The Society of Cool!
In the long running franchise, Sean Connery’s Bond is seen as the definitive portrayal of the eponymous character. Connery was the epitome of cool and in "Goldfinger" and he wore a black knitted tie. The knitted tie was a very popular item for many years, not only with the original Mods, but it was also found in the wardrobe of any country gent. After all, what else do you wear around your neck whilst sporting your tweed shooting jacket? But it was that image of bond, with his narrow tie and sharp Italian suits that captured the imagination of many school boys sitting in the darkened stalls at their local Odeon.
For many of us the knitted tie was something found in your father’s cupboard. It was probably unearthed whilst hunting for original 1960’s gear during the mid-seventies when the kipper was king. Many of us were never comfortable with those table cloth sized bolts of polyester fabric weighing us down and we yearned for something sleeker, something less luminous. A square ended knitted silk tie was the just the tonic. Until recently I thought I was restricted to buying second hand examples from classic clothing emporiums. Edinburgh’s Grass Market area has plenty of dedicated classic clothing suppliers where you can hopefully find a gem, as does Camden. The modern tie originated as an adaptation of the cravat so its common sense it too would be made of silk or satin, so the knitted item is a more modern product first emerging in its current form in late Victorian times.
A few years ago though I purchased some new knitted ties via special order from the ‘High Town’ outfitters in Sandbach. This is one of handful of classic ‘Suits you Sir’, establishments left in Cheshire. A place that can obtain pretty much any arcane item requested. All dedicated followers of past fashion know it pays to develop a relationship with your local menswear independent. A conversation whilst buying a nice Lee Cooper button down, from very old stock, alerted me to the fact that they are still being made. I was reliably informed that they were still very popular abroad. Probably I thought with ex-secret agents with a hankering for halcyon days.
The knitted tie had clearly lost its appeal between Connery and more recent years. Perhaps it was a case of guilt by association. It became the domain of beatniks, librarians and vegetarians according to a scathing report by my late father and that’s why he abandoned his. You could imagine Philip Larkin, poet and librarian, bent over his microfiche wearing one. Or some well meaning late sixties English teacher in a corduroy jacket complete with patches waxing lyrical about Keats to a disinterested classroom at the local secondary school whilst his bedraggled neck wear frayed in to obscurity.
On the way home from work one evening my man telephoned me to say that the tie salesman had been and he had on approval a whole range of knitted neck wear for my perusal. Like most Modernists would, I felt thrilled at the idea and I went straight there. I was bowled over by the myriad of options. Widths, weaves and materials seemed to be available in infinite variations. I left with a very narrow tight weave polyester item in red for work, a mid width yellow silk one with a chain like texture for weddings and a claret coloured wool blend which would be ideal for smart casual. Of course the next day a small stir was caused amongst the small Mod enclave at work and over the next few weeks my compatriots all appeared in similar newly purchased items.
T M Lewin seemed to be their favourite destination, so there was clearly mainstream availability, but at a price. There was thirty percent mark up on my local independent’s price for the silk equivalent and only one weave and one width, though a veritable rainbow of colours. I am no fashionista, and I don’t think for one minute three middle aged men in a semi-rural location had any effect on the resurgence of the item in question, but it seems now that it has once again come back into favour and can be seen about the throats of popular celebrates. I believe that Mod fashion should be widely available and not particularly exclusive, that kind of preciousness goes against the common man, so I’m pleased to say that I have purchased knitted ties in Next, Burtons and Matalan. All of which have been good quality for the price.
The older knitted ties I have are bulky and are made from cashmere, and heavy woollen yarns. These have a very British look about them. The few stripy ones I own are a bit ‘Just William’ or as I prefer to say, ‘Eaton Rifles’ and there is a history of school ties being knitted as they were once less expensive and more durable than plain silk. Recently though, cheap silk and the introduction of artificial fabrics have seen real wool being largely replaced as the knitters choice. Even with these new materials the knot is still bigger and squarer, but only in comparison to a silk tie of a similar width. As for tying, it is often said a Windsor knot is not appropriate and generally I don’t disagree. You need to tie it in a traditional slender way and avoid bulking up or it won’t sit tidily below your button down collar. Its common sense to a Modernist but you’d be surprised. The other tip is do not over tighten it either, the texture of these beauties grips like rope and you’ll damage the weave if you are brutal.
As a veteran of knitted ties I have noticed a few things about modern life that need to be addressed when sporting this kind of item. Flat silk ties slip about against other fabrics, their smooth composition reduces friction with other clothing and slides off obstacles such as ID badges, keys on a lanyard, spectacles on a chord. Knitted ties are textured and as a result they catch on things, get tugged and will bobble or loop up if you are unlucky. They will bunch up under a jumper or cardigan if you are particularly active and leave an unsightly lump. They are also warmer than normal ties, the gaps in the weave, even on the silk ones trap warm air. This is ideal on a cold day, but it can be counterproductive under a lab coat, an overall or in an air-conditioned office. A really heavy duty one can abrade your chin in extreme circumstances, particularly if you are in a situation where you need to keep looking up and down all day.
Finally, my sartorial counsel is primarily wear your knitted tie with whatever you like, you are a Mod, so you will instinctively know what looks right and if you don’t, your fellow Mods will tell you. The most widely agreed advice is to avoid textured or patterned shirts and keep it plain and slightly contrasting. Pale blue or white can’t steer you wrong so stick with them. It’s also been said you should avoid corduroy and other textured jackets but I’m not sure this is good instruction as long as you are subtle. I wear mine with a blazer or a pull over. That square end is a talking point, as is the deliberately frayed end on a more vintage tie. If you want to make a point I would take it no further than a nice tie bar through your collar. This draws attention to the knot. Because of their manufacture and their resulting texture, avoid any kind of tie pin, or clip, on or through the tie itself as this will only contribute to its early demise.
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