How to tie a tie: three essential styles and when to use them

Because you can do better than that schoolboy knot

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Your relationship with the necktie probably began at school, where a length of cheap polyester clung to your shirt color with a piece of elastic. It may have represented your school house, and it almost certainly had food stains down it.

Your next encounter with the tie probably came at an early job interview, followed by the occasional wedding and funeral. But each time one was dragged out of the wardrobe - creased and no doubt assembled in a lopsided ‘schoolboy knot’ - you never really gave it much thought.

Well, ties there are a changin’. The tie - and even the occasional bowtie - are an important part of your outfit, so let’s talk you through the different knots, and how to tie them.

Why do we wear ties?

First up, why do we actually wear ties? What’s the point of wrapping a piece of material a little too tightly around your neck, then dangle it over your shirt buttons?

It is generally agreed on that the necktie originated in the 17th century, specifically during the Thirty Years War in France in the 1630s. There, King Louis XIII hired Croatian, Bosnian and Hungarian mercenaries, who worth cloth around their neck as part of their uniform. It also served to keep their shirt collars tied up, but was mostly decorative.

King Louis was such a fan of these ties that he made it a mandatory accessory for all royal gatherings. He called the necktie La Cravate, in honour of the Croatians who wore them first.

Cravats remained popular until the early 20th century, when the necktie as we know it today began to take over. Skinny ties then become popular in the 50s, before wide ties - in some cases six inches wide - were the look of the 60s.

Today, the standard width is approximately 3.25 to 3.5 inches, while skinny ties are 1.5 to 2.5 inches, and many designers offer a happy-medium in the 2.75 to 3-inch range.

How to tie a tie

Which knot you pick depends on personal preference, but also on the type of collar your shirt has. 

However, in all likelihood, the knot you use the most is simply the one you know and can get right the majority of the time. And it’s probably this one…

Four-in-hand knot / Schoolboy knot

Named after a 19th century gentleman’s club, this knot dates back to the early use of the cravat. It is quick, simple, and will do the job for fairly informal occasions.

  • Drape the tie around your neck with the wide end on the right and the small end roughly at your belly button - although its exact location will depend on the length, width and material of the tie. This is true of all knots, so some experimentation may be required.
  • Lift the wide (right) end over the thin (left) end 
  • Take the wide end under the thin end, to the right 
  • Pass the wide end across the front of the knot, to the left
  • Feed the wide end up behind the knot from underneath, with the front of the tie facing you
  • Pass the wide end down through the loop
  • Pull the wide end down and the knot up to tighten and adjust

Half-Windsor knot

Although the four-in-hand is simple and easy, its biggest problem is a lack of symmetry. Step forward, the half Windsor.

  • Drape the tie around your neck with the wide end on the right and the small end on the left. As before, have the tip of the small end by your belly button.
  • Pass the wide end over the small end to the left
  • Pass the wide end back under the small end, to the right
  • Lift the wide end towards the centre of the neck loop
  • Feed the wide end through the neck loop and down towards the left - the back of the tie should now be facing away from you
  • Fold the wide end across the front of the knot, to the right
  • Tuck the wide end upwards through the back of the knot
  • Feed the wide end down through the front of the knot
  • Tighten and adjust by pulling on the wide end and sliding the knot upwards

Windsor knot

This is a slightly larger and fully symmetrical version of the last knot we looked at before. It is best suited to a spread collar, as it can result in quite a large knot demanding space.

  • As before, start with the wide end on the right and the thin end on the left, falling roughly to your belly button. A shorter tie (or a taller person) will need a higher starting point for the thin end.
  • Pass the wide end over the small end, to the left
  • Feed the wide end up behind the neck loop
  • Bring the wide end back down, over the front of the knot and to the left
  • Feed the wide end around the back of the knot, exiting to the right, with the front of the tie facing you
  • Take the wide end up and across the front of the knot, to the left
  • Tuck the wide end behind the neckloop and back down, exiting to the right with the front of the tie facing you again
  • Fold the wide end over the front of the knot, to the left
  • Tuck the wide end up behind the knot once more
  • Feed the wide end down through the front of the knot
  • Pull the wide end down to tighter and slide the knot up to adjust

If any of these knots are new to you, they will likely require a few attempts to get them looking just right.

Ideally, you want the tip of the wide end of the tie to jst reach your belt. Some ties have a line sewn into them to suggest where the wide end should be crossed over the thin end in the first step of most knots.

However, exactly where you make this first move will depend on the length, width and material of the tie, as well as your height and the circumference of your collar. 

And remember, some ties are incompatible with some knots - for example, a skinny knitted tie has a thin width or relatively thick fabric, so cannot usually be made into a full Windsor.

In need of a new tie? Check out the stores below: