This sweater is one of the icons of L.L. Bean, and I am pleased to announce that they have recently returned it to their catalogue. Here in California, there are only a few months wherein this is useful, but it is the best warm sweater when it is nippy outside.
In classic navy blue with a white bird's-eye weave, this sweater pairs well with just about any trousers that you will ever own. Wide wale corduroys, tweeds, flannels and khakis all work well with this one. A sport shirt, a dress shirt or a turtleneck are all perfect contenders underneath. A necktie or no – both equally appropriate. The short version is that outside the tennis sweater, this is the most valuable sweater that a gentleman can own. They are not cheap, but they are excellent investments. They wear beautifully and they look as good when they are "worn in" a bit as when they are new. If you inherit one from your pop or a sibling, it is that much better than a new one.
Now that they are available through L.L. Bean again, they are fairly modestly priced at $129. If you get them from other sources they may be had for slightly less to about $50 more. Again, an excellent investment in the wardrobe and if you are going to limit yourself to two sweaters, make this one the second.
Whilst it is a convenient skill to have for when we are invited to the country club, tennis is not an absolute requirement for young gentlemen. The tennis sweater, on the other hand, is.
In the U. S. these are normally called tennis sweaters, though in the U. K. they are normally referred to as cricket jumpers. They are made of cotton or wool, they are usually cable knit, they are invariably V-necked, and they have a band of color or colors highlighting the neck and the cuffs. They may be white or cream color in the body, and, while the long sleeved version is the most useful, they are sometimes available as vests and, more rarely, as cardigans.
The basic wardrobe requirement is for the basic long sleeved pull over model. Under a blue blazer and with a long necktie or a bow, it adds and elegant layer. Best of all, and the real reason that this is an indispensible wardrobe piece, this is the only sweater that really looks well with shorts. Cream or white may be paired with white shorts at the country club or shipboard, or they may be paired equally well with khaki shorts. Naturally, it pairs perfectly with white flannels or with khakis.
This is both the most formal of sweaters and it has the potential to be quite casual as well. In New England and the northern climes sweater collections are normal, but out here in sunny California we generally don't have so many. If you are going to limit yourself to a single sweater, make it a good tennis sweater.
We buy it for the ladies in our lives. Some of us cultivate an appreciation of the good stuff, but it is the domain of the ladies. Except when it is not.
Men should wear jewelry sparsely, if at all. Make your jewelry selections exquisite and meaningful. Here are a few items of appropriate gentlemen's jewelry:
Wedding Ring – Always appropriate. The ideal selection is a rich, dark gold band, unadorned by detailing: simple, classic, elegant. In that form, it is truly timeless. Unless your beloved insists on it, there is really no need to have matching rings with your spouse – that which makes a lovely ring for a lady does not necessarily work for a gentleman, and understatement is the best route for a man. That said, my own wedding ring is an Irish style claddagh in silver.
Military Decorations – Do not succumb to the temptation to wear miniature medals on dress clothes, but boutonnière representations of significant medals are always appropriate.
Cuff Links – Another place where men may wear the bling. Cuff links are no longer reserved for the most formal of occasions and they may dress up an otherwise casual outfit for an evening on the town. Again, keep selections fairly simple and classic. Toggle links with chain connectors are beautifully understated as are simple silk knots. Another thing not to be missed are the vast quantities of antique cuff links available for a song on eBay.
Tie Clasps and Tie Tacs - Some current style gurus have stated that these decorations are antiquated and make current clothes look dated. My personal belief is that whilst they are a bit old style, on an otherwise current and elegant rig they still look classic and elegant. Though this is going to be a bit of a mantra, old is better than new, so use whatever it is that Dad or Gramps left you.
Signet Rings – A single signet ring on the ring finger of the right hand is beautiful and appropriate. Normally engraved with a classic monogram, these are fantastic accessories. If a club ring is worn, this is the piece of jewelry that will go.
Fraternal and Club Jewelry – This comes most commonly as rings but also in the form of tie-clasps and tacs, lapel pins and cuff links. It is easy to get carried away with club jewelry, especially in organizations like the Masonic Lodge where there are numerous subsequent lodges, each of which has its own traditions and symbols. The rule of thumb is to keep your organizational jewelry to a single piece. One outfit, one club – that is all. I have seen some grand old Masons who have rings on every finger and thumb, tie tacs, cuff links and multiple lapel pins. They end up looking very wrong. Choose your club jewelry carefully and keep it simple.
