Once long ago in college, a professor lifted the end of his thick, gaudy '70s-style necktie and explained to anyone who would listen that the mark of a great tie had something to do with the number of stripes on the inner lining. I don't know why I gave that advice a second thought, but having experienced the seven-fold tie, I can now tell you with assurance it isn't true. A tie is its own best liner.
That's the concept behind what are arguably the most elegant cravats available: fold two and a half yards of fine silk in on itself seven times until you have a tie that needs no lining and practically knots itself. Ironically, it was almost lost to us. An affluent affectation first known to the robber barons of the early twentieth century, the seven-fold disappeared in the 1930s, a casualty of the Great Depression and silk shortages caused by unrest in China. When prosperity returned, the voluminous tie demurred. It wasn't until the 1980s that luxury neckwear maker Robert Talbott, prompted by a retired Yugoslavian artisan, Lydia Grayson, rediscovered the seven-fold. Even then it took four years of experimentation and training until the company could introduce its own seven-fold in 1985.
More than just copious cloth, the seven-fold is a testament to craftsmanship. The silk (or in some cases cashmere) is meticulously pleated and then hand-stitched to hold together. Only 12 such ties are made a day. The year's allotment of 3,000 are quickly snapped up by retailers when they are released quarterly. Talbott caps the production of each design at 40 ties (numbered, of course).
Rarity, labor intensity and quantity and quality of material drive the tie's high tariff ($225 in silk, $350 in cashmere), but a seven-fold proves its value when properly worn. The lack of lining (beware the so-called seven-fold with a liner) allows the tie to knot without binding and creates an exquisite dimple that spreads luxuriantly down from the neck. It drapes perfectly and never takes on the awkward folds of a liner. And that, had I known it years ago, is what I should have told my unfortunately clad professor.
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