G. Bruce Boyer delves into the institutional history of the repp tie.
The repp striped tie is undoubtedly the classic neckwear of the British wardrobe. But before we get into that, a word about nomenclature. Most men think that repp is a misspelled abbreviation of repetition, and that it refers to the repetitive striped pattern usually associated with the neckwear. But the word - and repp is indeed the correct spelling - actually refers to the repetitive woven ribs of the silk fabric itself, regardless of whatever pattern that silk may have. In fact, repp silk may be without any pattern at all. In short, repp refers to fabric, not pattern. Just a little service we provide our readers.
I’ve recently been taking an interest in this because I’ve just been dipping into The Book of Public School Old Boys, University, Navy, Army, Air Force, and Club Ties [London, 1968], with a helpful introduction by fashion historian James Laver. It’s the classic on the subject, beautifully and extensively illustrated with every one of the 749 ties associated with the various schools, military, and clubs of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries at the time of its publication. Every designated tie, from the Abbotsholme School [Rochester, founded 1889] to York University [York, founded 1947].
The introduction and extensive notes in this volume make for fascinating reading in themselves. The striped repp tie, as it happens, may in fact find its origins in the heraldic colours which Medieval knights carried into battle both to show their allegiances and for easier identification on the battlefield. Their echo of battalion allegiance continues in today’s military ties. Much later, in the 19th century, striped ties came to be associated with schools and sports, such as the colours worn by jockeys and a variety of sports organizations founded in the Victorian period, like the Oxford University Boat Club and cricket clubs [the I Zingari Cricket Club, thought to be the oldest, was founded in 1845].
Today of course the fields of battle are more likely to be the conference and board rooms, and the Old School Tie has become more than a statement of inclusion in an educational institution, it’s a decided stylish statement, an individual aesthetic impulse of, might we say, contemporary traditionalism. Style isn’t in the blatantly obvious, but in the subtle details of cut and colour. A well-fitted shoulder and perfectly proportioned lapel; the millimeter length of the shirt collar point; the nonchalance of the pocket square. And the jaunty perfection of the tie: bold but not garish, nor too discreet to be unnoticed. More of a direct statement, with perhaps a dash of wit, always seems to indicate natural taste, rather than the product of rigorous effort. And no accessory to the tailored wardrobe says this better than the repp striped tie.