Belt Buckle – Sometimes called a compression buckle, these go on 1" belts, sometimes called straps. The belt does not have holes in it, and the buckle is invariably sterling silver and is quietly engraved with the owner's initials. Or his father's. Or grandfather's. These buckles are getting harder to find, but they will likely have them at the best jewelry store in town or at the better quality men's stores. I am fond of the Reed & Barton engine turned model. This is part jewelry and part a simple requirement for gentlemen's clothing. You will likely have one for your whole life, so do not skimp.
Wristwatches – Like cuff links, wristwatches can end up as a major collectible for gentlemen who are so inclined. Unless you are collecting wrist watches, however, these do not need to be expensive. If your dad or grandpa gave you one, it may be ideal. Old Hamiltons and Elgins are great as are vintage Timexes. Mechanical examples are generally better choices than electric, and stay away from digital at all costs. For a dress watch, a simple and slim example in gold is ideal. For sportier wear you can go with something a bit chunkier, but do not overdo it. An old Rolex oyster is great. Unless you are a marine biologist, a Submariner may be a bit too much.
Fountain Pens – Completely unnecessary, fountain pens, whether new or antique, are great jewelry for gentlemen. Carried in the shirt pocket or the inside pocket of the jacket, these are definitively understated. I have an old Parker blue diamond 51 and a big, black senior Duofold that I love for their understatement.
Pocket Knives – Again, carry just one, and grandpa's carbon steel model that he carried in the Great War is ideal.
Some other options are things like old pocket watches and fobs. Just about anything that came down from your grandpa or a great uncle is an elegant touch. Do not overdo it, and be sure to wear whatever it is that you are wearing correctly. Pocket watches go in vests, not in the breast pocket of your suit jacket a la Gomez Addams.
A few things to avoid:
Heavy Gold Chains – Unless you are Tony Soprano or a Greek investment tycoon, avoid the gold chains.
Anything Else That Requires a Piercing
A Gargantuan Belt Buckle – Unless you won it legitimately, stay away from gigantic trophy style buckles, even on jeans. If you did come by it legitimately, put it on a really fine and appropriately wide belt and keep it for jeans.
There are many types of jewelry for gents, just keep it understated and tasteful. Old is generally better than new, and family heirlooms are the best.
I have been promising a post on formal wear for some time, but it covers so much range that it is nearly due a blog of its own. I have found it a bit daunting. I have decided to break it up a bit, and I am beginning with what is, for most of us, the most useful and the least formal of formal wear: The Dinner Suit.
The dinner suit dates to England of 1860 when the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII of England, the most "fun" king of the modern era, had a bespoke smoking jacket made for him that would be more comfortable to wear at a dinner table than the traditional tailcoat. "Lounge suits" were becoming quite fashionable for day wear in that era – the prince was seeking an evening version of that comfortable wear.
Soon thereafter, the Dinner Jacket leapt the pond and became the rage at the Tuxedo Park Club in New York, earning it the American moniker, "Tuxedo."
You might notice that I periodically refer to the teen-aged employees at the mall formal-wear store with some contempt. This is only because I hold those stores in utter contempt. They need to sell new stuff every season, and, in truth, a good dinner suit is timeless. The only time that you need a new element is when the old one is worn out or destroyed. Bow-ties change a bit in size periodically, though less so now than they did in the 70's and 80's, but, beyond that, there is nothing new under the sun. You can get the best quality pieces that you can afford, and they will be in fashion in twenty years.
Whether referring to a Dinner Jacket, a Dinner Suit or a Tuxedo, they are all the same thing. The dinner suit should be black, though midnight blue examples are seen. It consists of a dinner jacket and a pair of formal trousers. It is worn with a waistcoat or a cummerbund, a formal shirt and a bow-tie. Footwear may range from a pair of highly polished black dress shoes all the way to the most formal of evening footwear, the opera pump. If headwear is worn with a dinner suit, it may be a black Homburg, Tribly, Fedora or, in the summertime, a straw boater. Top hats are a bit too formal for dinner suits.
