Whatever Happened to the Father’s Day Tie?
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Whatever Happened to the Father’s Day Tie?

In years past, ties were a staple of Father’s Day gifting when women bought half of all the ties sold for men.

Brandt Ross at a family seder in the 1970s, where ties for himself and his sons were the fashion.
Brandt Ross at a family seder in the 1970s, where ties for himself and his sons were the fashion.

It was not that many years ago that the necktie, that once celebrated symbol of modern manhood, was a favored gift on Father’s Day. In 1998, according to Men’s Dress Furnishings Association, there were 105 million men’s neckties sold in the United States worth over $1.6 billion. Seventy percent of them were made by American companies.

Such was the power of the necktie market that a nice Jewish boy from the Bronx, Ralph Lifshitz, could start his clothing business by selling ties wholesale from an office in New York’s Empire State Building. Within a year, his success allowed him to expand his men’s clothing business. He became a major manufacturer of men’s and eventually women’s clothing and, as Ralph Lauren, his traditionally styled designs formed the basis for one of the most successful clothing companies in the world.

The later years of the 20th century was also when Brandt Ross became the president of The Corbin Company. It had made so much money with its so called “natural shoulder” trousers, a flat front men’s khaki model, that by the 1980s they were a major manufacturer of suits and sport coats as well. Ross is now 87 and living in Atlanta but long retired from the menswear business. He remembers how his closet was stocked with over a hundred ties all carefully coordinated with the more than a hundred suits he owned.

A detailed view of the Ross bar mitzvah tallit.

Then, as part of his job marketing each season’s line, he would travel around to the nation’s better men’s clothing stores doing what he called “dressing for success seminars.”

“I would show, with different outfits, how men could coordinate their ties with their suits and jackets,” Ross said. “You wouldn’t dare put a diagonally striped repp tie with a plaid jacket. You might instead choose a nice foulard, swirl patterned tie with it. It was important then to coordinate the jacket, the pants, the shirt, and the shoes with the tie.”

One writer, John T. Malloy, actually wrote a best seller called “Dress For Success” back then. In it he talked about how social experiments had shown that wearing a tie meant more offers after job interviews, better tables with restaurant reservations, and even more money when panhandling.

Ross could always count on at least one tie each Father’s Day that would be carefully selected by his wife and daughter. For shoppers in Atlanta that meant a trip to Guffey’s, Muse’s, Rich’s Department Store, Brooks Brothers or one of the better men’s stores to make the selection.

Twenty-five years ago, women were responsible for half of all the ties that were bought for men. On Father’s Day, they would be wrapped carefully in white tissue paper and nestled in a slender hard sided flat box held together by a fancy ribbon and extra wrapping paper.

“When I went to work, I was always wearing a tie,” Ross remembers. “It was almost like you weren’t dressed without one. You always wore one for special occasions like synagogue services, even when I was in grammar school. I wore them all through high school. In college you always wore them to fraternity parties or anything like that. It was just expected.”

Neckties were a part of a recent Gucci collection for women.

But all that began to change with the arrival of a new century. Men began to experiment with other style choices that would set them apart from others. They might choose a small gold earring or even a nose ring, tattoos, a blond or even multi-colored hair dye, low riding trousers, perhaps, even with a glimpse of underwear. The necktie that promised a subtle splash of color, or a unique pattern that would bring together a shirt, a jacket, carefully chosen trousers and well-shined shoes went the way of the Homburg hat and spats for your shoes.

During the recent pandemic, when many men worked from home, the usual clothing choice was often shorts or jeans and a T-shirt. For many, there hasn’t been much interest since in dressing up.

The Men’s Dress Furnishings Association, which counted up all those necktie sales in years past, folded in 2008. However, in the last few years interest in neckties has returned, but, as a hot fashion accessory for women. Recent collections by Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Kenzo, Raf Simons, Sportmax, and Valentino have featured them. The pop singer Billie Eilish wore one to a recent awards show and Zendaya tied one on for an after party at another.

Brandt Ross is down to a few sport jackets and a single blue suit that he maintains he rarely wears. But several of his old ties were put to good use, becoming part of the tallit his wife made for their grandson’s bar mitzvah.

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