No more ties

Many American men stopped wearing neckties years ago. Now, even tie guys are giving up on them.

After 60 years, the Men’s Dress Furnishings Association, the trade group that represents American tie makers, is expected to shut down Thursday.

Association members now number just 25, down from 120 during the 1980s power-tie era. U.S. tie companies have been consolidating. Others have closed because of overseas competition as the U.S. market share for American-made ties has fallen to about 40 percent, from 75 percent in 1995.

Members have lost interest. But the biggest reason for the group’s demise: Men aren’t wearing ties.

According to a recent Gallup Poll, the number of men who wore ties every day to work last year dropped to a record low of 6 percent, down from 10 percent in 2002. U.S. sales have plummeted to $677.7 million in the 12 months ending March 31, from their peak of $1.3 billion in 1995, according to market researcher NPD Group. Although sales are expected to get a bump around Father’s Day, June 15, the future of neckties is very much in doubt.

Some members of the neckwear association sensed the trend two years ago when, at the group’s annual luncheon in New York, a number of people turned up tieless. Marty Staff, chief executive of men’s clothing company JA Apparel Corp., which has a big neckwear business, was one of them.

”It was deliberate,” explains Mr. Staff, who says he wanted to make a statement to his colleagues. ”Historically, the guy wearing the navy suit, the white shirt and the burgundy tie would be the CEO. Now he’s the accountant,” Mr. Staff explains.

”Power is being able to dress the way you want,” he says. Although the company he heads owns the Joseph Abboud label, and he himself enjoys ties, ”I just don’t like when (a tie) becomes obligatory.”

Mr. Staff isn’t alone. A new generation of menswear manufacturers and fashion designers has grown up seeing ties as optional. While they design and produce ties, many are agnostic about wearing them.

Ian and Shep Murray, the founders of Vineyard Vines tie makers, don’t feel any need to wear a tie to the office.

”We make ties for other people so we don’t have to wear them,” says co-CEO Ian Murray, 33, who on a recent afternoon in his Stamford, Conn., office was wearing shorts, flip-flops and a polo shirt.

Mr. Murray says he and his brother, who is 37, quit their white-collar jobs in advertising and public relations in New York in 1998 partly because they hated the rigidity of wearing suits and ties to the office every day. They claim that Vineyard Vines ties, featuring whimsical illustrations of whales, martini glasses and beach chairs, inject some fun into an otherwise dreary article of clothing.

”It seems like if people had the choice, they would not wear a tie,” Ian Murray says. ”So if you are wearing a tie, you might as well make it fun.”

Likewise, fashion designer Tom Ford has mixed feelings about the tie. On a media tour for his new luxury menswear line and opulent New York store last year, Mr. Ford extolled his sumptuous $195 silk ties, made in Italy and modeled after ones worn by Prince Michael of Kent, a member of the British royal family who is known for wearing rich ties with thick knots. The designer, dressed in an elegant dark suit and dress shirt, was nevertheless standing there with no tie on.

”It was giving me a migraine,” he explained about why he took his tie off earlier in the day. ”You can wear a tailored suit without a tie and look sexy, too. You don’t need the tie.” He adds that he still wears ties when he is in London, which is more formal.

The problem for neckwear designers, as for regular guys, is that a tie no longer automatically conveys the authority and respectability it once did, even if it does cause some people to call you sir. In fact, it can be a symbol of subservience and of trying too hard.

Scott Sternberg, 33, who founded the Band of Outsiders tie label in 2004, has quickly developed a following of young hipsters who buy his skinny ties, sold at stores including Jeffrey, Barneys New York and Ron Herman.

He says younger men find wearing ties more interesting today when they are ”outside of obligation.” While he himself wears a tie on ”whims and special occasions,” Mr. Sternberg admits that he doesn’t wear one to the office on a regular basis. ”Ties get in the way,” he says. Mr. Sternberg nevertheless sported one Monday night, when he won an award for best emerging menswear designer from the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

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