The Dinner Jacket
This is the defining element of the Dinner Suit. If you have only one, it should be black and of a good quality woolen suiting. The lapels are normally faced in black satin or grosgrain silk and the shank buttons are often covered in the same fabric as the lapels. Sometimes you will find dinner jackets with black plastic buttons, and that is acceptable as well.
A black Dinner Jacket is acceptable year-round in any region. If you travel to tropical climes, however, you may wish to equip yourself with a white or off-white dinner jacket as well. This may be made of linen, but if you stick to a lightweight worsted wool you will find that it will keep its shape better, especially in humid, warm environments, than the linen versions. The cut of the white dinner jacket is identical to the black version, but the lapels are often not faced in silks. Contrary to what the mall-store employee will tell you, you do not need to match white shirts to the off-white dinner jacket. The layered white-on-white look is very traditional, and handsome.
The cut of the dinner jackets may be single or double-breasted, and it may have one or two buttons, though one is only ever buttoned. The lapels may be peaked, notched or shawl style. There are as many opinions on the best or most correct form that the dinner jacket should take as there are gentlemen, and you will certainly develop your own tastes in these things. Because of its roots in the smoking jacket tradition, I prefer shawl lapels over the other options. Because the dinner jacket spends as much time open as it does buttoned, I prefer a single-breasted, single button version. When I have done master-of-ceremonies work, however, I prefer a 2-on-1 double breasted version.
Formal trousers have a clean, sleek line from the waist to the hem. Often they are a bit higher waisted than your dress slacks, and they invariably lack belt-loops. They are held in place by braces. Avoid the type with the adjustable waist-band as these just scream "rental". Again contradicting the mall-store wisdom, they may or may not have narrow stripes down each leg, often matching your lapel facings on your black dinner jacket, much in the manner of military uniform trousers. These stripes became popular during World War I when military fashion was seeping into civilian styles as well, but there is no necessity for stripes on your trousers.
Dark tartan trousers are an acceptable alternative, especially around the holidays. These are best if the tartan has some ties to your family, but a Black Watch tartan may be worn by anyone. Whilst it may be tempting for our highland brethren to wear a kilt with a dinner jacket, that temptation should be denied. If you are going to wear a kilt, you should go with full highland wear including an appropriate jacket, and that is all a discussion for another day.
Braces or suspenders are worn to keep the trousers in place. Most traditionally they are black silk, though they may be any color or pattern that the wearer chooses. If you are wearing a white or off-white dinner jacket, however, you should wear braces that are the same color as your shirt, as dark braces may show through the jacket in some lighting.
Waistcoat or Cummerbund
Around the middle, a waistcoat or cummerbund is worn. Each is equally traditional, but if you have an antique watch fob or chain that you wish to display, you may prefer the waistcoat.
The waistcoat or vest for a dinner suit is most traditionally black and either of a black fabric matching the trousers and the body of the dinner jacket, or it may be made of the fabric of the lapel facings. It normally will have lapels and will be very low cut. Avoid backless faux-vests as, again, these scream "I am wearing a rental suit" as nothing else will.
Less traditionally, but equally acceptable in most settings, colorful vests in a formal cut are a way to personalize your dinner suit. These may or may not match your bow-tie. If you are wearing a colorful vest that does not have a matching bow, be sure that you restrain yourself to a traditional black tie.
The cummerbund is a sort of faux-sash worn about the belly as an alternative to the waistcoat. It normally has several pleats and is of a fabric to match your lapel facings and your bow-tie. They fasten in the back with a small buckle. Again, these may be worn in interesting colors or patterns and, if so, your cummerbund should match your bow-tie.
The formal shirt is white cotton. It may have a pleated front, a plain front or, atypically, a stiff front as worn with white tie.
The collar on your formal shirt should be the turn-down type as found on your dress shirts. Prior to World War II, formal shirts generally had plain collar bands, and winged collars were starched and put on separately. In imitation of this look, after the war many formal shirt producers started manufacturing formal shirts with attached winged collars.
The traditional neck-wear with a dinner suit is a black bow-tie of the same material as the lapel facings on your black dinner jacket. This is the correct neck-wear, and, if you are invited to a formal event that is not on the lawn, stick to the traditional black.
Additionally, learn to tie a bow. It is a very simple procedure that may be learned online from sites such as Tie-a-tie.net or Ben Silver, among others. A genuine bow always looks appropriate whereas a pre-tied bow looks as if you do not care.
