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Stripes that Unite - a short history of the Regimental Striped Tie

Over the last century the regimental tie, college tie, or repp tie has been re-imagined in every stripe-width and colour-combination conceivable to bring an individual style to the modern man. But the original idea of the diagonal striped tie was to instil a sense of group camaraderie rather than individuality. Different colours and widths of stripes represented, and still do for some, affiliation to your regiment, your College or your Club.

In essence the regimental stripe advertised your allegiance to your tribe.

So how did it all start?

It's said that In 1880, the Exeter College Eight rowing team, from the University of Oxford, removed their red and black colour ribbons from their straw boaters and tied them around their necks to identify their college, creating the first “College Tie” . However, looking at the image below of college rowing teams from Vanity fair from the 1840's we can see that cravats in the team colours were being worn around the neck long before that. English regiments also wore cravats decorated in their regimental colours. This gave rise to what is known as the regimental tie. But the. idea. that the striped tie could be used not just for military bodies may have been instigated by the Exeter rowing team story. The English among you will be more accustomed to the school or college tie. Some pertain to your school as a whole and some to your ‘house’ or college within that school or University (Yes the houses of Harry Potter world are real, minus the wands and dragons). There has always been a powerful sense that colour gave each house it’s feel. My school tie was a solid black with fine lines of red, navy, sky blue and , my house colour, green. This was supposed to unify the school with a sense of belonging but really just singled you out as a target when confronted by a gang from the next door school looking to pick a fight.

Rowing teams depicted in Vanity Fair in the 1840s

As I've mentioned, the idea of colours identifying your ‘tribe’ or regiment already existed in the military way back in history long before the Exeter college incident. ‘Colours’ is the name given to flags representing different regiments of the military. The flags embody the honour, spirit and heritage of the regiments that proudly carry them. Historically the flags were an easily identifiable rallying point in the heat and smoke of battle.

In the early 20thC, in order to continue this important sense of kinship after leaving the armed forces, regiments began to develop neckties which drew inspiration from the aesthetic schemes of their regimental flag and usually consisted of 2 or 3 colours. These colours were woven in a ribbed twill silk and then cut so that stripes ran diagonally across and up towards the left shoulder or “cut to the heart.”

traditional British regimental stripes are "cut to the heart"

from right hip diagonally up towards the left shoulder

After the First World War American clothiers took their cues from the British and adopted the popular design as well. But America wanted something new for themselves detached from the pompous English sense of rules and tradition, or maybe it was just so as not to offend the British servicemen. Brooks Brothers initiated this change simply by orienting the diagonal striped in the opposite direction with the stripes pointing up to the right shoulder. The result was a new distinction in the fashion industry: the European stripe vs. the American stripe.

The American rep tie caused a stir by cutting the tie silk so that the diagonal was reversed going from right hip diagonally up towards the left shoulder

Below we see an example of a Brooks Brothers tie with the stripes slanting up to the right shoulder, and on the right the British military Royal Navy tie worn by Roger Moore in Live and Let Die, with the stripe pointing up to his left shoulder. The tie alludes to the back story of James Bond being a Royal Navy reserve commander so perfectly acceptable that he should wear this tie.

Apparently some English regiments got very hot under the collar of this change to the stripe and seeing their colours displayed the wrong way up. The repp tie, as the American incarnation became known, was traditionally reserved for informal occasions and the workplace and wasn’t acceptable for elegant formal occasions and dinners . With British regimental ties it’s considered not the done thing to wear a regimental tie without belonging to or having some affiliation to the group, organisation or battalion it derives from. A retune regimental tie can appear dour and serious. The heraldic purposes clearly take precedence over their sartorial function, recognising the regiment’s colours as being more important than the harmony of the stripes.

How the world has changed. Fairly recent advise online (within the last 10 years) seems almost dated in terms of the tone of the articles, written for men of a time when most men wore a tie to work and needed etiquette advice on what tie designs were acceptable for business as opposed to what was correct for different formal situations. But its still a good guide to say that a true regimental tie should really only be worn by members of that club or regiment - a striped tie, or repp tie that is designed for style and not for a regiment or club is usually seen as more business look as opposed to formal or celebratory occasions. However with the myriad of new wide stripes available that push the width of the stripe to well beyond the average 3 for 4 centimetres, a well chosen colour-way of stripes can look fresh and far from business like.

Even as producers of men’s silk ties, accessory brand Thomas Fortin fully admits that ties are no longer the fundamental accessory of a man’s wardrobe that they once were. Believe it or not, this is what excites Thomas Fortin and keeps them making ties.

“What used to be the everyday, plain and 9 to 5 , has become the extraordinary, the statement, even the eccentric piece of a man’s wardrobe that we feel is coming in to a new age of celebratory, peacock styling for the sartorial man.”

Neil Fortin - Owner to Thomas Fortin menswear

In spite of a diluting of the roots of the regimental tie, the association with its origins has meant that the stripe and its symbolism has kept it a staple throughout the years. While other designs such as paisley and foulard have come in and out of fashion, the striped tie has always stood at the pinnacle of a man’s tie collection as it creates a classically handsome and traditional look, and embodies so many stereotypically desirable masculine qualities such as prestige, success, power, and class. This Italian silk striped tie from British menswear producers Thomas Fortin, demonstrates how playing with stripe proportion and width as well as a satin finish rather than the traditional muted twill finish gives the regimental look but with a modern freshness.

How to style stripes

So how should you wear your stripes whether for work or just to create the perfect sartorial look? When matching striped ties to your suits and shirts there’s one main simple rule that will help you get it right

Vary pattern proportion

So for example if you’re wearing a striped tie agains a striped shirt. The stripes of your shirt and that of your tie should be of different sizes/widths. Wider striped ties work well against narrow striped shirts. Conversely narrow stripes on a tie would work best against a wider striped shirt. If matching a striped tie against a different patterned shirt, for example a check the same principle of proportion applies. Shirt and tie combinations including larger, wider stripes tend to work best against smaller, finer patterns, such as a micro check or small checkered shirt. A narrow striped tie can work well agains a larger check or windowpane shirt.

Let us know your favourite tie designs

  • Stripes

  • Solid colour

  • Paisley

  • Repeat motif

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