Sat. Jul 2nd, 2022

IN 2018, Rutledge’s, a 54-year-old classic men’s clothing store in Colorado Springs, Colo., sold a healthy 35 neckties a month. In 2020, that number has dipped to just 15. In an interview, the store’s vice president Luke Faricy joked that when he recently compared those sales figures, he “cried a little bit.” Ties were once an easy-to-sell accessory for Rutledge’s, with locals and tourists alike snatching them up. Today, neckwear sits largely ignored on the sales floor.

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During the pandemic year, oh-so-casual Zoom shirts leapfrogged corporate attire. Interest in the necktie—already waning in recent decades—was nearly extinguished. Seigo Katsuragawa, the proprietor of Seigo, a beloved, tie-focused store on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, said this past year was the worst in his company’s 30-year history. “9/11 was bad,” he said, but it was nothing like this.


One clothier attributes the recent uptick in neckwear interest to ‘the fantasy of going back to the office.’

Although some of his favorite customers have come by to check in on the store, they’ve told Mr. Katsuragawa they just don’t wear ties anymore. “They’re dressed up in T-shirts and polo shirts,” not ties, he said, sounding more than a bit wounded.

TIE WARP From left: Actors Gary Cole, Paul Willson and John McGinley—as Bill Lumbergh, Bob Porter and Bob Slydell, respectively—proudly brandish their wide (and now, widely outdated) ties in the 1999 film ‘Office Space.’



Photo:

Everett Collection

He might find some solace in knowing that he’s not the only haberdasher taking a hit. Ashton Greene, a salesman at men’s clothier H. Stockton in Atlanta for 33 years, noted that tie sales are “certainly not at the levels we [experienced] even a year and a half ago.” He speculated that 90% of men in the store’s Atlanta neighborhood walk around tieless in “golf shirts every single day.”

Now that roughly half of Americans have received at least one vaccination dose and more businesspeople are trickling back into the office by the week, could the necktie reassert itself in men’s wardrobes in 2021? Glenn Au, who owns Junior’s, a by-appointment men’s clothier based in Philadelphia, sees sunnier days ahead. This spring, Junior’s, a relatively small business just over a year old, has nevertheless sold through about half its ties, which come in traditional patterns like deco-ish squares and red-and-gray repp stripes. Mr. Au’s customer base is “working professionals” like attorneys and doctors. He attributes the uptick in neckwear interest to “the fantasy of going back to the office.”

The return to the cubicle has made some men dust off their tie rack. Dylan S. Roberts works in executive recruitment in Chicago and recently started at a new company where he’s required to sport ties about once a week when meeting with clients. This marks the first time in 10 years that Mr. Roberts, 33, has been obliged to wear a tie—he even had to relearn how to knot one up. Still, he’s welcomed the experience and recently bought two new ties—a paisley number and a solid blue one on sale from London label Drake’s—to commemorate his neckwear reimmersion.

But the number of corporate environments that demand ties is declining. And the return to work might not be enough to pull the industry out of its downward spiral. Mr. Katsuragawa of Seigo said that doctors and lawyers—among those professionals still expected to dress formally—have bought ties from him in recent months. But while those customers once splurged on a handful of ties each visit, their needs have shrunken to just one or two styles.

Modern ties fit for the office, post-lockdown weddings and beyond. From left: A silk style in a statement watercolor print. Purple Label Tie, $195, ralphlauren.com; An Italian-made V-tip version rendered in woven silk. Tie, about $110, serafinesilk.com; A chocolate silk take with a geometric pattern. Tie, $175, shopjuniors.com.

Now back in the office, Lou Fiorilla, 36, a financial services litigator in Lancaster, Pa., wears one of his 50 or so ties each weekday. He buys around five new neckties a year and actually enjoys the formality of a suit and tie. Yet, even in his highly punctilious field, an influx of new, young litigators hits the workforce annually, pushing for more casual attire. In a decade, he said, he probably won’t be wearing ties at all.

The office might be a lost cause in the long-term. But several tie-sellers see hope in the recent surge of special occasions as America slowly reopens. Mr. Greene of H. Stockton noted that in the past two months, the store has seen a considerable uptick in men scooping up ties for weddings and other formal events. “The tie has become less of a commodity,” he said, and more of an indulgence. Now, he said, his customers buy ties that are “interesting,” such as neckwear in preppy repp stripes, to stand out on a big day. But Mr. Greene emphasized that the color-vomit 1980s “power tie” is still as dead as ever.

Mr. Faricy of Rutledge’s noted with a tinge of optimism that his store, too, has recently seen wedding-sparked interest around neckwear. On the day we spoke, a couple had just come in to pick up a suit and two ties for their nuptials. Customers are leaning toward solid navy knit ties and finely woven grenadines—subtle, textural options that complement a formal wedding suit. “What we’re selling is a simpler tie,” than in previous years, said Mr. Faricy. Better than selling no ties at all.

Write to Jacob Gallagher at [email protected]

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By rahul