The skinny on skinny ties

As the proportions of menswear change, the tie follows suit

Pittsburgh Post-GazetteMarch 29, 2009 

Barack Obama apparently has fallen under the spell of "Mad Men," AMC's '60s-themed drama, just like the rest of the country.

Obama's look during the campaign was quietly retro, perhaps evoking a time when style was as simple as a dark suit, white shirt and thin tie.

Although he has upgraded his apparel since becoming president (do we detect a personal shopper?), he had the '60s thing down perfectly.

So does J. Crew, which provided the formal bow tie President Obama wore to the inaugural balls. The menswear line in its March catalog features pages from the past, which is a trend for the future.

"We've been running a skinny tie for a while," says Frank Muytjens, a native of the Netherlands who is head of men's design for J. Crew.

"Guys want to look a little more dressy, a little more cleaned up. The proportions, especially in suiting, have changed.

"The shoulder is narrow, the collar higher, the jacket shorter, the lapel narrower. It only makes sense that the skinny tie goes with it, and a button-down shirt."

Muytjens said in menswear, the options are fewer and the changes are more subtle. "You can only play with a two-button or a three-button jacket, and I think a two-button is a little hipper," he said.

But along with what he calls the "shrunken suit" are other references to the sleek '60s. Chief among them is a return to good grooming. "We're seeing more proper haircuts, more parted hair," he notes. Not to mention an actual pompadour or two and the re-emergence of butch wax.

One of the more utilitarian objects making a comeback is the tie clip. Like many men, Muytjens is not a fan of jewelry. "A good watch is all you need," he says. But he makes an exception for the sterling-silver tie clip, or bar, that is featured in the catalog. "It's not just decoration, it's functional." And it sure beats that over-the-shoulder trick some men employ and in public.

"Everything is in flux, and fashion just changes ever so slightly. Our Always List highlights our favorite piece, what a guy should have in his closet at all times. They're classic items with a modern variation."

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