With the holiday season comes a familiar problem: nailing that holiday look. And this year, tying one on will mean something totally different.
For some, the occasion could be an office party; for others, Christmas dinner; still others, their kids' music recitals. In every case, the occasions call not just for navigating complex personalities — or a painful "Rondo Alla Turca" — but striking sartorial gold.
"As a gay man, I'm supposed to be known for my fashion sense," Joe Crain, a 37-year-old teacher from Raleigh, North Carolina, told Mic. "I do not follow the fashionistas, so I really struggle when it comes to holiday parties. I generally consult my friends and never leave the house without approval from at least three different people."
For men, a common look might involve something like this "schoolboy," also known as a "four-in-hand," a traditional approach favored by my colleague Luke Brinker.
For men looking to flip the script on their holiday outfits, however, a good and often overlooked place to start is the necktie. "There are many different ways to pull out a tie, and just the way you tie your tie is going to tell a lot about the kind of man you are," Charles Brunold, the owner of a made-to-order men's fashion house Louis Purple, told Mic. Brunold, who is in the process of rebranding his line as "Monsieur Brunold," said the right tie and knot could be one of the most critical elements of presentation. "You can really add a lot of diversity and depth to your outfits."
Rather than defaulting to a tired knot like a Windsor, half-Windsor or — sorry, Luke — the schoolboy, consider showing off some new handiwork this season.
Like the Christian symbol for which it is named, the Trinity is composed of three parts that can be worn loose (like the incomparably stylish author of this story, pictured above at a Chinese wedding) or tight. Some have said it resembles a BBQ pork bun. It's a thick knot that takes up most of the narrow end of the tie and works best with large collars capable of handling its prodigious girth. "I am also a big fan of the Trinity," Brunold said. "It always has quite an effect because it looks like it's really complex, but with a little bit of practice you'll get ahold of it."
For a detailed tutorial on how to tie the Trinity, click here.
Nothing makes a bold statement like a necktie knot — but you can go even bolder still, obscuring the knot entirely and have the tie flowing out your neck like a waterfall. The not-a-knot knot was named for the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis who popularized the look during his reign as one of the world's richest men and second husband to a style icon in her own right, Jacqueline Bouvier, aka Jackie O.
For an Onassis tutorial, click here.
Whether you're a fan of dark age French dynasties or that guy from the Matrix, the intricate Merovingian knot makes a bold statement on any neck it adorns. In addition to the appeal of its aesthetics, the knot is unique on this list for upending traditional approaches by leading with the small end out in front.
For a Merovingian tutorial, click here.
The Van Wijk
Blow into your holiday festivities with the tornado of fabric that is the Van Wijk. According to Ties.com, it was created by the artist Lisa van Wijk in an attempt to develop the world's "tallest wearable knot." As tie expert Alex Krasny noted, while even more elaborate knots may claim that honor, the asymmetrical Van Wijk is sure to be a conversation piece.
The universe of neck ties
The Trinity, Onassis, Merovingian and Van Wijk are just a few of the many, many knots in the constellation of options. Still, Thomas Fink, a professor of physics at London Institute for Mathematical Sciences, does not even include them in his seminal work, "The 85 Ways to Tie a Tie," co-written with researcher Yong Mao.
For Fink, the number 85 represents an exact mathematical calculation using a narrow definition of a "knot." "Within the definition I make ... you're only moving one side of the tie; the thin end of the tie you keep still," Fink told Mic. But he told Mic, including knots like the options above, determining a final such number is "insoluble."
According to Fink, discerning conclusions could be drawn about men based on the knot they sport. "Wearing the big knot harkens back to a time when the most powerful men wore the most expensive lace and the finest fabric and velvet and ostentatious stuff," Fink said.
And then there are the messages we're sent by today's tie-bearing leaders. Fink cited presidents like Russia's Vladimir Putin and Egypt's Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as notable big-knotters, while Barack Obama and other U.S. leaders typically wear smaller, more relaxed knots.
Donald Trump, the current Republican presidential frontrunner, typically wears what appears to be a half-Windsor, putting him decidedly on the wider-knotted end of the spectrum. "We see, in this little indicator, small signs of dictatorial tendency," Fink said.
Fink offered a note of caution for those looking to test the limits of male fashion. "Say every man gets 100 units of eccentricity to spend and after he spends all those he looks like a buffoon," Fink said. "A Trinity knot, that's like 70 points."
Still, it was no less a figure than Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." If applied to neckties, it seems the 19th century essayist would offer a ringing endorsement.
So, one question remains this holiday season: Are you ready to tie the knot?