Sunday, March 31, 2019

and why knot

It's a cliché, of course, but now that the vast majority of the time my work doesn't require me to dress up like an utter nincompoop the number of occasions when I have to wear a suit and tie are pretty small, and fall into the usual traditional categories: weddings, funerals and the odd christening.

I don't have much to say about suits except to crow briefly and unedifyingly about how I can still get into the suit I chose to wear on Wednesday (to a funeral as it happens) despite having purchased it in House Of Fraser in Glasgow in about 1998. The thing that is going to consign that suit to the dustbin of history in the not-too-distant future is not me getting too porky to wear it but the trouser crotch becoming unacceptably threadbare. Hugely conspicuous patching with bits of old underpant is fine for jeans but generally frowned upon for suits.

Ties are a different matter, though. I own quite a lot of ties, for reasons that are no longer particularly clear to me, if they ever were. I mean, you sometimes get one included when you buy a shirt, and if it's known that you have a job that requires tie-wearing then that provides a possible outlet for the unimaginative Christmas-present buyer. I did buy a lot of them myself, though; I can only imagine that I had such a dizzyingly large amount of disposable income back in the day that I had to find something to spaff it on.

I have a couple of problems with ties; firstly the obvious one of the occasions that typically require their wearing being a bit stiff and formal and not the sort of laid-back informal social events that I prefer. That said, in the picture featured here (from the wedding of some friends in Cardiff in about 2007) both I and the tie I'm wearing seem to have, hem hem, "loosened up" a bit. Just as a pointer, this sort of behaviour is generally considered less acceptable at funerals.

The second reason relates to anatomy. What I find is that for old-school formal shirts, certain assumptions are generally made by shirt manufacturers about how the size of your collar relates to the size of the rest of you (chest and waist measurements, principally). Here, for instance, my actual waist measurement of around 34 inches equates to a collar size of 16 inches, which in the unlikely event of it being physically possible at all could only be fastened at the cost of extreme crush injuries to trachea and carotid artery, and, shortly afterwards, death. A comfortable collar size of 17 inches, on the other hand, equates to a waist size of 38-40 inches and a general impression of not so much wearing a shirt as occupying a modestly-sized marquee. So the choice is generally between buying a shirt with a 16-inch collar and being pretty confident of a good fit, but abandoning any idea of ever being able to do the collar up, or buying a 16.5- or 17-inch collar and resigning myself to having to tuck great swathes of it in round the back, like trying to repack a recently-deployed parachute.

There is an alternative angle here: don't imagine that there is only one way to tie a tie. Most people go through their whole lives using the standard four-in-hand knot without ever really imagining that there are alternatives. The trouble with the four-in-hand for the chunky-necked individual is that its very simplicity, and in particular its ease of release, makes it unsuitable for use by those who have to fasten a tie over an unfastened collar button, as every flex of your powerful neck muscles will undo the tie a further notch until eventually you're wearing it as a belt.. In these circumstances a chunkier knot with slightly greater slip resistance is probably the way to go, and the Half Windsor is probably the easiest of these.

I first tied a Half Windsor knot for my wedding, as I felt something a bit grander and chunkier than the norm was in order, and the thing about silk ties (a colourful batch of which we had obtained for the wedding party) is that while they are all classy and shit they are quite slippery and sometimes quite thin.

I think on that occasion I was wearing a shirt that did up round the neck (the picture shows me losing a pint-drinking contest to my wife shortly after the completion of the formal ceremonial part of the day), whereas on Wednesday I found that the 16.5-inch collar attached to the shirt I'd chosen to wear was a bit restrictive, so I picked a chunky non-silk tie with a bit of a textured pattern on it, just to really get some friction going, left the top button undone, and cashed in the Half Windsor again. All seemed to work out OK without constantly having to fiddle and tighten as you sometimes find you have to do otherwise.

Don't imagine that the Half Windsor is the pinnacle of tie complexity or knot size, though: as the name suggests there is a full Windsor option available which is slightly more complex and results in a slightly chunkier knot. Even that is pretty conservative compared to some of the more outlandish stuff out there like the Trinity, the Eldredge or the van Wijk. Most of these are insanely ostentatious (and require an absurdly long tie) and therefore really only the preserve of Premiership footballers.

It's perhaps worth reflecting, though, if you find on reading the above that you have some sort of threshold at which sensible normal tie wear crosses over into absurd peacocking, how ludicrous it is that wearing a piece of coloured fabric round the neck has come to denote smartness and formality in some way.

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