My great-grandfather, a prolific inventor, dreamed up the machine that’s used to this day to mass-produce men’s ties. (Not a savvy entrepreneur, he sold the design for a flat price, rather than taking a cut long-term, so my grandfather [like my own father] was born on the Lower East Side, rather than up on Park Avenue.)
My grandfather, a far better entrepreneur, ran a silk import business that sold fabric to a slew of high-end designers, for dresses, for shoes and in large part for ties.
A second generation tie guy, I remember my grandfather standing in front of the mirror, carefully forming his tie’s dimple, key touchpoint of sartorial sprezzatura. When my grandparents stayed with my brother and me at one point while my parents were out of town, he was the one who taught me how to tie a tie in the first place.
My own father provided much-needed touch-up lessons; like learning to drive a car, it’s easy to lose steps before the motor pattern is fully engrained. So tie-tying, it seemed, was sort of a family art. But I’d never given much thought to what kind of knot I was tying – four-in-hand, Pratt, half-Windsor, full Windsor, etc.
My grandfather was a believer in moderation in all things, a common-sense kind of guy. (At one point, I dropped my towel while ‘surfer-changing’ into a bathing suit at the pool near our house. Distressed, I told my grandfather I was worried a girl might have seen me. “Don’t worry about,” he advised; “If she’s never seen one, she won’t know what is; if she already has, it’s nothing new.”) From that, I assumed the family knot must have been something down the middle, like the half-Windsor.
Recently, hearing the phrase four-in-hand three times in one day, I decided to look up how to tie that knot. And, to try and make sense of the online diagram I found, I pulled up the half-Windsor, to compare to something I already knew. But neither the four-in-hand, nor the half-Windsor, were close to the knot I had grown up tying.
Instead, after some further Googling, it appears the Newman knot is a full Windsor, described by one tie instruction site as “a thick, wide and triangular tie knot that projects confidence” and by another as “the knot for special occasions”. It’s the kind of knot for a guy who takes ties seriously. A family tradition for a tie family. One that makes me think, even in today’s casual world, I should find a way to wear one more often.