brands including Saint Laurent and Prada have featured a plethora of neckties. Tellingly, mass, yet mildly adventurous, companies like J.Crew are going heavier on ties in ad campaigns and Instagram posts.

Balmaceda’s current favorite tie is a punchy pink $230 Louis Vuitton number that was recently made in collaboration with rapper/neo-prep style icon Tyler, the Creator. Today, Balmaceda said, “there’s hype stuff even in ties."

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