Tie bars from the Gentry's Salinger collection. "This is for… (Toni Torres )
After nearly a generation on the endangered accessories list, the old-school tie bar — the narrow piece of decorative metal (also known as a tie clip) that slides horizontally across a necktie and holds it flat against a gentleman's dress shirt — is enjoying a bit of a renaissance.
"The tie bar trend is huge," said Macy's men's fashion director Durand Guion. "It's been trending strongly for us — as a nationwide store — for about the last two years."
J.P. Graytok, owner of the Collar Co., a Somerville, N.J.-based e-commerce site that focuses on men's furnishings, describes a similar experience. "In the last year, all of a sudden, tie bars came back," he said. "It felt like overnight, almost."
Graytok estimates that his sales of tie bars are up at least 25% compared with a year ago, and are steadily outperforming other accessories categories that include cufflinks, collar bars and tie tacks.
That kind of uptick is even more impressive considering that, according to Port Washington, N.Y.-based market research firm NPD Group, overall men's jewelry sales saw a 1% drop to $3.6 billion for the 12 months ending in February 2011.
Some observers credit the resurgence in neck-centric jewelry to the influence of shows like "Mad Men" and "Boardwalk Empire." Others point to the reinvigorated men's "dress-up" business. (NPD recently reported that for the three months ending in February, tailored clothing was up 30% compared with the same period in 2010. Neckwear grew nearly as fast — sales were up 26%. Still others say the numbers reflect nothing more than the inevitable pendulum swing of sartorial style.
And, as Macy's Guion points out, it's a fail-safe way for a guy to accessorize with jewelry. "It's decidedly masculine, it's very clean, very modern, and no one's going to make fun of you," he said. "No one is going to snicker at you for wearing a tie bar."
But there doesn't seem to be any debate on who is bellying up to the tie bar. "This is for a generation that hasn't had to wear a suit," said Greg Sato, co-owner of the 16-month-old Los Angeles-based neckwear and accessories brand Gentry. "They want to wear [a suit]. And once they've mastered that, they want to figure out how to turn heads, and the general lack of accessory options for men is why we started our business. The tie bar is a subtle detail that really sets them apart."
Guion concurs: "For these younger guys, wearing a tie is novel, and whether he's wearing a shirt and tie with a pair of jeans or a whole suit, he's finishing it off with a narrow tie and a tie bar — and he's doing it every day and not even thinking about it."
Although Sato, Guion and Graytok report that simple, unadorned styles have been among the bestselling tie bars to date, with silver as the overwhelmingly favored metal, if the current pace of the trend continues, that could change. The Gentry line includes gunmetal tie bars shaped like daggers and brass ones shaped like skeleton keys, for example, and Macy's has started moving into tie bars with more textured surfaces and inlays.
"And we've started to test some of the tie tacks, tie pins and collar bars," Guion said. "It's [performing] nowhere near where the tie bar is, but we have a strong feeling about necktie jewelry in general because of the acceptance of the tie bar."
Sticking your neck out never looked more stylish.