Friday, August 31, 2012

A Four in Hand is worth Eight in the Bush

(Part 4 of the series "The Secret Life of the Tie.") 
Chapter 82
We will continue our Grand Tour of all the possible forms of neckwear this week with a look at the everyday long tie. And yet...not so everyday, for the humdrum workaday tie holds some secrets for us. For one thing, it is a bit of a chameleon. 

The knot of a long tie needs to be in harmony with the size and shape of the shirt's collar. A small knot will get lost in a widespread collar, and a large knot will overwhelm a narrow collar. Neither is a good thing. There are many different styles of collars out there, and you should carefully choose a collar that is both in harmony with your personal morphology, and offsets any, er, peculiarities in your head shape and size. For instance, a wide jaw can be offset by a collar with a narrow spread, and a long neck needs a collar with a higher stand and a wider fall. But the science of collar shapes is a subject for another week, so I will leave you with that tantalizing bit of information for now.

Fortunately, the long tie has a trump card, and that is its unique flexibility. The same tie can be made to fit just about any collar shape extant, on account of the great variety of knots that have been developed for its use. The long tie once was called a "four-in-hand" tie to differentiate it from a bow tie, but four-in-hand refers to a specific knot style, and is only one possible knot that can be used. In fact, this week I'm not going to focus on tie colors and patterns and such at all -- instead, we're looking just at the knots.

Out of all the possible knots, we are going to take a close look at an even dozen. Some of them you might know already, some you almost certainly have never heard of. All of them have distinct characteristics, shapes, and sizes, that are beneficial for a specific type of person, and shape of collar.

Thomas Fink and Yong Mao, two condensed-matter theorists, authored a book called The 85 Ways to Tie a Tiewhich is in turn based upon their physics thesis called  'Tie knots, random walks and topology.'

One of their brilliant contributions, (aside from the mathematics itself,) is their method of notating how to form the knots. It only requires three orientations and two directions: Right, Left, and Center; and In and Out. The thin blade always starts on the left, the thick blade on the right. This is how the notation works, and how to read it: 

A lot more concise than "Bring the thick blade over the thin blade, pass it behind and around once, pass it up from the rear, and down through the loop to form the knot," isn't it? Wasn't that easy? Well, now that we've just made one, let's go ahead and take a look at the Four-In-Hand:  
Li Ro Li Co T.
This is the most-used, oldest, and best-known knot, and probably the one you learned to tie first as well. It is rather small and narrow, and has an inherent asymmetry that can have a pleasingly insouciant appearance. The narrow triangular shape worked well with the stiff detachable collars with very small spreads that were fashionable in the first decades of the 20th century; and because of that, it still looks dashing with tab collars or with collar bars, or even Imperial or wing collars. It should be avoided by men with particularly narrow faces or wide shoulders, in favor of a wider knot, and the four-in-hand can tend to underfill those collars with more than a moderately narrow spread. 

As small as the four-in-hand is, it isn't the smallest knot you can wear: that distinction belongs to the Oriental: 
Lo Ri Co T.
A truly wee knot, the Oriental is tied by starting it inside-out around the neck, which isn't as peculiar as it sounds: many knots that you haven't heard of start this way. Teeny but well-shaped and symmetrical, it can be useful with vintage-style stiff collars with no spread, or very small collars with a short stand and fall, that would be dwarfed by a larger knot. (Collar nomenclature: The stand is the part that is closest to your neck; the fall is the part that folds over.) The Oriental knot can also be used when the tie itself is very thickly lined, and any other knot tried with it consequently ends up too large. The Oriental, in addition to being started inside-out, also is not self-releasing; that is, when the small end is pulled free, the knot doesn't fall out of its own accord, but must be manually untied.

The big brother of the Oriental is the Shelby:
Lo Ci Lo Ri Co T.
The Shelby knot, (also known as the Pratt knot in some circles,) is a very useful knot. It starts inside-out and is non-releasing like the Oriental, and it's similar in size to the four-in-hand. It distinguishes itself from both in being completely symmetrical and strongly triangular and tetrahedral, resulting in a knot that has a strong three-dimensional presence. Broad at the top, it tapers to a deep hourglass shape, and will fit a wide range of collar spreads. This is a knot every man needs in his arsenal. 