Since the 1960s, colorful and patterned bow-ties have become popular with dinner suits. If you feel the urge, try to resist it. If it is overwhelming, be very careful in your selection of ties. The rule of thumb is, if you are in any doubt whatsoever, go with the black tie. With black, you cannot go wrong.
You may have noticed in various Hollywood functions in recent years that Windsor knotted ties are becoming popular. Again, resist this temptation. The bow-tie is definitive of the dinner suit. Remove the bow-tie and you are left with a black business suit.
The most traditional, formal footwear to wear with a dinner suit is the black patent leather opera pump or court shoe. These are thin soled and look a bit like ladies' ballet flats. They have grosgrain bows on the toes. As long as you are not hiking or dancing a great deal, they are actually quite comfortable. They are also mind-bogglingly expensive for shoes that you may wear three times per year. An alternative to the opera pump is a simple black patent lace-up oxford shoe, but, again, it is a special investment for a shoe that will not get that much wear. If you have a good quality pair of black oxfords, as you should, put a high polish on them and wear those with your dinner suit. They are perfectly appropriate and you will certainly get more use out of them in the long run.
An alternative to shoes, if he is entertaining in his own home, a gentleman may wear black velvet Albert slipper with a toe monogram. Again, terribly expensive, but oh, so stylish.
The stockings worn are most traditionally black sheer silk and they are held up with suspenders or garters. If you are wearing opera pumps or Albert slippers, you should definitely get the silk hose. Otherwise, opt for a sheer, black over-the-calf stocking.
There are many accessories for dinner suits, but be selective.
Studs and Links. Your formal shirt will require cuff links and studs to fasten the front. Traditionally formal shirts require three studs, though stud sets come in sets of four. Many modern shirts do require four studs - if not you have a handy extra for the one that you will surely lose. On dinner suits, black onyx studs are traditional, but white mother-of-pearl is also acceptable. Furthermore, if you have a pair of tasteful cuff links that you would like to wear, it is perfectly acceptable to wear links that do not match your studs. For formal studs and links, my personal preference is for vintage models, readily available from eBay.
Watches. Your wristwatch should be slim and elegant or eschewed altogether. If you have an antique fob or chain that you wish to wear, you may wear a pocket watch. Generally speaking, you are not at formal events to watch the clock, so a watch is completely optional.
Handkerchiefs. A white linen handkerchief. As mentioned elsewhere, silk and cotton pocket squares are out there, but the best choice is white linen.
Boutonnière. A cornflower, rosebud or carnation may be worn in the lapel if a buttonhole is provided. Your florist will want to "gild the lily" by tying it up with all sorts of extra vegetation, but that is wrong. You want the simple flower, and nothing else. Gardenias are often worn in France, but never with a pocket handkerchief.
Topcoats. Your topcoat should be black or dark gray. A velvet collar is an acceptable touch, though not necessary. If gloves are worn, they should be gray leather – white kid is strictly for white tie. If a scarf is worn, white silk is the most traditional.
Hat. Again, if a hat is worn, the most traditional is the black homburg. In the summer, a straw boater with a black grosgrain ribbon is best. Top hats are wrong with dinner suits.
The dinner suit is a wonderful thing to have in the wardrobe. It may be worn to dinner parties or to dinner dates at the good restaurant. It is a brilliantly contrived garment that makes every man look tall and slim. The design, whilst it looks good on the wearer, is truly focused on making the ladies whom we escort look their best. We are not the peacocks, we are the quiet, dashing gentlemen that our beautiful ladies are with. The best off-the-rack dinner suits that I have ever owned were from Cable Car Clothiers in San Francisco, California. They still carry some of the finest formal-wear in the United States, and I recommend them highly. They are not, however, truly an Internet presence even today, and their formal wear is not on their website the last I looked.
I have encountered a good deal of confusion from readers who have questions regarding what is "bespoke" or "tailor-made" clothing and how it differs from "made-to-measure" clothing.
Unlike many tailors, I find that there is tremendous use for both. Especially if you are, as I am, a size that is difficult to find on store racks. Made-to-measure clothing may get you a slightly better fit and, more importantly, a better selection of fabric/style combinations than might be available to you in the mainstream market. The sizing and fit is essentially that which is available off the rack, but rather than trusting the sizing information from company A or company B to be true to size, you provide the makers with your dimensions, and the garments fit.
