I acquired my first tie clip not knowing what it was.
I was a newly commissioned 2nd Lt. and had just purchased the new officer package at the Marine Shop in Quantico.
It came with about a hundred other uniform items I purchased as a set, and I can count the number of times I used that clip on one hand – yea, it didn’t get much use as I wore a flight suit and cammies the vast majority of the time.
Fifteen years later though I have grown to love that old EGA clip – there is something about this forgotten but useful men’s accessory that endears it to me.
What – you know nothing about tie clips?
Well let’s fix that!
Tie Clip History
The tie clip (also called the tie bar & tie slide) is a piece of men’s jewelry that dates back to around the turn of the 20th century.
Prior to then, men’s ties were folded constructions, varying in complexity from the fairly straightforward to the downright architectural.
Some styles needed to be held in place with straight pins, which jewelers decorated the ends of, creating the first piece of men’s necktie jewelry — the “tie pin.”
When fashion straightened men’s ties out into the straight up-and-down shape we’re familiar with today, the long, vertical tie pins became less useful. Around the same time trends started leaning toward very finely-woven silks and similar materials, the fragile weaves of which would start to unravel if you stuck them with a pin too many times.
The tie bar or tie clip was a straightforward design solution. Instead of a pin that slid in and back out of the fabric, a flat piece of metal was bent into a tight “U” shape and slid directly around the tie on both sides.
This could be done to just hold the two tails of the tie together, but men immediately started using it to clip the tie to their shirtfront as well, preventing it from swinging away from the body.
That’s still how we use tie clips today. They’re a simple, practical piece for anyone who doesn’t want his necktie swaying too far away from his chest. That could be a safety precaution — say, for a traveling sales rep who occasionally finds himself on factory floors or other heavy machinery areas — or simply a safety precaution for the diner who’s dipped his tie in his sauce one time too many.
Styles and Fashions of Tie Clips
The origins of the tie clip coincide with a decadent and elaborate period in dressing. Pre-war Europe had intensely hierarchical rules of fashion, and a lot of the early tie bars from that period are made from precious metal and elaborately inlaid with jewels.
Post-WWI or “Roaring Twenties” clips tend to be more artistic and less gaudy. Many denoted membership in a particular group or club, especially military regiments from the war and gentleman’s clubs (in the original sense, not the kind with pole dancers) in urban England.
That’s also when the idea of “novelty” accessories really started to take hold in the popular culture. These days you can pay upwards of a thousand dollars for a genuine Hollywood tie clip (often depicting some exotic motif, like camels standing nose-to-tail) from the twenties, but at the time they were shamelessly commercial promotions, not at all unlike logo-bearing bumper stickers or ballpoint pens today.
You can find tie clips in just about any style you please. The most business-appropriate will be small, restrained pieces in one color of metal, usually either a gold or silver tone. For more casual wear, everything from the vintage Hollywood tchotchkes mentioned above to abstract modern art styles can be made to work.
Tie clips are one of those things that’s never really “out of fashion” — they’re always useful, and will always have their fans — but right now they’re definitely coming into fashion, particularly with younger men. Handmade, crafted, vintage, and DIY styles are showing up alongside all the other mismatched menswear of the hipster subculture — and the mainstream that borrows from it more restrainedly.
How to Wear Your Tie Clip
If you’ve got a tie clip, the use should be fairly self-explanatory: slide the two sides of the clip around both tails of your necktie and the edge of your shirt placket, sandwiching it all inside the clip. Push until the U-bend of the clip is snug against the side of your tie. Bam, you’re done.
To get a little more particular about it: you should usually go from your right side to your left. If you go the other way you’ll be able to clip your tie, but not the placket of a regular men’s dress shirt (where the side with the holes, the left side as you wear it, lies on top of the side with the buttons, or the right side as you wear it).
Where you clip the tie is up to you, but keep it at least a couple inches away from either the top or the bottom. A good default is above the center button on your shirtfront (or between the two center buttons if you have an even number).
Plain, non-mechanical clips do tend to settle a bit over time, usually stopping on a button, so it’s often easiest to place it right on top of a button to begin with. All the buttons are hidden by your tie anyway, so it doesn’t look cluttered, and it helps keep the bar from tilting at an angle over time.
If you’re having trouble with a tie clip popping off, the bend is probably a little too small for the fabric you’re trying to fit inside it. You can very gently bend the clip a little wider, or just wear it with thinner ties.
Hinged tie clips have a little more “bite” to them, which is great for keeping everything firmly in place but can dent the tie’s surface a little if the spring or hinge is too tight. Use a little caution, but don’t worry about it too much — it’s still easier on the tie than a pin.
True aficionados will no doubt experiment with other, related items like the tie chain or tack, but any man can enjoy a simple, stylish tie bar. FYI – if you want to see a young man pulling off the tie clip make sure to go check out Sabir at Men’s Style Pro.
Where To Buy A Tie Clip?
Check out my friends over at JoJo & Sofia – they make vintage inspired tie clips with a modern twist that stands out from the crowd. I also like what Kevin Coss is doing here on Etsy. You can also find them easily in most vintage, thrift, and antique stores.