The Half-Windsor is the classic "businessman's knot." If you know two knots, chances are it's the four-in-hand and this one.
Li Ro Ci Ro Li Co T.
It is triangular and symmetrical like the Shelby, but with a little more meat and heft in the knot, a little wider at the base, with a bit less prominence. Very unlike the Shelby, it's self-releasing and starts the proper way 'round. It's a solid, honest, button-down sort of tie that says you are a man of industry and purpose...and for all that, perhaps a it's little boring in its bland inoffensiveness.

But, take the calm and solid Half-Windsor, wrap it twice instead of once around, and then drop the end through both loops, and its character changes markedly, to the Christensen knot:
Li Ro Ci Ro Li Ro Li Co TT.
Much more showy and elegant than its boring cousin the Half-Windsor, this knot sits low, lean, and sexy. Thin silk ties will emphasize its hourglass shape even more. The effect is enhanced even further with a tie pin or waistcoat, and is particularly suited to wearing with a stand collar (when the situation allows, of course.) It is best displayed with wide collars that have narrow spreads, but its unusual nature compliments most medium-spread styles.

Since we've covered the Half-Windsor, it follows that we'd look at the Full Windsor:
Li Co Ri Lo Ci Ro Li Co T.

Ironically, the Half-Windsor is not half of a Windsor, nor was the Windsor knot ever worn or invented by the Duke of Windsor. A big, bold, solid knot, for big, solid people, it is more of an isosceles trapezoid than triangular in shape, with ample room for a double-dimple below it. If the half-Windsor is the businessmens' knot, the Windsor is the politicians' knot.

Now we're entering the territory of the large knots. These will be swallowed up by narrow collars: they are more suited to wide spread or cutaway collars, and need to be used with discretion by small or thin men, lest the knot dominate the outfit.

The big brother of the Windsor is the Hanover:
Lo Ri Co Ri Lo Ci Ro Li Co T.

The Hanover looks like a Windsor that's been to the gym: more triangular and athletic, with a smaller base that accommodates but a single dimple. It works best for men for whom the Windsor is too flat and broad; smaller or thinner men. It starts inside out, but is self-releasing. 

The big daddy of big knots, the Balthus, also starts inside-out:
Lo Ci Ro Ci Lo Ci Lo Ri Co T.

This is a tremendously broad knot, that is really only suited for a cutaway collar, unless you are a truly barrel-chested man who needs the extra width to keep a sense of proportion. 

That leads us to a knot so big, it isn't a knot at all -- the mighty
Lo Ri Lo Ri Co T Ri Co.
Named for Aristotle Onassis, this tie just waterfalls down like a Cravate en Cascade. This tie also begins inside-out. It has to be rather carefully matched to a collar, since all the interest comes from the collar rather than the tie; the best effect is when the collar spread is the exact width of the tie, with long points. Because it shows so much of the tie's pattern, it should only be used rarely, and in casual situations.

The Onassis knot belongs to the Kelvin family of tie knots. Without the final Ri Co motion, the Onassis becomes a Kelvin. It isn't an outstanding knot by itself; slightly larger and more symmetric than a four-in-hand, but the inside-out start and non-releasing nature make it a bit of an oddball. 

There are some interesting things you can do with a Kelvin knot, though. If you pass the end through both horizontal loops instead of just one, you get the little brother of the Christensen, a
Cross Kelvin:
Lo Ri Lo Ri Co TT.

The Cross Kelvin knot sits low for its size. It's the same elegant look as the Christensen, but with the tradeoff of a more compact triangular package in place of a long hourglass shape. If you have a square jaw or wide face, this knot would suit you well; perhaps with a long spearpoint collar, or a collar with a tall stand.

But wait! there's more fun to be had with a Kelvin. If you reverse the ends, to make the Cross Kelvin knot with the thin blade instead of the thick, and then wear the tie backwards so the thick blade is in front again, you get a Diagonal knot.

The Diagonal is highly funky and strongly asymmetric, with a criss crossing diagonal pattern that gives a lot of visual interest to the knot. Since the thin blade ties around the thick, the tie has a lot of width around the neck, which needs to be folded down so the collar will fit over it. Naturally, a taller collar would best suit it.

