By Tim Mureau -
10 years ago when we saw a well-dressed gentleman, he was wearing mainly silk ties in both seasons. The colours were adjusted to the season which meant men were often wearing lighter colours in summer and darker in winter. In both cases the fabric was usually silk. This however has changed dramatically over the last 5 years I would say, as we saw an interesting development in the tie world going on. More and more ties are being produced from seasonal materials beside the classic silks that will of course never go out of fashion. So in summer we see more linen, shantung, cotton and in winter cashmere and wool. The latter one I’m going to tell a bit more about in this post. It might sound as a new material for ties but it is in fact incredibly classic, it can be made and worn in endless variations and is perhaps one of the most interesting materials to use for making ties.
When the tie or in that time the ‘Cravat’ was invented in Croatia in the 16th Century it was just a piece of fabric that people tied around their neck. Silk was mainly used, and so it remained for a while. When in 1827 the famous writer Honoré de Balzac wrote a book called ‘L’Art de Mettre Sa Cravate de Toutes Les Manieres Connues Et Usitees’ he was already talking about the use of woollen material for ‘Cravats’. Nobody is entirely sure, but people must have started using wool already earlier than that. The ‘Cravat’ transformed in the 1920’s to the tie we know nowadays. Already in the 1920’s the modern version of the tie could be found in wool (the wool knit tie that hasn’t changed a bit since the 1920’s was in fact very popular for a while in that era). Then it remained silent for a while around wool ties. During the second world war in the 1940’s it started to be a popular material again, and even the mixture with cotton was very often used to make ties from. It didn’t have anything to do with the war by the way, it was for practical reasons since this material didn’t wrinkle so much. After this, some less successful years for wool ties in men’s fashion would follow. You can say they were available, but weren’t extremely popular till a couple of years ago. However it didn’t mean they haven’t been visible or were having a lack of fame, since famous style icons like Gianni Agnelli were spotted wearing them very often for example. There are amazing pictures of him wearing a grey flannel tie or even a worsted tie (similar to this one in the Amidé Hadelin collection, made from a worsted Fox Brothers fabric) combined with bespoke suits made out of heavy fabrics either made at A. Caraceni in Milan, or at Savile Row (by H. Huntsman as the rumours go). He for sure had a love for this material when it came to ties.
If we look at the endless options of combining wool ties in outfits, you will immediately understand the love Agnelli had for them. The simplest and one of the best combinations for me still is a mid grey flannel chalk stripe suit, light blue shirt, white handkerchief and a navy wool tie with herringbone texture, something you will see in wintertime in the streets of Milan very frequently. In Great Britain however, you would see wool ties rather being worn with tweed jackets and sports coats. Imagine a Harris Tweed herringbone jacket in brown, a pair of cord trousers in red or navy, paired with a classic tattersall shirt, a silk printed pocket square complementing the outfit’s colours and a red printed wool challis tie with pheasants on it. But also a gun club checked jacket, a pair of navy chinos, paired with a white and navy striped shirt, silk or wool printed pocket square that complements the outfit’s colours and a tie made out of tweed in a green colour. It will give that stunning British country look. I could imagine that in New York people would go more preppy and wear a navy blazer with gold or silver buttons, a pair of Grey Flannels or Khaki’s, a white or blue Brooks Brothers button down shirt, white handkerchief and a houndstooth or checked tweed tie. Or, finally, I could also imagine a charcoal chalk stripe flannel suit, a white or blue shirt, white hanky or a silk or wool printed pocket square with red or blue elements and a Prince of Wales check worsted wool tie. And then we didn’t yet even talk about the navy wool knit tie which basically fit’s to everything and gives a slightly more interesting look then just a silk navy tie.
The material might be the most important ingredient of a tie, however without the proper make the material won’t work out as it should. With wool ties this is especially important as wool has a huge variety of weights and structures, hence it requires the tie maker to take much care in choosing the right construction for the woollen fabric used. I’m sure the three main construction ways (regardless of the amount of folds) for quality ties are quite widely known by our readers but I’d like to repeat them.
- Self-tipped, where the back of the blade is tipped with the tie’s own fabric)
- Tipped, tipping is done with a different, usually plain, silk
- Untipped, no tipping and the edges of the fabric on both ends of the tie’s length are rolled inside and stitched
- Untipped and hand rolled, which is the same as the previous one, only the hemming is stitched by hand, which is to be preferred.
Then there are the different interlinings, from no lining, light lining, medium, or heavy lining. Perhaps the most important matter for making a wool tie, wool is usually a heavier material than silk and can get a very bulky knot when too heavy an interlining is used. That all depends of course on the type of wool fabric that is used. For a worsted wool for example a light or medium lining could work well, and even self-tipped needn’t be a bad idea. But when a heavier wool like tweed is used, it might even be made completely unlined, and in any case untipped. The fabric in that case is heavy enough by itself to make the tie strong, give it volume and resistant to heavy wrinkling. If you make a seven fold tie from a worsted wool, you might also not need any interlining since the fabric is folded seven times and functioning as the interlining. An untipped construction in this this case also gives the nicest finishing touch.
With knit ties things are different of course, they are knitted on a machine and then the two ends are closed by hand by a seamstress. Although the machine could knit different textures, we’re not looking at folds, tipping and interlining with these ties.
One question of often raised by people when it comes to wool ties: ‘Can I really only wear wool ties during wintertime?’ I don’t like dictating people what to wear and when, and I don’t believe we should tell people to wear certain materials only in summer or winter, it’s too simple to think like that. I’ve seen many wool ties also in the collection of Amidé Hadelin that I would wear in summer, like the worsted Prince of Wales check made from a Fox Brothers fabric. And basically all mixtures of wool, silk and linen that Amidé Hadelin has in the collection are perfectly suitable for summer as well. The new tweed ties made out of Moon fabric I would personally prefer for autumn/winter but even there I don’t see why people couldn’t wear that in summer, people have to wear most of all the tie they feel good with and have a good feeling with on the day of wearing it.
I think a wool tie gives that slightly different look, but not in a way that is too flashy. It attracts attention but never too much, it creases less and is therefore great to wear while travelling. It shows a statement but not like a Rolex with diamonds, more one of a vintage Patek Philippe or Cartier with a beautiful cordovan leather strap. It shows classic with a twist, but most of all purity of a natural material that is one of the most interesting we have on our planet.
Oscar Wilde once said ‘A well tied tie, is the first serious step in life’ but wearing a wool tie is the second serious step in my opinion.
Tim Mureau – was born in Holland, and has always been travelling around the world looking for the finest artisans. He’s interested in all things handmade, and can’t stop talking about fine watches and menswear. He has worked in various menswear stores, has been a sales representative for a number of artisanal clothing manufacturers, and is now active as a journalist focused on watches and menswear.