Neckwear Notes: The dismal state of dimples

by Harry Sheff

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.