Here's another striking Kelvin variation. This one is simply made by wearing a Cross Kelvin backwards, so the large blade is to the rear, and partially envelops the thin blade. It has the same Diagonal knot with less width around the neck. It must be worn with a waistcoat, since the thick blade faces wrong-side out.

Since we're looking at some unusualness, we'll end with a tie knot that has gained some notariety for itself. It is called the Ediety knot, but ever since The Matrix, it has gained another name --
the Merovingian
Li Co Ri Lo Ci T.

This one starts like the Diagonal: it's the thin blade on the right side that ties around the thick end. Unlike the Diagonal, it starts right-side out, and ends with the thin end running through the loop at the back of the knot.

There you have it: more knots than you will ever use, from the sublime to the ridiculous. If anything, it demonstrates the amazing versatility of the long tie: there is a knot for every taste. Don't be daunted by the variety -- for as we've also shown, there's no "wrong way" to tie a tie, even backwards and inside-out can be options. Once you've gotten familiar with these styles, you will reach a point where you will "get it," and the "random walks" of Thomas Fink will reveal themselves to you. Then you will reach a point where you will be able to "freestyle" a knot intuitively, based upon your individual needs at the time.

This is not an exhaustive look at the long tie; as I mentioned earlier, I'm only talking knots this week, because knot-knowledge is most generally deficient in this area of the art. Of construction, size, materials, colors, patterns, proportion, lining, self-tipped vs. non,  seven-folds and nine-folds, finished lengths, and the rest, I shall say nothing -- due to the long tie's universality, there are myriad sources of long-tie lore in the world, that we can add nothing to here.

Andre 3000 tucks a tie.
I will add one more word on the long tie's major shortcoming: as we have already discussed in previous weeks, the ends dangle. The solutions to this limitation are many: the most obvious is to wear a waistcoat. In lieu of that, a tie tack or tie bar will at least keep the hanging ends from going all Dilbert on you. Another option is to tuck the tie into the shirt between the second and third button, Army-style. And the last option is to wear a tie that doesn't dangle at all. We'll look at the non-danglers next week. Stay tuned!

Click here to go to the next essay chronologically, Part Five of The Secret Life of the Tie.

Click here to go back to the previous essay chronologically, Part Three of The Secret Life of the Tie.

Click here to go back to Part One of The Secret Life of the Tie.

Click here to go back to the beginning.


  1. Hey! Do you happen to know how to verify that your own content is unique in the blogosphere and no other person is it without making sure you know about it?

  2. That's a very good question, and one that warranted a bit of thought rather than just a flippant answer.

    The easiest verification is observation. I follow a lot of men's fashions blogs, and if someone else was doing what I do, then I wouldn't do it -- there's no reason to duplicate someone else's work! But there're a deficit of blogs out there that touch on the science, history, and culture of dressing well; so that's the niche that I fill -- not just answering the "what," but rounding out the answers with the "why."

    Most of the big-time fashion blogs spend a lot of space with 'what socks do I wear with these pants,' and 'look at this jacket from Brand X,' and 'isn't this a nice tie.' I cut through all that. Posts that go into the science of proper fit, tone-matching articles, and keeping a sartorial balance, (for instance,) answer the picayune questions with an overarching logical framework, that the average guy can use to answer the minor questions for himself.

    Take this particular post, for instance. There are many blogs that look at ties, but they get caught up in This Knot or That Knot...none have taken Thomas Fink's "random walk" method and shown what various permutations actually look like, and how each can be used -- or more importantly, come to the conclusion that an individual knot is not as important as understanding the theory behind how and why they are tied.

    As to the second part of your question; anyone out there can reference a blog, use it, or link to any part of it. I've discovered my posts and pics scattered here and there in cyberspace, usually by someone who is using it in a fashion forum to prove a point. As long as there's a link back to Dress Like A Grownup (and there usually is,) I say the more information is disseminated, the better!

  3. Very useful page! Being of average height and build, I've found that the Shelby has worked well for me for years. Like you though, I am a thrifter always on the look out for a good bargain. Sometimes, that has meant that I've picked up ties that are longer or shorter than average, which case the Shelby just doesn't look right. I've found I can use a Four in hand for shorter knit ties, allowing them to hang a little longer. Conversely, the Windsor, with its extra loop through the center, effectively shortens the extra long ties. Looking forward to an occasion to use a Kelvin, Diagonal or the Ediety. Thank you for all your work!