Made-to-measure services are great for garments that do not need to have a close and perfect fit, such as topcoats, jeans and shirts, or garments that you are comfortable with a less than ideal fit, such as your #3 blue blazer. I am still searching for a made-to-measure provider that will make me a blue denim shirt with a spread collar and French cuffs!
The limiting factor in made-to-measure clothing is that you generally have to provide your measurements to the maker, and you and the maker need to be speaking the same language when you communicate those measurements to him/her. The first time that I ordered khakis from a Southeast Asian made-to-measure provider, I received two pair of beautifully made trousers that would not fit any creature born of woman. This was not the fault of the maker in any way – the garments were made with the exact dimensions that I had provided, but the expertise in taking those measurements was lacking. I now generally prefer to take my measurements from a well-fitting garment that I own rather than try to take (or have a friend take) my measurements.
I love made-to-measure dress shirts. They are not much more, if any more, expensive than good quality off-the-rack shirts, and I can get what I really want.
Here are a few great providers of made-to-measure clothing:
Nordstrom – It is true. The great mall-giant also offers made-to-measure services in their gentlemen's clothing department. Price is more than the Nordstrom off-the-rack offerings, but it is in line with their over-all product line. Good for sport coats, dress trousers and suits.
Brooks Brothers – Also true. That icon of American men's clothing will make you their famous shirts to your specific dimensions for a price not much different from their offerings on their shelves. The quality is the same and the fit is all yours.
Makeyourownjeans.com – Huh? This is an offshore maker of jeans and casual shirts. They will replicate your favorite trousers for you as well. Shirt styles tend to be trendier than what we, as young but impoverished gentlemen, are seeking, but this is a good source for decent quality blue jeans.
Bookster – Beautiful tweeds from the British Isles and from Europe. Cuts of jackets and suits in a slightly antiquated British taste. You can see these being worn with Coke hats on Derby Day.
Paul Fredrick – For dress shirts only. Paul Fredrick used to be the manufacturer of dress shirts for a number of the best department stores to sell under their own labels, and they may still be. The catalogue at Paul Fredrick offers a great selection of very nice quality dress shirts and their made-to-measure area offers even more. This is the first made-to-measure service that I ever used and it remains among my favorites.
Magnoli Clothiers – A touch on the cheesy side, but they make replicas of many of the clothes that you have seen in the movies. They are probably best known for their suit that replicates the light grey rig that James Bond wore in Goldfinger.
Liste Rouge Paris – OK, you want to feel a bit like a million bucks? It can be done, but it ain't cheap. Liste Rouge is a premium made-to-measure operation where your whim is their command. They use the most premium of fabrics to create shirts as art. This is not the shirt that you are going to retire to gardening after a couple of years of heavy wear. Worth it? Perhaps, though by the time you are spending this kind of dough on a shirt you might just want to take the trip to Paris and get a truly custom shirt.
There are numerous others on the Internet. Be mindful to which countries you are sending your financial information. Check reviews of each provider before ordering, and be aware that the unscrupulous ones may post their own reviews. Use your common sense guided by your experience.
This is the topic of numerous books and blogs. You will find tons of information on the Internet about it. Bespoke clothing is what we in America call tailor-made clothing, though the term "bespoke" implies a bit more.
To find this, your first task is to find a tailor, something that in the 21st century is becoming more and more difficult. When in London, pay a visit to Anderson & Sheppard, makers of suits to the crowned heads of Europe and Hollywood. Though, if you live in a city of some age and substance, you are sure to find a good quality local tailor in your own town.
Bespoke clothing is made of the fabric that you desire. You want a braided pinstripe? Yes, sir. You want an antiquated cut? Perhaps an Edwardian cut to compliment your, may I say, spectacular figure? Of course, sir.
For your money you get an expert in the clothing making business to take your measurements for you. Whilst he is taking your measurements, he will also be asking you questions about your tastes: what you like and what you dislike. Do you really want an English cut suit, or would something a touch more relaxed fit your manner of living a bit more. He is getting to know you. "Only my tailor knows" is a truism for a reason – your tailor is someone who you talk to and who really learns your tastes better than just about anyone else. He will show you a selection of fabrics on hand, and may be able to order you something that is not in the shop. He will tell you honestly that you should not wear cuffs on your slacks because your legs are proportionately short, and cuffs will make them look stumpier. He will tell you frankly that you are too plump to wear double breasted suits. His business is honesty, and he knows what looks right. He will assist in the selection of colors and fabrics and will recommend shoes. And socks. And, possibly, undergarments.
