When my friends and I first started our careers, around 10 years ago, there was an initial flurry of investigation and comparison as to what we had to wear to work. And as we are competitive people, there was a certain amount of one-upmanship when it came to knowledge of the best suit brands, cloths, shoe leathers and tie manufacturers. In fact, that might have been when my passion for all things sartorial really took off.
But one thing we certainly became fascinated with was the Windsor knot. It was tricky to tie if you had been brought up always using a four-in-hand for school. I won’t expend any words here explaining how to tie one, as a quick Google search will produce many diagrams and even videos that will more amply illustrate the technique. But safe to say it requires two more actions than a four-in-hand and isn’t necessarily easy to master the first time.
Because it required a little dexterity and practice, the Windsor knot was, in our eyes, necessarily better. And we all tried to master it to produce the perfect manifestation every day.
Of all my tastes from a decade ago, this is probably the one that I find hardest to understand today. The four-in-hand knot is always and everywhere more stylish than a Windsor knot. If you want evidence, just look at some pictures of men considered to be the most stylish of the past 100 years. They all wear a four-in-hand.
If you want more evidence, consider the fact that the Windsor knot was the bastard compromise of men wishing to emulate Edward VII. This royal leader of fashion had ties specially made with thicker cloth because he favoured a larger knot. His fans could not access either the cloth or afford bespoke ties, and so invented a way to create a thicker knot with their standard ties. It was a halfway house, a concession, a failure.
The best evidence, though, is aesthetic rather than numerical or historical. It is the fact that a four-in-hand looks better. Let me try to explain why.
First, it is symmetrical (as is it’s not-the-same-and-therefore-even-more-of-a-compromise cousin, the half Windsor). And classic elegance is not meant to be that rigid, mathematical and precise. The front of your jacket is not symmetrical – one side overlaps the other. There is only a breast pocket on one side. You only have a watch on one wrist. The pocket handkerchief is only on one side, and that should rarely be precise and symmetrical (personally I don’t favour the razor-sharp ‘TV fold’ made popular recently by Mad Men and the like).
Second, and related to that point in parentheses about the TV fold, a tie knot should look slightly nonchalant. True style, as every man has known since Baldassare Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier coined the phrase sprezzatura in the 16th century, is about being stylish without displaying the effort necessary to attain that style. It should appear easy, obvious and natural. The opposite is described as ‘affected’ – showing the attempt to affect an outcome. Or as my friends might more readily understand it, being a ‘try-hard’.
Ties should be personal, experimental whims. Have the back blade longer, tuck it into your waistband, wear it over a sweater, create multiple dimples. Just don’t force it into a dull, equilateral triangle. Style is not equilateral.