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In a business casual world, what happens to the tie?

Wednesday - 1/15/2014, 4:19pm  ET

HandCTie.jpg
Hugh & Crye owner Pranav Vora recently started selling less traditional ties, such as colorful, patterned ties and ties in different fabrics. Vora says ties are starting to be redefined. (Courtesy Pranav Vora)

WASHINGTON - Cameron Brenchley's workday routine is similar to a lot of Washington-area male professionals. He wakes up, gets dressed and leaves his Northern Virginia home around 7:30 a.m. to catch the Metro to his office in Southwest, D.C.

But unlike a lot of local male professionals, Brenchley's morning involves an extra step: Brenchley, 34, puts on a necktie.

"I think it's expected, but I also think if I came to work every day not wearing one, no one would care," says Brenchley, who works as the director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education.

Brenchley is one in what's becoming an increasingly smaller pool of professional men who wear a tie -- something that was was once considered a staple in a man's wardrobe.

Fifty years ago, a tie-less male professional was rare, and a popular TV show illustrates that. "Mad Men's" Don Draper is never without a tie in his Madison Avenue office, and neither are his male co-workers.

These days, it's difficult to find an office where men wear ties, routinely -- even in a political power town like D.C.

A national 2007 Gallup poll shows that only 6 percent of men surveyed wore ties every day. That number was down from 10 percent in 2002.

Twenty percent of respondents said they wore ties occasionally, and 67 percent said they never wore ties, a figure that shot up from 59 percent in 2002.

On top of that, the Men's Dress Furnishings Association, a trade group that represented American tie-makers, shut down in 2008, due to a decrease in the number of its members and a decline in the American tie industry, The Wall Street Journal reports.

To tie, or not to tie? Take the poll:

Do you wear a tie to work, even if it is not required?

Does your place of employment require you to wear a tie to work?

Which type of tie are you most likely to wear?


The Sometimes Tie

What's becoming more common in today's professional environment is the "sometimes tie" -- a dress code that requires men to wear a tie on more formal occasions, such as a meeting with a client or a business presentation.

This mixed-tie environment is something Brenchley, a Springfield, Va., resident, sees on a daily basis.

"You see a lot of people wearing ties, particularly those that work with the secretary or [those] who are meeting with folks outside of the department," Brenchley says.

"[In] many of the offices, it might be a little bit more casual, where you'll see folks with sweaters or with jackets, but maybe not a tie."

Sarah Milans works as a marketing manager for Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, LLP, an accounting firm in Tysons Corner. She says the general rule of thumb at the office is business casual -- but that all depends on where you are and who you are meeting.

"If the client environment calls for a necktie, then that's what our accountants and consultants go with," Milans says. "Some probably keep a necktie in their office if they need to go to a client site on a moment's notice."

This tie from Hugh & Crye is hand-block printed with indigo. (Courtesy Pranav Vora)

Milans says keeping the office business casual is not only a plus to current employees, but to potential ones, as well.

"It's a recruiting focus, too … When you're talking with people who are considering joining your firm vs. some other firm, to let them know that [they're] not going to have to go out and buy 15 new suits," she says.

B.J. Talley works as the director of corporate communication at Exelis, Inc., an aerospace, defense and information solutions company. He says the "sometimes tie" is also common in his McLean, Va., office, which houses roughly 70 employees.

"I would say on any given day, on a typical average day, most of the men in my office do not wear a tie," Talley says. "To me, I think it shows that we're all comfortable with each other and that everyone has a good relationship. And I think people feel like in that kind of environment, they can be a little less formal from a business attire standpoint."

However, he says just because the office doesn't mandate he wear a tie, doesn't mean he always leaves his tie at home. Talley says he'll wear one on occasion.

"Not because I am required to, I just think it gives me a little bit of a change-up in style every once in a while, and I know there are a number of folks in my office who do the same thing."

The Tie: A Necessary Accessory

Even though the statistics of daily tie-wearers are down, some industry leaders say the tie will never disappear. In fact, Pranav Vora, chief executive officer of Hugh & Crye, a D.C.-based menswear company, says he thinks ties are making a comeback in a whole new way.

Vora says the tie originally got lost when business casual work environments became the norm.

"I think for a number of years, men were assuming that meant ill-fitting billowy blue shirts and pleated khakis, and that was kind of the uniform," says Vora, 36.

According to Vora, the tie is something that has traditionally been seen as "stuffy and unwanted and only reached for a couple of times a year."

"You know if you think about it, when do men typically wear ties? It's when they have to. It's when they're going to a wedding and they have to wear a tie, or they're going to a gala and they have to wear a tie, or if their workplace requires professional dress and they have to reach for a tie. It's something that has never been seen as being the most comfortable thing to wear," Vora says.

Now, he says the tie is being refined and redefined.

"What we're seeing now is kind of more of an attention to fit, the individual pieces, the construction, the fabric, creating a look," he says.

Vora says Hugh & Crye, which began four years ago in Georgetown, played with its tie styles during the company's most recent fall and winter collection.

"We launched a set of block-print ties that have really interesting patterns and have square ends and have about 2 1/4 inches in width, so a little bit skinnier than what's normally out there. It's just a nod make to kind of when, you know in the early ‘60s … the more expressive, more interesting, colorful ties that kind of complete a look."

The so-called "skinny ties" are what Brenchley says he reaches for on most days.

"I'm one of the few younger folks in a federal agency … who is kind of moving towards the slimmer tie, rather than maybe my father's choice of big ‘80s ties," says Brenchley, who says he owns between 20 and 30 ties. "It seems to be the general trend these days."

Kara Allen has worked as a stylist in the D.C. area for about 10 years. She says a tie is one of the limited accessories men have in their wardrobes.

While women have earrings, scarves, bracelets, rings and more, men are more limited with accessories. Therefore, a tie is one way for men to have a visual impact and express themselves, Allen says.

In addition to being a form of expression, Allen believes a tie is a necessity for men.

"If you're doing anything business related, I think a tie is sort of an essential part of your uniform, if you will," she says.

The Future of the Tie

While Brenchley's tie has become a part of his everyday wardrobe, he says he's not wedded to it.

"I don't mind wearing a tie at all, but if I worked at an organization where ties weren't standard, I'd dress with everyone else and go sans-tie," he says.

Hugh & Crye's Vora, who, himself, wears a tie "a couple of times a week," says thinking of a tie more as an accessory and less as a formal requirement is the shift he wants to see.

"It's more of a deliberate decision to reach for a casual tie, versus, ‘Man I have to wear a tie to this event,' or something of that sort," Vora says.

"I think guys are becoming more and more comfortable with just pursuing their own personal style. That's what's happening."

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