The venerable Brooks Brothers clothing brand is not one you’d associate with the latest fads. But the company probably turned more than a few heads last week when it sent out an e-mail blast, linking to a rather elaborate new section on its home page dedicated to neckties.
The revamped home page features tie history, a slideshow tutorial on how to execute no fewer than six different tie knots, and detailed backgrounds on Brooks Brothers’ huge array of neckwear, including the all-but-forgotten ascot and cravat.
Why should all this business about ties be surprising? Because men have, for the most part, completely stopped wearing them. According to NPD, while suit sales remained robust in 2009—largely a function of men literally suiting up in preparation for hoped-for job interviews—the necktie industry had one of the worst years ever. A mere 29 million ties were sold last year (an 18 percent drop over 2008), while revenues were $418 million, a plummet from the $1 billion tie sales in the mid 1990s.
Another sign of the times: The Men’s Dress Furnishings Association, a New York City-based trade group, shut down entirely in 2008, citing the abandonment of the tie. A Gallup poll that year revealed that just 6 percent of men were still wearing ties to work.
So why the necktie push for Brooks Brothers? The company wasn’t available for comment, but its director of communications, Aurthur Wayne, told Brandweek last year that the business-casual trend had not hurt sales of its $998 Mad Men Edition Suit. “The guy buying this is style-conscious,” Wayne said. Perhaps the company is betting that the same counter-trend will keep tie sales going, too. In fact, the Brooks Brothers home page spotlights the brand’s huge array of neckwear that includes the slimmer varieties re-popularized by the Mad Men series—which, incidentally, Brooks Brothers supplies the clothing for.
Interestingly, while necktie sales in the U.S. have remained dismal, there’s been an upsurge of tie wearing in the U.K. (from which Brooks has borrowed many of its traditional patterns.) London’s Daily Telegraph has reported the rise of something called “smart casual” in the office—the practice of men wearing ties to work so they can look more professional and hence avoid being sacked. Fighting the recession with neckwear? Seems Brooks Brothers is starting a trend instead of bucking one.