Neckwear Notes: The dismal state of dimples

When I started working here at MR Magazine about five years ago, I became obsessed with tie knots. I researched and learned as many as I could and added obscure ones like the Christensen to my repertoire. When I discovered that a local CBS anchor from my hometown lent his name to the Pratt-Shelby knot, I interviewed him. But there’s one thing that I’ve never quite mastered: the perfect dimple.

And apparently, I’m not alone. The perfect dimple is either no longer deemed necessary or it’s being neglected out of carelessness. My suspicion is that the art of the tie knot fell to the wayside as guys became more focused on buying new ties than they were on tying the ones they have.

The dismal state of dimples had been nagging me for some time but it really hit me when I was standing on the subway one day, staring at an NBC ad for anchor Brian Williams’ new show. There he was, looking slightly smug in a blue and white striped tie with a puckered dimple to the left below the knot and a drapery ripple with the edge of the tie thrusting out on the right. This was a man who ought to know better, I thought.

Jerry Pratt fixes Don Shelby's tie for a 1989 People Magazine article

I could have done what Jerry Pratt, a former U.S. Commerce Department executive, did to Minneapolis news anchor Don Shelby in 1986: the well-dressed 92-year-old marched up to Shelby on the set after the news and retied his tie for him. “He attacked me and attacked my tie!” Shelby recalled to me in 2007. “He untied my tie when I’m standing there and then he re-tied it and said ‘now doesn’t that look better?'” It did, and before long, that knot, a variation on the Nicky, was known around the world as the Pratt-Shelby knot. It makes a great dimple.

There’s plenty of time to give Brian Williams a Pratt-Shelby lesson, so in the meantime, I reached out to The Brian Williams Tie Report for commiseration. Started in 2007 by Nance Donnelly, a retired Ohio high school English teacher, the Tie Report is a whimsical daily musing on the anchor’s choice of ties. She’s been profiled by the Associated Press and Cleveland Magazine, which nearly landed her on Jay Leno’s show. I asked Donnelly if she’d noticed Williams’ shoddy knots and dimples.

“Way back when this blog first began, I took much more time writing about the technical aspect of Brian Williams’ cravats. I would wax on and on about the knot, dimple placement, etc.,” she wrote me in an e-mail, adding that her posts are more poetic now. “There are still many times, however, that I do comment upon the precision of the knot or gorgeousness of the dimple when I am struck by one or both of those.”

She, like me, is stricken with what she calls “Obsessive Tie Observation.” It’s like a sickness, she wrote, lamenting the “overwrought” neckwear of Meet the Press commentator Chuck Todd. “His fold under themselves and look like a sad trout lying on his shirtfront. Poor things — I cannot bear to look at them.” Donnelly blames old and abused ties for the dimple issue. “I’ve seen some men — like my own husband, an infrequent and protesting tie wearer — just yank that tie around like a recalcitrant dog, and worse, not untie the tie, ever.”

If Brian Williams’ lackadaisical knot dressing is irksome, then these examples from ads in the latest issue of GQ are downright offensive. The chap in the Ermenegildo Zegna ad below displays two dimples of unequal proportions in what looks like a tie wide enough to knot with ease.

This Banana Republic ad, above, shows a man whose loose side dimple and exposed tail may be an honest effort to appear casual—or just to showcase the contrasting end of the tie.

And finally, this Corneliani ad, above, really gets both knot and dimple wrong. He’s wearing a knit tie, which is great, but in an apparent effort to tie a big knot, he’s ignored the dimple completely. Knit ties can do big knots, but they must be tied carefully so that the seam in the back doesn’t show through as it does here. This knot appears to have created many small dimples, more of a series of puckers, like a Neapolitan shoulder on a jacket. It looks horrible.

There are two more or less foolproof ways to get a great dimple. You can use one of the half dozen or so inventions that aid in the formation of a dimple, like the Dimple Clip. Or you can tie a knot that makes it easier, like the Pratt-Shelby. Here’s hoping all the anchors and stylists start trying one or the other.

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  1. avatarRalph Fisher says:

    This is all well and good if you even believe in the tie dimple. As far as I’m concerned you can spend an half-hour perfecting it and it will always look like you didn’t take the time to neatly tie your tie.

    • avatarHarry Sheff says:

      Hi Ralph, I take it you’re not a dimple believer. Are you saying that there’s no such thing as a neatly tied tie? There’s certainly something to be said for a total lack of dimple or any other pleating/puckering below the knot, but I see unruly non-dimples more often than I see an absence of anything.

      • avatarRalph Fisher says:

        Hi Harry,
        Sorry about not being completely clear. There definitely is such thing as a well tied tie — I tie one all the time. I just meant that not matter how much time one spends trying to get the dimple just right, to me it never really looks as neat a non-dimpled tie with a nicely symmetrical windsor knot. I certainly agree that a well attended to dimple is far superior to sloppy things I also see around dimpled or not.

  2. avatarRalph Fisher says:

    P.S. The examples you cite above are most definitely a testament to your thoughts. You can’t tell in those pictures if the ties were meant to have a dimple or not; pretty shabby stuff.

  3. avatarMichael Bernstein says:

    Hello Harry,

    First of all, I do agree with you on the current state of dimples. It’s gotten worse.

    Now for the nasty stuff:

    When you first wrote about the Shelby knot I took exception because those of us in the better neckwear sector (by better I DO NOT mean department store suppliers) regarded it as nothing more than an attempt to reinvent the wheel. It was IGNORED and FORGOTTEN quickly. You may remember that I very much resented MR giving space to something as inconsequential as the Shelby knot when the state of neckwear remains tepid to say the least.

    To make a fine point about sloppy knots is respected but to raise Shelby again makes me fit to be tied!

    • avatarHarry Sheff says:

      Michael! I was wondering when you’d comment. Glad to hear you’re still out there, and that you enjoyed part of the story.

      What neckwear issues are you anxious to read about these day? The business seems to be much stronger for many of the vendors and retailers we talk to. Do you agree?

      • avatarMichael Bernstein says:

        Hello Harry,

        I ain’t ready to go away any time soon!

        What impresses me most at the moment are the Hillsides and other companies of that ilk. They’re going after a customer with a little disposable who won’t shop in department stores or the “connector bar” at malls.

  4. At our store, we obsess over perfect dimples; even with a loosened knot. Customers come back just to get lessons on how to help keep it centered. I have customers willing to damage their ties keeping their ties knotted the way my manager did it for them in the store. Of course, perfect knots aren’t always possible if things are going quick. I for one obsess sometimes. I’ll retie or readjust my tie 4-5 times before leaving for church.

  5. avatarRichard Rosa says:

    Hey Harry! Wow, great article, and funny comments.

    I’m not sure going after a customer “who won’t shop in department stores” is a good idea? We are more than happy to go after customers that shop in department stores… heck, we like the customers who shop at discount stores just as well! Our Ties sell just fine with them… and even at a $14.99 retail, you can still create a nice DIMPLE on them!

    Check out the following link; Mr. Harvey tries to fix a contestant’s Tie on Family Feud! We are doing are part!

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