A quality tie has greater lustre, greater life and, perhaps, lends its wearer a greater sense of authority. But it’s not as easy as just spending more money.
Made of silk, wrapped around some kind of lining and sewn up with thread, a tie is a far simpler thing to analyse than a suit or a bag.
A good tie is sewn by hand. A woman (for they nearly always are) carefully folds the two sides of the silk together, pins them in place and then sews it up in long, loose stitches. She must not catch the lining and must leave a loop of excess thread at the end. This “slip stitch” allows the tie to contract, to bunch and then regain its shape once it is hung up at the end of the day. It gives it life.
The problem is, most ties have a slip stitch. Some are imitations (try holding the thread and pulling the tie to see if it bunches up), but this first test only cuts out a small part of the market.
Mass-produced ties use silk that is printed by inkjet. More refined producers, such as Drake’s in London (example in first picture, from £95), use dye-and-discharge hand-screen printing, where every colour layer is printed separately, penetrating it each time. “That takes longer, is more expensive and more labour intensive,” says Michael Hill, managing director of Drake’s, “but we think it produces a richer hand. Inkjet has its merits and can be useful in certain situations, such as lighter summer colours, but anything deeper needs that lustre in the cloth.”
This separates out many of the luxury brands that produce ties merely as an afterthought. I won’t name names, but suffice to say that Hermès (from £135) is one of the few that handprints its ties – albeit using a slightly different method to Drake’s.
When it comes to woven ties, a rich, deep colour is an indicator of excellence. “Unbleached silk creates that richness, but most manufacturers don’t use it because they can’t accommodate the same volume of production,” says Michael Whitby-Grubb, commercial director of English brand Penrose (example in second picture, from £89). “The thickness of the yarn is also important – most use five, six or seven-ply. We always use sevens.”
There is no easy way, however, to judge the quality of the silk itself. For that, an approximation and a principle are needed. The approximation is the thickness of the interlining. When the silk is cheap, and too insubstantial to drape well on its own, makers will often put in a thicker lining to compensate. “The interlining will vary legitimately with different weights of silk,” says Maurizio Marinella, owner of Neapolitan tiemaker E Marinella (from £100), “but in the end you should be wearing the silk, not the lining. That has to be the governing principle.”
In the end, assessing a tie is instinctive. It is driven by sensory reactions – how it looks and feels. “Does it feel three-dimensional? Is it plump and rounded? Does it live in your hands?” asks Hill. “That’s how to spot a good tie.”