NEW YORK — Here’s the big headline for style-conscious men in 2008: Buy a skinnier tie.
Yes, in the world of men’s fashion, the shrinking of the tie from a 3 3/4-inch width to around 3 1/4 inches counts as monumental news.
That would never do in women’s fashion, where changes can be measured in volumes — say from sleek to swinging — in the course of a season or two. Menswear, though, moves at a much slower pace. Five years is the norm, a fast-track shift could happen in three.
Ari Hoffman, CEO of Gant, says it’s become an industry joke that a seemingly minute detail such as tie width or lapel style could be considered a drastic shift, but it’s also true.
The attention to narrower ties and slimmer lapels comes as the industry continues to embraced dressier looks, Hoffman says.
“From our point of view, we’re going through a period of change from distressed, grungier looks toward clean looks, polished looks,” Hoffman says. “It’s crisper — we definitely see that as an important direction.”
Men’s style is largely defined by the clothes they go to work in, unlike women who often pay the most attention to their party dresses, even if they don’t wear them often, notes Tyler Thoreson, executive editor of the Conde Nast-run Web site Men.Style.Com. “There’s a much narrower spectrum within which you can work in men’s fashion.”
You’ll see the pendulum switch from dressing up to casual as every generation starts shopping for itself, Thoreson explains.
“A lot of guys in their teens and 20s grew up with dads who wore blue button-downs with chinos or Dockers to work,” he says. “How do you rebel against that? Well, you dress up.”
He adds: “I like that the tie is a form of fashion rebellion.”
But the younger generation didn’t exactly come up with this “cleaned-up look” on their own. Surely, they’ve seen stars like Justin Timberlake, Kanye West and he-of-the-skinniest-tie Pete Wentz wear their Sunday best every day of the week.
Men in their 30s and beyond also see the likes of Ryan Seacrest and his high-neck spread collars and slim tie on TV and think to themselves, “I can’t do that,” but the influence permeates their subconscious, notes Christian Boehm, vice president of marketing and merchandising for custom clothier Tom James.
“Fashion trickles upward,” agrees Thoreson.
“Is it time for the suit? God, I hope so,” says Janie Bryant, costume designer for AMC’s “Mad Men.” “I think it’s fantastic to see people dressing up. It’s a beautiful thing to be cool but elegant but hip. A man can still wear a great suit and be casual, cool and comfortable. I say let’s burn all the T-shirts.”
The look of her show captures a successful Madison Avenue ad agency in the ’60s. The clean sharp lines, shorter jacket, narrower leg and skinny ties are all historically correct — and they’re relevant now, too.
“The characters could walk out onto the street and totally look like they belong,” Bryant says, although she’d encourage them to trade their wing-tip shoes for zip-up ankle boots.
“The younger men on my show are so happy to know how to buy a shirt if they’re going to wear a tie, they like knowing how a suit should fit. If they got into the tailoring and accessories today, I’d think they’d love it too!” she says.
She adds: “The ’80s is when comfort came into play. It was oversize everything and deep, deep pleats. It created a bad look.”
In Europe, the silhouette really slimmed down in the late 1990s and early 2000s, largely due to Hedi Slimane’s work for Christian Dior. Influential New York-based designer Thom Browne, who was named the best U.S. menswear designer in 2006 by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, has taken the shape to the extreme with tight-fitting jackets and even cropped trousers.
Browne now collaborates with traditional menswear company Brooks Brothers on a line called Black Fleece that’s aimed to update Brooks Brothers’ more traditional image.
Men come into see what this modern collection — with touches of fur trims, embroidery and covered buttons — is all about, says Style.com’s Thoreson, but they’re not buying into the whole look. Instead, they’ll buy the trenchcoat or a shirt, or perhaps a jacket in one size larger than Browne would’ve recommended.
Browne’s influence, though, can be seen throughout the regular Brooks Brothers collection. The partnership was named the year’s best collaboration by trade magazine DNR, which covers menswear.
Other winners of DNR’s first-ever awards are Tom Ford as person of the year for the launch of his bespoke menswear line, Dolce & Gabbana for busting the myth that they’re a women’s-only fashion house and Clifford Grodd, the CEO and president of Paul Stuart, for successfully blending the styles of Saville Row and downtown New York for 56 years. Note they’re all advocates of an elegantly dressed man.
Men aren’t as quick to change their look because most simply don’t have as much interest in fashion than women, Hoffman says. They are, however, much more aware of it than they used to be. If the cycle of change is now five years, a generation ago it was 10 — “and that was a quarter-inch change,” he says with a laugh.
Playing it safe does make more sense for men than women, he adds, since women often use fashion to get attention. “Men like to look put together and match but they don’t want to be noticed for their clothes.”
“I like the idea of having a simple wardrobe. … There are constants: a blue shirt, your favorite pair of jeans or chinos — and then you build around it. The easy items are already there and you use argyle or a stripe to mix it up and make the fashion statement,” Hoffman says, “but most days, I don’t want to make a fashion statement.”