Sunday, December 20, 2009
#13 - Skinny Ties
It was the decade when...
We all dressed like Mad Men.
Neck wear of ratpackers and reservoir dogs, the skinny tie had been hibernating for decades before resurfacing with a vengeance in the late Aughts. Men of all ages rediscovered the joys of the svelte necktie slowly, the girth of the apparel shrinking little by little over the decade, from the fat, iridescent slabs that dominated millennial neck wear (Thank you Regis Philbin!) to the sleek and chic near near uni-dimensional style prevalent today. (For proof of this evolution see Ryan's Seacrest's wardrobe over 10 years.) The effect is young, fun, streamlined and classy. Adjectives like swag and swinging are not inappropriate. For those of a stylish mien, the skinny tie has all but cornered cool. Somewhat less flattering on those of a more portly build, the skinny tie looks best on men as lean as their neck wear. Sporting a tailored suit, an anachronistic pair of brightly colored converse sneakers, and a skinny tie loosened around the open neck, the fashion-forward man of the late Aughts looks not unlike a slacker substantiation of the The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.
Of course, that gray flannel suit was itself wiped clean of mothballs this decade with the hit television show Mad Men on AMC. Probably the most fastidiously accurate (and luscious) recreation of mid-century fashion and design since Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven (another of the decade's artistic highlights), Matthew Weiner's Mad Men is like attending a design showroom of early 60's modernism. Skinny ties and thick rimmed glasses abound, with perfect matching handkerchiefs poking out of every suit's breast pocket. It's style porn. Luckily the show surrounding the vintage duds and leather backed Eames Chairs is equally rich in characterization. Dramatizing a glamorous, lost New York of rigid workplace gender roles, two (or three+) martini lunches, incessant cigarette smoking and flush post-50's abundance, the characters of Mad Men nonetheless teeter on the edge of a social and sexual revolution that would come to uproot the customs and mores of their lives and the world. It's telling that no decade featured such a revolution of style from beginning to end than the 1960's did, a signal of the more real turbulence quaking beneath the shallow fault lines of the fashion world.
Some might chalk up the rise of the skinny tie and the success of Mad Men as two unrelated phenomenon, but I can't help but suspect that the two are more inextricably linked; when fashion trendsetters and the Hollywood hoi-polloi converge on the same aesthetic seemingly independently of each other it's a clue that something is afoot in the American subconscious. Perhaps we, like the employees of the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency, are living in a world where the center can't hold, the new revolutions heading our way threatening to collapse the apparatus of stability and material comfort we strained to erect. In the sixties it was the sexual revolution and newly energized leftist movement that undid the world of the Mad Men. The vague but persistent march of globalization and ecological disaster threatens ours. Though I lament to say it, if I had to guess what style of necktie will be popular in ten years, I would expect a resurgence of the loud and bombastic variety that dominated the late 60's and persisted in popularity through the whole of the 70's. Made with thick and heavy synthetic fabric and featuring bright, unsubtle stripes, the tie of the teens is (well, will be) what happens when the whole edifice of civil society starts to fall apart, as it did in the 1970's.
The mens necktie as barometer of social unrest and economic stability? Yeah, I'll go there. (College students, there is an essay for you!) For now, the skinny tie and the slim suit are emblems of control and simplicity in a world that is increasingly anything but.
You AUGHT to remember.