He may make a mock-up of your first suit with him in muslin. He will certainly make an appointment for you once he gets the suit cut and put together. You will then go in for a fitting – at this point the suit will have chalk marks and loose seams and will look nothing like the suit you ordered, but the tailor will make a few more marks and pin a few seams and look thoughtfully at the lapels and send you on your way.
When you go in for your final fitting, you will don your new rig, look at yourself in the mirror and be stunned. There is truly nothing like a good tailor made suit to make you look your very best.
If you are fit and have the wallet for it, bespoke clothing especially suits and formal clothes are what are to be aspired to. For your information: The bottom of Anderson & Sheppard's suit line will run you around £3000. At today's exchange rate, that comes to around $4600. $4600 very well spent.
I realize that in many people's view, I am a bit conservative in my clothing selections, but that is the nature of a gentleman's wardrobe, so I make no apology for it. The fact is that most of the clothing on this blog is fairly timeless – with minor variation it would have been in place in 1935, it is in place today, and it will be in place in a hundred years. By building a wardrobe in this manner, a young gentleman who builds his wardrobe carefully and with consideration will be able to wear his gray flannels thirty years from now, and he will be perfectly at home.
Today, however, I must apologize because I am going to "kick it old school" for awhile.
What do you put in the breast pocket of your suit? Many elegant and conservative stores sell little eight inch squares of silk in a variety of colors to tuck there. Some even manufacture pocket squares that match neckties. Personally, I think that all this is quite silly. The most elegant thing that a gentleman can tuck into his jacket pocket is a neatly pressed and folded white linen handkerchief. Choose a hemmed or corded edge, whichever you prefer, though the corded edge is a bit more formal. What the color is of your suit, jacket or necktie is irrelevant: your handkerchief is white. Despite the fact that it is being used as a fashion accessory, your handkerchief is fully functional.
And this brings me to my next point: Carry a handkerchief or two. While I will argue that the handkerchief in your breast pocket should be linen, that is a fairly high expense for a pocket handkerchief, so if linen is out of the question, go for a good quality rolled cotton. Take the time to press it and fold it and keep it in the weak-hand pocket of your trousers. Nothing else goes in that pocket, just your handkerchief. If you are wearing Bills Khakis, or other trousers with similarly deep pockets, go ahead and carry two. If you need to use it, a handkerchief is far more elegant than Kleenex, but it is imperative that you produce only a clean handkerchief. A hard used rag, whilst useful in private, may be offensive to others.
Perhaps most importantly, especially at weddings and funerals, is the ability to offer a clean and pressed handkerchief to a young lady. Many of us tend to become incredibly uncomfortable when faced with a crying lady – a clean and elegant handkerchief offers us a comfortable gesture that we may engage. You will find that it is generally graciously accepted, and it makes for a kind and old-fashioned gesture that is well appreciated.
As far as availability goes, I am very fond of the product carried by Brooks Brothers, but it is not cheap at $60 for a three-pack. I do like Irish linens the best, but that is prejudice on my part – there are excellent linens available from mainland Europe and elsewhere. Check eBay for bargains – you may often find vintage products in new condition there. Make sure that they are not yellowing, and you are good to go. If you like monograms on your handkerchiefs, keep them white on white, and make sure that you fold your handkerchiefs in such a way that the monogram is entirely hidden.
Calm down. Take some slow, deep breaths. I am talking about neckties.
I called your attention to the Tie-a-Tie website the other day. This leads me to the discussion of neckties and knots.
There are a number of necktie knots, some of which fall in and out of favor. I am limiting my discussion to three basic knots that I find to be of the greatest use, and the bow-tie knot. Given my habitual lack of illustration, I will not attempt to describe the creation of these knots here, but I will refer you to the excellent Tie-a-Tie site.
