Men's Fashion

In with the pin crowd

Look sharp: the tiepin has returned as essential kit for the man about town, says Jonathan Futrell.

December 08 2010
Jonathan Futrell

Men’s fashion pundits, those who deny the better part of vesture is discretion, insist that one day chaps will wear jewellery. But for most working, besuited men, the basic tenet of male accessorising is that anything that sparkles must have a function: a wedding ring, watch, cuff links, collar pin and, if appropriate, regimental or school badges. And now we can add back to the list the rejuvenated tiepin, and its close relations, the tie clasp and bar.

The fashion blogosphere is awash with ecstatic tributes to Mad Men’s preppy Pete Campbell, the baby-faced partner who, they trill, has done for tie clasps what his TV colleague Don Draper did for pocket squares. And he does wear a tie clasp well: as straight as a Plimsoll line and level with his navel. But the rehabilitation of the tiepin has less to do with television and everything to do with modern men wanting to look sharp, and with an accessory designed to stop their ties falling in the mulligatawny.

“The whole dressing-up thing is coming back, and we’re seeing a younger customer who likes the look of a suit and tie, a tiepin and a pocket square,” says Gieves & Hawkes’ head of design, Fredrik Willems. In addition to a raft of military pins, and a handful of vintage ones, the core of Number One Savile Row’s pins are bespoke gold or silver designs (from £500) bearing either the wearer’s initials or a family crest. “Our customers like the fact that it takes a little bravura to wear a tiepin, the way it ruffles the tie to give it volume,” says Willems.

For the record, there is a difference between a tiepin and a clasp or bar. The first is small, seldom larger than a penny, bearing precious stones or emblems, with a pin on the back. Worn a couple of inches below the knot, it’s held in position by a “holder”, which, in turn, is kept in place by a chain looped inside a button hole. Its purpose is to plump up and give the tie some “body”. Seen most often at dressy events, their drawback is that you must be mindful of inserting the pin in the same place every time or risk turning a much-loved tie into a pin cushion.

The clasp or bar, meanwhile, is often worn out of sight, inside the jacket. Its principal task is to keep the tie from getting out of shape and falling forward.

Hackett founder and chairman, and style guru, Jeremy Hackett is a firm advocate of keeping a tie in its place. His clips – among them ones with a bowler hat, a retriever, a pair of scissors and a pheasant (all at £100) – embrace the sense of humour present in many Hackett accessories. “It took me a long time to come round to the idea of wearing a clip, having in the past considered them a bit spivvy,” says Hackett. “But now I’ve really taken to them and have included clips in our collections for the past few seasons. I like them particularly with a plain tie. It adds a touch of interest, and I like the fact that they hold the tie in place. It also enables you to lift the tie off the shirtfront rather than leaving it lying flat and dreary.”

At its most classic and unassuming best, the bar or clasp is simple and unadorned, like Tiffany’s 1837 hallmarked version (£65). While most are gold or silver, Louis Vuitton’s come in stainless steel: the Champs Elysées collection (from £185) incorporates a design taken from the metallic walls of the company’s flagship Paris store, and the Cape Town clip (£210), is a striking combination of metal and tiger wood bearing the LV logo. Burberry utilises its famous check on its silver-nickel tie bar (£85) to good effect.

Of the eight tie bars in the current Dunhill line-up, two are in gold, both with evening attire in mind. For me, the plain and unadorned tie bar (£125) is the most wearable, although for special occasions I’d find it hard to resist the white mother-of-pearl edition (also £125), the gem set inside a simple coin housing. There is also a range of pins, including an elegant monogrammed silver design (£95).

But should your taste run to the oddball (I have a “matador” clasp purchased after a long Iberian lunch some years back), eBay has all shapes and sizes: golfers, Concorde, sports cars, a raft of 007 editions, muskets and even a slide rule.

For value for money, Tyler & Tyler’s range (£19.50), English-made by the established Midlands firm that previously made men’s accessories for Paul Smith, are hard to beat. My own favourite, a gold-plated clasp bearing two simple discs at the tip of a plain bar, has been a part of my ensemble almost as often as my Omega De Ville watch. And it’s been just as useful.

In their simplest form, tiepins do a job and add a dash of sparkle. As Hackett explains, “I think the tiepin is popular again because there are so few accessories a man can wear. It gives a finishing and individual touch to an outfit. Maybe I’m a spiv at heart…”