#1: Polo Bear Tie

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Dear Ralph,

We might as well start with ties, because you started with ties. It is hard to imagine that 50 years ago you were just some normal guy walking around Manhattan with a briefcase full of samples and polo was just a sport. It really is a great foundation myth. No one wanted your ties. No one saw your vision. And then the ties were a huge success and everyone was like ‘Damn, we should have listened to Ralph.’ And like that little tiny acorn from which the mighty oak grows, so too your ties into a multinational juggernaut of style.

I like it. But in all the myth-making that surrounds this story, something always gets lost: they weren’t just ties with our favourite little pony on them; they were wide ties. Really wide from the sounds of it. And that seems odd to me, because tie widths are all about the moment, and Polo went on to be all about timeless. Sure, Polo kept pace with the times. Things got bigger and looser in the ’80s and ’90s and have slimmed in recent years. But a wide tie?

I’ve got nothing against wider ties, but the consensus seems to be that the wide tie was an aberration, a profound moment of bad taste when English psychedelia via the kipper tie threw up across a decade into the flared excess of the discotheque. I think the truth is a little subtler; a good general rule of style is that the width of your lapels should talk to the width of your tie. There was something exuberant about men’s lapels right when you were coming up, an aggressive confidence and swagger that seems almost impossible to imagine in today’s world of anemic little Mad Men-throwback skinny lapels and tasteful solid knits. Memory has swamped those lapels in the murky waters of brown polyester and bushy mustaches, so it is easy to forget just how great looking great-looking men looked sporting big lapels and fuck-you ties.

It is also hard to imagine that someone could make a name for themselves with just ties. It is one of those quaint little stories that actually make you think that things were simpler back then, until you think about Viet Nam and Nixon.

Not including weddings and funerals, I wear a tie exactly once a year. On Christmas Eve I go all in, tie, double-breasted navy blazer, grey wool pants. I don’t do this because we have a formal family function, standing around the hearth drinking mulled wine and recalling old tales of Grandma and all the sweet things we did together. The truth is, I do it as a laugh-getting fuck you to my brothers, who tend to show up in jeans and long-sleeved metal shirts.

So it would make sense that I own a couple of ties, right? Ask me how many ties I own Ralph. Go ahead, ask me.

Forty-seven. That would be a lot of ties if I wore a suit every day (I don’t). But here’s the thing, on a dollar-and-cent basis, ties are one of the best values you can find thrifting. A luxury label tie that retails for over $100 should generally cost about $2. So I’ve bought more ties than I’ll probably ever wear, and I’ve bought most of them just because they are from high-end labels. I know. Ralph, believe me, I know. So you can imagine my consternation when I came across this gem that I’m writing to you about today and looked at the price tag. That price should buy you a house in a thrift store, a literal house. But how could I walk away? The bear, your bear, our bear, in plus-fours, decked out like the Duke of Windsor on the greens? I had to do it. I don’t even regret that I haven’t taken the price tag off yet so I can share it with you.

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One question though, and it is a question only you can answer. Is the bear wearing a tie that has a bear wearing a tie on it that has a bear wearing a tie on it ad infinitum? And are you ever upset that you’ve never been called the MC Escher of tie and sweater design?

As always,

S

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