If you’re in the market for a tie, the options are almost limitless. However, there’s a knack to buying them, and two ties that look the same at a glance may well be very different levels of quality. Some are made well, some are made brilliantly; though the majority of ties on the market aren’t worth a second glance.
The fabric composition isn’t enough to tell you whether the tie is good, either. Pure silk ties can be made poorly, while some ties made from wool (cheaper by the metre) may end up better quality than the silk.
Tie construction is much of what determines the worth, as a well-constructed tie will make a crisper knot and hold a better dimple.
Apart from avoiding polyester, there are a few handy tips and tricks when it comes to buying vintage ties, and a few brands I’ve noted that consistently deliver great value for a low price on the secondhand market.
First, it’s important to know a few signs of whether a vintage tie is worth buying at all.
A decently made tie will have a handsewn ‘keeper loop’ which is the little thread that binds the two folds at the back of the tie above the tip. This is often the only piece of handwork on ties with a ‘hand made’ label (thanks to lax labelling regulations almost everywhere), but it makes a big difference to the construction quality.
The cheapest, poorest quality ties are entirely machine stitched right to the tip. These, you want to avoid.
Next, observe the thickness of the tie’s lining, as a tie with thicker lining will make a bulkier knot. Most people in the sartorial bubble tend to say that the best ties have minimal to no lining, as they make a smaller – many say more elegant – knot. You can eyeball this to some degree in pictures, but it can be hard to really tell unless you’ve owned or handled ties with very thin lining, which is something many brands don’t do. It’s more an artisanal choice by makers nowadays, but is also found regularly in very old vintage ties. Be aware also that thickness of interlining is also a stylistic choice on your part, as you might find that smaller knots don’t suit your face, collar or overall style.
Most mass manufactured ties you’ll come across are constructed as a three fold tie. This means there are three folds at the back of the tie. It’s the most simple method of half-decent construction, which by and large gets the job done. They’ll likely make up the bulk of ties you see.
You won’t often find ties on the vintage market with more than three folds, as these are a more artisanal product.
Five, six or seven fold ties have come more into vogue in the last few years, but most people who bought those new are still enjoying them. If you find one second hand at a reasonable price, it may prove to be a great buy.
Brands to look out for:
Brooks Brothers Makers
This iconic American brand has been famed for their great value ties for many decades, and the scale at which they produce them means that they’re usually easy to find for a bargain on eBay.
The best ones I’ve seen usually carry the Makers or Makers and Merchants label.
The lining used in the old Brooks ties is usually quite thin, which means they tie a stellar small knot and they hang beautifully. Their English silks are particularly good. Usual width varies between 8 to 9.5cm.
Polo by Ralph Lauren
Polo can be hit and miss for vintage ties; some have lining half a centimetre thick, made from cheap fibres which hang poorly, while others are lined with high quality, thinner interlining and feature some of the most intricate, delicate and beautiful silk screen prints I’ve seen. Usual width is around 8cm, but can go up to 10cm depending on the era.
It’s usually possible to tell whether a Polo tie will be top notch vintage, or bin-tage, by the detail of the print.
While Polo is a brand that suffers heavily from counterfeiters, and Ralph Lauren has a massive portfolio of sub brands and diffusion lines, I’ve never seen a counterfeit Polo tie. Polo is also the best Ralph Lauren line to source ties from; Chaps ones tend to feel cheap, and LRL ones are dull. Purple Label is good, but expensive still on the secondhand market.
Listings abound on eBay, and it’s simply a matter of time spent scrolling before something stunning shows up on your screen.
With Zegna’s long history in the textile industry, their silks carry some of the most beautiful colours and weaves I’ve seen. Zegna ties make the best knots of any ties I’ve owned, perhaps owing to their tendency to be lined slightly more thickly than the others, therefore they play their best form where a thicker knot is required on a dressy occasion. Some vintage Zegna pieces, however, are of the thin or non lined variety. Usual width is around 9.5cm.
They tend to be purchasable on the likes of eBay between $30 and $50 AUD. It’s just a matter of finding a print or design that you like.
Vintage Armani holds some of the best capability for bargains on the secondhand market; I’ve scored some online for less than $10AUD. The sheer size of the Armani catalogue from over the years means that a staggering number of interesting designs can be had for less than the price of lunch, with some fascinating fibres and blends used to excellent effect.
I find that vintage Armani ties have a tendency towards more appealing spacing and sizing of designs, making them some of the most versatile vintage ties in my wardrobe. There’s no usual width with Armani, as even one collection can have contained several widths of tie. I’ve seen ties from 6.5cm to 11cm bearing the Maestro’s name.
As you can see, options abound when it comes to decent secondhand ties. True vintage pieces from before the 1960s are another field worth looking into, though not one that I’ve explored.
Happy hunting, and happy wearing!