The Four-in-hand Knot: I view this as the 40s/50s style knot. Frankly, it was the only knot that my dear old dad ever wore when he wore long ties. He was more of a bow-tie kind of guy, on the whole. The Four-in-hand is a simple, smallish, slightly asymmetrical knot most suitable for the least formal of neckties and with button-down collars or long pointed collars with narrow space at the neck. With ties made of exceptionally course materials, such as mohair, woolen or silk knit ties, this is probably the best choice of knot. Generally speaking, this is the least formal of necktie knots and is suitable for the most casual of settings in which one might wear a tie.
The Windsor Knot: This is the extreme opposite of the Four-in-hand: it is the most formal of long tie knots. Do not think of it so much as tying a knot as building a knot. Take your time to get everything just right, and you will be rewarded with a vast and well-sculpted knot. Worn with spread collars, this is the knot that you see Tony Blair and the Duke of Edinburgh wearing. The knot projects confidence. It takes a good deal of material to build a Windsor knot, so if you are very tall or a bit corpulent you may need to consider going to an extra-long tie for this one. When wearing a tie-tack or clip you have the option of shortening the narrow end of the tie a bit, allowing you to get away with tying a Windsor in a slightly short tie.
The Half-Windsor Knot: This one falls somewhere between the other two. It is a bit smaller than the Windsor, but it is larger and more symmetrical than the Four-in-hand. Personally, except with the very heaviest of necktie materials like the knit ties discussed above, I prefer this knot for most casual and semi-formal wear. It is suitable with a button-down collar, a plain point or with a modest spread collar. For the really broad spread collar varieties, the Windsor is really de rigeur.
There are a number of additional knots that are suitable to differing situations. Tie-a-tie discusses one called a Pratt Knott that seems quite similar to a half-Windsor when executed. Another great resource site for ties and knots is Ben Silver. Here you will find a grand selection of really fine and expensive neckwear as well as a great tying guide offering options such as the Prince Albert, the Small Knot and the Cross Knot as well as advice on tying ascots and bows.
The Bow Tie: As I said, my dad was a bow tie kind of guy. In the 1980s bow ties made something of a resurgence, and then they seemed to disappear again in the 90s. My old dad, however, started wearing them in the 30s, and he never stopped. A bow tie expresses a degree of non-conformity with a sense of classic style. My personal tendency is not to wear them to job interviews, but I have no compunction about wearing them everywhere else. The reason Dad liked them was because he did not have to worry about them flopping about when he was working. I like them because they are cool. Bow ties may be worn with button-down collars, plain point and, possibly, the narrowest of spread collars. Anything wider however will require a Windsor. When called upon to don a tuxedo, despite the request for a "black" tie on the invitation, you may now elegantly wear a bow of just about any color you choose. Do not follow the trend of the Hollywoodies and forsake the bow for a long tie – no matter what the silly little fashionistas like to say, it is not correct. Whether for formal or more casual wear, stay away from extremes in your selection of bows: never go with the uber-wide C. Everett Koop/Orville Redenbacher varieties, but stick with a modest width. The British call the ones with the plain rectangular ends "bat-wings" because they are shaped rather like cricket bats, and I think that these look the best when tied. Nearly as good, and a bit easier to tie for beginners, is the Slimline or Standard tie which has a dip in the middle. The term "butterfly" is tempting, but avoid it as it generally connotes a very wide bow.
Bow ties do seem to be making another comeback, and there are some great sites devoted to them. My personal favorite is Beau Ties Ltd., but they may be found at any gentleman's store that deals in classic men's goods.
Ascots: I must admit that for certain wear and in certain settings, I love ascots. Unfortunately Hugh Hefner and Tony Curtis have kind of ruined these for the rest of us, and they can seem like the punch-lines of fairly bad jokes. Frankly, you should probably be over 50 before you start wearing these, and then you need to be prudent in how you wear them. If you have your own sloop of not less than thirty feet, then you may get away with an ascot no matter what your age. If you are part of the cruise crowd, make sure that you are sailing on one of the better lines. On Carnival, ascots are always out of place, on Crystal, there may be a time and a place for one.
I will go into the various necktie knots in a later post, but I want to call readers' attention to this wonderful website: Tie-a-tie.net. As an old Scout, I am fairly proficient with knots, but I still struggle when I am trying to sculpt a perfect Windsor at 6:15 in the morning. This site provides videos and clear instructions for most of the major knots and guidance for their use.