Ties are the tiny addition that take any look from drab to fab. Medill professor Charles Whitaker, known for his lively classes and impressive wardrobe, is rarely without a bold, colorful tie. He gives the inside scoop on adding an outfit’s final touch.
How did you first learn to tie a tie?
My dad taught me to tie a tie when I was really young. His philosophy is that every man should know how to tie a tie. I first learned at the age of nine or ten to tie a four-in-hand tie. It’s a very simple classic once over. As I got older, I started experimenting and learned to tie a half Windsor and a full Windsor. I was definitely an adult when I bought my first bow tie and learned to tie it. I was 21 by the time I was bold enough to try it.
What got you interested in wearing these vibrant, colorful ties?
[My wife] got me thinking about the possibility of ties as fashion accessories. I bought very safe muted ties before. I was very afraid of bold, colored ties. We dated and got married, and that’s when my wife pushed me into bold colors and patterned ties. My wife buys a lot of my ties – if she is out shopping and she sees an extra long tie, she’ll buy it. She buys 50 percent of my ties.
What is your everyday, go-to tie?
My every day go-to tie is a repp tie. Those are classic diagonal ties. I have several of them and I wear it with a striped shirt or a solid shirt. You can’t go wrong with a repp tie, they go with anything. They can look conservative or, with a combination of colors, they look sort of flashy.
What would you recommend to a guy who has never worn a tie?
I think a repp tie is a very safe bet, with a tie, solid shirt and blue blazer. They come in a variety of colors and patterns. They’re just a great, classic tie. If you want an all-purpose tie you can wear either dressed up or dressed down, I’d get a silk tie.
What would you recommend to a guy who wants to push the limits?
I think a bow tie is sort of daring. You’ve got to really wear it with confidence and know how to pull it off. If you pull it off, it’s really cool. I’d actually encourage anyone to try a bow tie. You don’t want to look like you’re trying too hard when you wear a bow tie. You want to wear it confidently.
When do you have to wear a tie?
I do like wearing ties whenever I’m standing in front of a group of undergraduates. A tie signals a level of formality and importance of occasion. To undergraduates, it signals to them it’s a class and I take it seriously, I want you to take it seriously. Ties were designed originally because men’s shirts were detachable to hold the shirt and collar together. Now, they’re the most unimportant accessories. They do nothing. But I don’t like going to funerals, church or a wedding without a tie because they signal a level of importance to me.
Correction — It is indeed a four-in-hand knot, not a foreign hand knot. Our stylistically challenged editors regret the error.