May 24, 2024

Once a universal symbol of uniformity and professionalism, the necktie’s hold has loosened in recent years – but it’s still holding on in the promo industry and beyond.

As corporate dress codes slacken and work-from-home’s popularity encourages relaxed attire, the tie has been posited as either a relic of cubicles past or a hipster’s latest accessory. After a recent photo of three tieless presidents went viral, NPR asked the question: “Are ties out of fashion?” A few days later the Wall Street Journal had a rebuttal, declaring that the necktie was “waging a comeback” and might be “the riskiest fashion accessory yet.”

assorted neckties

KTP Design Company (asi/64773) offers a variety of custom promotional ties.

Pat Walsh has seen the popularity of ties wax and wane several times during his long career. In fact, it was after reading a 1998 article about the decline of ties that he shifted from retail sales of the ties he created with his business partner to focusing on the promo market, with the founding of KTP Design Company (asi/63773).

Over the last two decades, tie business has declined (which Walsh attributes to increasingly casual workwear) and KTP Design has expanded its product offerings to include blankets, towels and other categories. Despite this shift, ties still make up a “large part of [their] line,” Walsh says.

“I would have predicted back in early 2000s that ties would not even be part of my line at this point,” Walsh says. “But it has held on.”

The exception was during the pandemic.

“We probably had the least essential product known to man during the pandemic,” Walsh jokes. “Every order I got during the pandemic, I was like, ‘Why are they ordering this?’”

Post-pandemic, however, KTP Design saw a “big uptick” in necktie sales as employers began hosting formal, in-person events again.

Wolfmark (asi/98085) partner Bruce Everakes says the supplier, which has operated for over 75 years, experienced a similar bump after COVID. He attributes the increase to employers hiring after pandemic layoffs.

“When things started coming back, we had customers that have clients in uniform program,” Everakes says. “All of a sudden, they’ve got to restock their inventory.”

necktie

Knotty Promo makes custom ties out of recycled plastics, employing resettled refugees at its Denver, CO-based facility.

Knotty Promo hasn’t seen a “substantial slowdown” of necktie sales during its 10 years in business. Sales director Jaymie Hoffman says the Denver-based supplier has found success in the education and tech industries, as well as with breweries and other beverage firms.

“People are often surprised by that,” Hoffman says. “But I can tell you it is happening. Every day, people are ordering and wanting to wear ties.”

Schools, especially private academies that require students to wear uniforms, are a major recent buyer of branded ties, according to suppliers. Walsh shares that his 7-year-old son loves putting on his clip-on tie for school.

“They weren’t wearing ties to school 10 years ago, but they feel that having uniforms is good because you’re not having three or four kids with super-expensive clothes, and then other kids that can’t afford it,” Walsh says. “It just takes a lot of nonsense out of the picture.”

Events like conventions, trade shows and benefits are a major venue for promotional ties, according to suppliers. They point to ties’ entrenchment in formal wear as appealing to companies looking to outfit employees or brand ambassadors at special events, along with scarves and pocket squares as unisex options.

“Same as you would do a T-shirt for a casual event, the necktie is your more-formal version of that,” Hoffman says. “They’re a fun, classy way to step up the branding for customers.”

Despite variations in usage, classic tie styles are still in. Designs and colorways vary based on company logos, but Hoffman says the signature, medium-width ties are Knotty Promo’s most popular. The same holds true for Wolfmark, Everakes says.

The width of ties “really moves at a glacial pace,” according to Walsh. “The skinny Blues Brother-style ties, those are one-offs. Very rarely is that something that is part of a uniform.”

Whether for uniforms or special events, the whole pie for ties has shrunk, according to Everakes. However, he adds, Wolfmark has found individual growth in the market, which he attributes to a decreasing number of suppliers. Earlier this year, Greensboro, NC-based Buffalo Bay (asi/42416) announced it is closing its custom neckwear division and will no longer operate in promo.

Despite market dynamics, Walsh maintains that the tie’s grip won’t be loosened anytime soon. “Every man in the world still has a tie in his wardrobe – at least one. You can’t say that about the Stanley Quencher. If it’s not dead by now, it’s not dying.”


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