If you work in an office that requires a tie, you probably know the basic rules: tip should just touch your beltline; width should coordinate with the size and shape of your suit and lapels; novelty prints are pretty much always a no-no. But did you know that the ubiquitous strip of fancy fabric has a fascinating history? What’s more, there are lots of different ways to wear a tie – and the style you choose says a lot about you.

The history of the necktie

The ancestor of the modern necktie actually originated in Europe in the mid-seventeenth century, when an unintentionally dapper Croatian army regiment introduced their loosely tied neckerchiefs to French soldiers, raising the bar for battlefield accessorizing and causing a sartorial sensation. The French soon adopted the neckwear for their own use, developing intricate new ways to fold and knot fabric around the neck.

As the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries progressed, neckwear became an integral part of the well-dressed man’s wardrobe. From stiffly fastened strips of muslin to big floppy satin bows, men embraced the cravat, the Steinkirk, the solitaire, and the Ascot in all of their glorious variety. However, it wasn’t until increasing numbers of men joined the office-based workforce during the Industrial Revolution that the long tie caught on – and stuck. The long tie was practical, didn’t impede movement, and worked well with the new, softer-collared shirts. And who had time to fuss over a fancy bow when there was work to be done?

Popular knots and how to wear them

Today, there are lots of different tie knots to choose from, each with their own personality. (See a video below for how to tie a tie into the most popular knots.)

The four-in-hand: This is likely the knot that you learned first. The four-in-hand’s knot is longish, slightly asymmetrical, a little off-kilter. It’s easy to master, supremely versatile, and works well with small-collared, softer fabric shirts like button-downs. A solid reason to pick the four-in-hand? James Bond wears one. If you learn just one tie knot, this is it.

The Windsor: Brought to popularity by the Duke of Windsor in the mid-twentieth century, the Windsor produces a fat, balanced knot that won’t slip down and looks best with a thicker fabric tie and a spread-collared shirt. It also requires a little bit of practice to master (lots of wrapping!). If you like the look of a large, carefully constructed, somewhat formal knot, the Windsor might be for you. But watch out: the Windsor looks slightly out of place with many of today’s narrower suit silhouettes.

The Half-Windsor: The Half-Windsor falls somewhere between the four-in-hand and the Windsor on the size spectrum, producing a neat, triangular knot that works well with light and medium-weight fabrics. In short, it’s the less stuffy little brother of the full Windsor, winning points for maximum professionalism without the pretense. We think it’s a good choice for a job interview.

The rest: If you Google tie knots, you’re guaranteed to find a few eyebrow-raisers (The Trinity or The Eldredge, anyone?). While they might look cool at first glance, a word of advice: gauge your work culture very carefully before showing up with a tie knot that looks like it took several intense hours of concentration to achieve. Your goal is to look professional, not “fun” or experimental (unless your workplace encourages that sort of thing). And do you really want people focusing their attention on your collarbone, not your face?

Bottom line: your tie should harmoniously blend with and complement the rest of your outfit, not eclipse it entirely. Choose wisely, and may the best knot win.

Fun fact: Workopolis conducted a poll on how you feel about the necktie. We wondered if it was dead. You said it’s not:

Is the necktie dead?

Yes, it’s a useless piece of cloth – 15%
Yes, except for job interviews – 12%
No, it’s essential for professional attire – 38%
It should be optional in all situations – 35%

And, should you need help tying any of the above knots, here’s an instructional video. How to tie a tie: