The Secret Language of Striped Ties

Tie 01

Regimental Tie of the Royal Household Guards

The striped tie is the ubiquitous workhorse of business dress. From boardrooms to intern cubicles, the striped tie can signal both the elan and fortitude of its bearer. And yet, this seemingly essential piece of menswear was not always so. Once the dresswear of British Army regiments and preparatory schools, the striped tie has clearly evolved from its roots.

I eschewed this style of tie for many years–thinking it the stuffy and safe choice of the uncreative. Such is the opinion of the greasy teen, in whose father’s dress shirt would wear an abstraction from Jerry Garcia or Rush Limbaugh. But for the initiated, the striped tie signals an appreciation for tradition and timeless style. The stripes are also practical, as they can match up with nearly every conceivable shirt and jacket.

My Necktie -- 23/6/2005

Argyle Sutherland Regimental Tie

While Americans regard the verisimilitude of striped neckwear as just a combination of colors, to the British eye, these ties signify a lot more. Those bars and colors signal the fealty of the bearer to alma mater or king and country. For of the traditional ties pictures in this blog, these are the traditional colors of preparatory schools and military regiments, and were intended to be worn only by those alumni or current members of the Army or school. Brits can read these ties and know where you might have gone to boarding school.

The British model is easily recognizable, the stripes are diagonal, from the upper left to the lower right. Two to three colors mark the tie, sometimes with a thin gold line outlining those colors. Green usually signals an Irish regiment. Three colors tend to be the hallmark of a prep school, as in the red, white and blue of the Charterhouse school.

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Charterhouse Prep School Tie

According to M.S. McClellan, a clothier in Knoxville, Tennessee, the move of the striped tie from exclusive use to the everyman can be attributed to the Prince of Wales–Edward, not Charles. After World War I, the sartorial Prince Edward (later Edward VIII) wore the Royal Household Grenadiers Red and Navy in solidarity with those troops with which he served. He brought his regimental tie to the US, and that panache set off the trend. (Prince Edward had a habit of being a bit of a clothes horse. He “invented” the Windsor knot, the bulky noose preferred by Republicans, introduced Argyle to casual attire and had his own pattern of suit fabric (the “Prince of Wales”), all commonly seen today.)

Brooks Brothers and J. Press–two American haberdashers that cater to the preppie aesthetic–capitalized on the trend for American audiences. However, the British were aghast that Joe College would bear the stripes of the Black Watch, Westminster, and Charterhouse. Thus, the American Repp Tie has the stripes in reverse, from lower left moving toward the upper right of the tie. This little change seemed to satisfy those fey Brits and their calls for proper decorum.

Repp, by the way, refers not to the stripes of the tie, but the weave of the silk. A true repp regimental tie will have a diagonal silk weave, in contrast to the the colored bars on the tie.

Tierug - stripes

Americans have taken a prism to the striped tie–as there is no limit to the variation of colors available. Americans have taken to the striped tie as we have with so many ideas from Old Europe. We take the vocabulary and innovate something new of our own. From Opera, we invent musical theatre. From classical music we get Jazz. From the Greek Orders we give you Frank Lloyd Wright. Americans use the scaffold of the stripes to show off splashes of new colors against tweed, navy and gray. The American Repp stands as a bulwark against the meaningless geometry of contemporary ties.

Yet the ties in the US have lost all meaning compared to the British varieties–a lost language in the New World. Any American who is fond of those stripes should be forewarned against wearing them in the UK. Such a display by an American in London might earn you a tongue-lashing from an aged veteran of Her Majesty’s Hussars, or the ridicule of an Etonian who finds you out for wearing his school’s colors. This warning of course matters not if you happen to be a prince, who happens to be the head of every armed force and a patron of most universities and prep schools in the UK.

Repp Photo credit: Paul Worthington / Foter / CC BY-NC

Tweed and Repp Photo credit: bjohnson / Foter / CC BY-SA

Prince Charles Photo Credit: This image is a work of an employee of the Executive Office of the President of the United States, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.

Tie wheel Photo credit: eileenaway / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Edward VIII


2 thoughts on “The Secret Language of Striped Ties

  1. I do happen to fancy myself quite the neckwear aficionado, and as such this was fascinating to me. I do have a few striped ties, and consider myself forewarned for when I travel to the UK.

    • Thank you for the comment. I have taken to ordering a few of the regimental and school ties for wear in the us. They are great classics and most people in the states are none the wiser of their origin.

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