Tag Archives: Windsor knot

My knotty error

13 Dec

I’ve made a mistake. I’ve made a mistake and this is the public admission of my error.  No, I don’t have to publish this, but I want people to know that I’m not afraid of being wrong.tie knots

The last thing a professional wants to do is pass on incorrect information, and it seems I’ve done so. In a 2010 blog post, The new royalty, I explained that in centuries past, it was royalty who set the fashion, now, movie stars and musicians are key influencers.

In that post (now edited), I give the examples of kings’ conditions that cued historical clothing: Henry VIII was said to have gout which moved him to wear non-restricting footwear, thus dictating the shoes of Tudor times, and prematurely bald Louis XIII of France introduced men’s wigs to the world.

I made an assumption that Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor upon abdication, was the originator of the Windsor knot.  It made a tremendous amount of sense to me that the Duke, a small man, would wear a knot that took up more tie so it could graze the waistband of his high-waisted trouser, but it turns out that it was his father, George V, who (may have) originated the Windsor. But as I dig deeper, I’m finding information that refutes the George V theory. Looking at photos of George, he opted for silk cravats tied into four-in-hand knots – a traditional British necktie knot. So if George and Edward didn’t wear the Windsor knot, where did it come from?

I belong to a professional costume group and we’ve been discussing his topic. One of the costumers says, “Suzy Menkes in her book, The Windsor Style, says the Duke of Windsor had his neckties made by Hawes and Curtis, who always used a very thick lining.” (Hawes and Curtis is an old tailor shop favoured by royalty on London’s Jermyn Street.) The thick tie was too much for the multi-step full Windsor knot, so the Duke tied a four-in-hand knot. Though he didn’t wear it, he’s synonymous with the Windsor knot.

Another costume designer believes the knot may have originated in the U.S. when the Duke visited in the 1930s. In their attempt to emulate the stylish Duke, the Americans, in much thinner ties, took extra steps to create a wider tie knot, and with the help of the U.S. media, this knot was dubbed the Windsor knot.

Interestingly, the Canadian Armed Forces has adopted this knot. My military contact sent me the Armed Forces regulations handbook, in which chapter 2, section 2 explains dress. Two tie knots are allowed in the Canadian military: the four-in-hand and the Windsor knot. The funny thing is, the illustration of the Windsor knot in the handbook looks like a half Windsor knot, not a full Windsor.

The more I find out about this knot, the more confused I am. Perhaps this argument is simply a matter of semantics.

Further reading: The Mystery of the Windsor Tie Knot Revealed

Gentlemen’s Cravats – The Necktie: A Brief History


In our culture, people have a deep fear of being wrong. I used to be one of these people, and then as I delved further into understanding the human condition, I realized that it’s natural and inevitable that we’re going to be wrong sometimes – it’s part of what makes us human. Knowing that humans are more prone to mistakes than to flawless victories, I’m okay with being wrong and I’m willing to tell the world about my mistake.

Many of us have experience with people who love being right all of the time and will rub your face into their (self) righteousness. But what does it amount to?  More stress for one thing – the chips on our shoulders can weigh us down and make us defensive. This black and white way of seeing the world as right and as wrong is, to my mind, limited, because there is so much to know, so many different perspectives, and the issues are often much more complex and require a different angle of logic.

What I’d like to leave you with is this: if we’re right all of the time, we’re not going to experience mistakes; mistakes are things we learn from. Insisting on being right keeps us from learning and growing, and a hard-headed, stuffing-opinions-down-throats style of communication rarely scores points. A dash of humility on the other hand, will.

The new royalty

10 Nov

The Canadian Press contacted me to do a piece on holiday wear for men this week, and the reporter mentioned something about pulling archive photos of people like Brad Pitt if I wanted to talk about a celebrity style. She needn’t go to the trouble of looking for visuals because I don’t encourage anyone to swipe another person’s mode of dress – to me, that’s like stealing someone’s identity. Why would we want to look like someone we’re not? We are our own people with  our own style, our own speed, and we are not Brad Pitt.

This got me thinking.

Why aren’t there more Brad Pitt types in the world? Why aren’t there more men confident enough to know themselves and laugh at themselves and illustrate themselves through their dress? Are we that uninteresting? Are we collectively afraid to do our own thing?

Throughout history, humans have followed the sartorial cues of influential people in positions of power.  Up until the recent past,  it was royalty that set the tone of dress to court and then on down to the common people. Kings were incredibly influential this way. To illustrate just how dominant royal men have been on society, I offer the following examples:

1.  Footwear during the Tudor period was soft, wide, and square. Some historians attribute the slashed, square-toed shoes of this era to Henry VIII who is said to have suffered from gout, a very painful arthritic-type of joint inflammation most often affecting the joint of the large toe.

A nice, soft, wide shoe would nicely accommodate this affliction,  often brought on by alcohol – wine, beer, and mead were the wet for the Tudor whistle, and high fat and cholesterol levels in the blood.  I have read that Henry may have been a binge-eater, taking much fatty red meat as a mechanism to cope with stress – his waist was 54″!

2. When Louis XIII of France went prematurely bald around 1624, the men’s wig was born. Louis’ choice of neat and wavy scalp covering swept across Europe and the fashion carried on into his son’s reign, when wigs rose in height and cascaded luxuriously over the shoulders.

The (extremely high maintenance) wig became a staple amongst courtiers and professionals, and the size of wig carried social meaning (“big wig”). Wigs even became part of military uniforms.

Wigs got longer, fuller, and astoundingly high; they changed to white and were powdered, then shortened to a simpler bob which morphed into tightly curled wigs. Wigs for men remained popular in Europe until the 1790s but were for various reasons abandoned however, British judges and barristers continue the tradition of wearing (strange-looking curled and tailed) wigs in court.

So we’ve got a fat guy with gout and a young bald man influencing the way men have dressed across the ages.

We’re well into the 21st century and royalty doesn’t really have the same pull that it once did, so what’s going on now? Who are the style leaders and who do men look to for cues? Entertainers.

Actors, musicians, and popular politicians have replaced royalty when it comes to setting trends. I ask my clients whose style they admire and often I hear James Bond, Cary Grant, George Clooney, and Brad Pitt. What is it about these guys that other men like so much?

Classy Simplicity

This group wears well-fitting and quietly cool clothes; clothes that aren’t stamped with logos and labels that shout out for attention, and busy, flashy accessories. Take Brad Pitt, he’s got his own cool style with a hint of cheekiness worked in through hats, scarves, sunglasses, and haircuts, giving him an interesting and fitting look even when he’s in jeans and a t-shirt.

It seems to me that Brad Pitt knows himself well enough to feel comfortable expressing himself and his sense of humour through his accessories; I like that he punctuates his simple, low-key wardrobe with cool pieces – not every man can pull off a knitted tam worn Rasta style with a long Van Dyke beard.

I’m always encouraging men to play with their clothes and the way they put themselves together. It’s important to find the right pieces that suit the individual in the right colour and the right proportion, even the right texture; something that suits the guy’s personality, things that they feel comfortable in, not what they think Brad Pitt would wear, for they are not Brad Pitt.