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  • Writer's pictureEvan Wolkenstein

If my ties could talk

If my ties could talk, they’d have a story to tell.

Tie #1.  Purchased at Target, 1998. Paid for by my mother. 

straw had striped tie

1999: Atlanta, GA My second teaching job. Still, my first tie.

If my tie could talk, it would tell you that it was the first tie that I (Evan) ever picked out for myself – meaning, not a hand-me-down from my old man.

I was heading off to grad-school overseas. My mother took me to Target and treated me to $250 worth of baggy jeans, camp shirts, and a few “nice things” – e.g. the tie.

I was 28, but I still dressed like I did in college.

I’d never held a job for more than an academic year. My only marketable ability was a decent Kermit-the-Frog impression.

My relationship to clothing: fear and awe.

As an adolescent, I’d always felt inadequate in a department store. The whole concept of Style was over my head and physicially, nothing fit. In middle school, I somehow managed to be chubby and scrawny at the same time. I discovered bugle-boy chinos and bad-dog T-shirts at the precise moment I discovered girls; this coincided with the discovery that my total lack of confidence was going to be a problem.

As a 10th grader, style was mired in the same early 90’s absurdity that brought the first Gulf War and Michael Bolton.

I busted into African dashikis. Long hair. I played in rock bands. I played A D & D.  I learned how to create a costume as a form of revolt. It was sartorial survival.

Fifteen years later, in my first teaching job, looking like a grown-up was the goal.

If my tie could talk, it would tell you that it was a classic (a Repp tie is as classic as a tie can be, but I didn’t know that at the time). But when paired with the first “fashion forward” glasses I’d ever worn, it was a little ironic.

How coincidental.

Tie #2 Purchased at Kohl’s Department Store, 2006. Paid for by my father. 


I am a disco. San Francisco, 2006.

If my tie could talk, it would tell you that it was the first “far-out” tie I’d ever owned. It was gold and black and combined with a gold-ish colored shirt, I think I imagined that I looked a little like a professional Disco Ball. Trust me, the colors popped.

At the time, I owned a yellow MINI Cooper. I would crank Salsa music while I drove through San Francisco. I was in my fifth year of teaching. There was magic. I loved teenagers and their attitudes and I loved having a persona that was all at once “me” and bigger than me.

It felt safe to be loud.

If my tie could talk, it would tell you how I began to take a selfie (they weren’t called “selfies” yet) every day, because I wanted to remember. What shirt went with which tie. Maybe also, I wanted to see – what did it look like to feel good?

In the morning, I’d put on my pedagogical disco-gear and think, “It takes confidence to rock a look like this.”

Tie #3 Purchased at Soul to Soul, San Francisco, 2010. Paid for with store credit. Made by Nobis

skinny tie died

2010: My first skinny tie. A look I might have stolen from Best Buy’s Geek Squad.

If my tie could talk, it would tell you about how I was half a year out from a significant break-up. I started thinking about first impressions. What did I look like when I walked into a bar for a first date? I figured that even a thoughtful, “authentic” person still would see me before they would talk to me. My ties got skinnier. I got some nice shoes. But it was difficult to imagine myself as — um, marketable.

I started dating a woman who’d never seen Revenge of the Nerds, one of my old favorites. She was unimpressed, but more interestingly, she was confused; the “Jocks” were dressed and groomed like castrated Ken-Dolls, while the “Nerds” looked like they were ready to form an excellent indie-rock band.

In our post Steve-Jobs / Bill Gates world, most people don’t remember how the word was once pejorative. Those of us who grew up not as beautiful people learned to fear the word. It was sneered before a locker-room beating, shouted by pursuers.

Only years later, like other dehumaizing epithets, was it reclaimed.

It became something to be proud of.

If my tie could talk, it would tell you how I was learning to radiate confidence.

I learned to flush vestiges of Nerd-shame from my system, and I learned to tie a bow-tie.

bow tie and plaid

2011: My first bow-tie. Nerdy-edgy.

Nerdy. Edgy. Proud.

Tie #4

Purchased online at, 2011. Got some sort of discount. 

blue knit and plaid

2011: Wool. Simple. Fancy.

If my tie could talk, it would tell you about how I was collecting a lot of clothes. If I was a famous painter, some docent in a museum would point to my selfies and say, “This was a period of incredible creativity for Wolkenstein.”

It was a time of anxiety. Hope. I dated a lot. I worried about the future.

I invented a number of looks. I made many, many style mistakes.

I know. I have pictures to prove it.

Once in a while, though, I got excited about simplicity.

This tie is blue / black, made of fine Japanese wool, and looks good with everything.

If my tie could talk, it would tell you that I was learning not to be afraid of being classic.

Tie #5

purple stripe

Band of Outsiders. 2012.

If my tie could talk, it would tell you about how I’d started dating a woman way out of my league.

I mean, she wouldn’t have said that, but I was only a celebrity within the relatively narrow confines of Jewish Education. She was a published author with a TV show on the way.

I wasn’t trying to use clothes to hide. Or to spark a riot. Or to overturn a version of myself I wasn’t happy with.

I was enjoying exploring my late 30s. I was great at my job. I was playing with new ideas, new concepts, every day in the classroom. I was drawing. Writing.

My tie would tell you, I was nearly ready to open the doors.

Tie #6 

Out of my league with both tie and girlfriend. Thom Browne. 2013.

Purchased at Black Fleece, San Francisco.

Some years earlier, on my weekly run down Fillmore Street, I’d seen a colleague in a store called Black Fleece.

This colleague and friend had also been a mentor of sorts during my early days of style-awakening. Every day, I’d pestered him with questions. Why doesn’t this go with that? Why DOES this  go with that?

He would offer guidance and ideas and sometimes wrinkle his face with distaste, but he always encouraged me to think of Style as being IMPORTANT. It’s the first thing people see when they look at you.

How can that not be important?

Jogging by, that day, I’d seen him through the door. To say hello, I took a detour into the most beautiful store I’d ever been in.

Yes, it was expensive. But that wasn’t it.

It had it’s own Style. Classy yet edgy. Apologetically bold and yet refined. Totally “in your face,” and yet – riffing off blue-nearly-black, white, and red.

I didn’t know this at the time, but it’s designed by the amazing Thom Browne. 

Around that time, I began to know, deeply and fully, that Style wasn’t about what you wear, but who you are.

Style is about stripping off what you’ve always worn because you’ve always wanted to play it safe, and stepping into the shoes of who you’ve always wished you could be. Style is about pride. Loving yourself. Expressing yourself. Playing with the fantasy of the future.

Style is about reflecting. Sometimes in front of the mirror. Acknowledging what’s already perfect about you. Noticing what you’d like to change.

Style is about not being afraid to make mistakes.

Style is about feeling as attractive as you actually are – to your significant other, and to the World.

Style is about asking for opinions and only sometimes following them.

Style is not something you learn.

Style is about who you already are.

My tie could tell you…Style is not for the beautiful people.

Style is for dorks.

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