In the past, we have already introduced to you the stunning suit collection as well as the shoes of President Harry S. Truman. In collaboration with the National Park Service, we were able to acquire exclusive pictured of Truman’s necktie collection. While many consider the 1930s as the heyday of classic menswear, the tie designs of the period were often influence by Art Deco and not always as subtle and classic as you might think. Truman had a collection of at least 403 neckties – many of them printed silk ties – and although we can’t show you all of them this article will highlight a selection with over 30 pictures.
First off, one of my favorite combinations: Truman wearing a grey barleycorn three piece suit with a hint of brown. Hence he chooses a matte solid brown tie, an off-white shirts, and a brown, beige pocket square. Personally, I think a brown knit tie would have been better due to its texture but this combination is very subtle, yet something I have never seen before.
The next tie is from the opposite end of the spectrum. the purple background has been printed with white and turquoise fantasy figures reminiscent of a fairy tale. First, I thought this must have been a gift of some kind that he never really wore until I saw the backside that revealed this was a custom made tie for Truman with is name tag by Lenard Stern Chicago. Now, obviously, he had chosen the tie and he even wore it in office! Just imagine if a politician would wear that kind of tie today – unimaginable!
A. Sulka Ties
Founded in 1895, Amos Sulka used to be a top notch haberdasher who counted Churchill, the Duke of Windsor as well as Harry S. Truman to its customers. Although their last store in NYC closed in 2001, Mr. Porter has been carrying some Sulka ties as of this year. In 2009, there was a Sulka website announcing the revival of the brand, but it disappeared during the economic downturn. Also, bear in mind that both the Sulka and Mr. Porter are owned by the luxury conglomerate Richemont. As such, it is likely the move is more of a marketing plot rather than a true revival of the old brand. Below you’ll find some old Sulka ties from Truman’s collection.
First, we can see a 3-fold silk tie with a blue dotted background and black & white circles. Compared to current tie patterns, this is definitely daring and different. Paired with a solid dark suit it may work, but I would not wear it with any small pattern. In any case, it has a distinct retro look.
Next up is a navy tie with small patterns stripes. While it is all silk, it combines jacquard weaves and print in one tie. The thread is coming loose because it is such an old piece. If you take a closer look at the pictures below, you can see that Truman was wearing it with a light colored hat, a light grey double breasted suit, and a dark peaked lapel overcoat. It’s too bad that we can’t see the actual colors because I am sure it would have been quite interesting. With such an unusual tie, it’s difficult to pair it with anything other than solids.
Here we have yet another jacquard woven and print tie – it seems like this was a specialty of A. Sulka back in the day. On the one hand, the patterns seem rather futuristic and remind me a bit of chemical molecular chains, but I can see how people wore these in the late fifties.
Last but not least, another print & jacquard tie from A. Sulka in an interesting stripe / check. Again, I have not seen a pattern like this in a very long time, but Truman obviously liked these kind of extravagant patterns. At the same time, in his photos, he is often portrayed wearing more classic subdued patterns such as below.
Of course, as the president of the United States, you would expect Truman to own a number of domestically produced ties, and he did. The first one below is a typical example from the 1940’s. It was produced by Superba Cravats, a firm founded in 1873 in Rochester, NY as H.C. Cohen Co. In 1908, they started promoting their ties as superba cravats and since that worked out so well for them, they decided to change the company name to Superba Cravats in 1948. Just like with the A. Sulka ties, it has a woven background in a solid color paired with printed motives. Personally, I would not wear this tie unless I visited a 1940’s theme party but I find it very interesting to learn what styles were popular back then.
Most people have never heard of DiTieri but back in the day, the brand named after its austere Italian owner Nicholas DiTieri, was popular among the rich and famous. Truman wore them and so did Eisenhower on election night, Pat Nixon wore his scarves, and Howard Hughes bought 11 silk dressing gowns at a time. DiTieri made silk products such as ties, cravats, bow ties, scarves, and robes. With a price of $175 in 1964, only the very rich could afford these but with stores at the New York Waldorf-Astoria, on Park Ave in the building where the Kennedy’s resided, Miami Beach, Palm Beach, and Delray Beach, rents weren’t cheap either. The DiTieri tie below was made of printed silk from France, Italy, or Switzerland and printed in colorful notes. Again, I would not wear ittoday but obviously Truman wasn’t shy of color.
The next tie was made expressly for the Stork Club in NYC and was one of many tie variations at the club. Founded in 1929 and operated until 1965 by former bootlegger Sherman Billingsley, the Stork Club on 53rd Ave neat Fifth Ave was a night club for the rich & famous. JFK, Frank Sinatra, the Duke of Windsor, Marilyn Monroe, Rocky Marciano, and even Truman all went there. Considering the clientele, I was surprised to see that this tie was provided by Merchandise Mart Chicago! Just like most of the other ties, it was made of a solid, woven silk with printed motives, here the grand piano. Not really something I’d wear but isn’t it great if you can tell a story about the things you wear?
The black striped tie was likely made in the 1930’s as indicated by the flared ends and untipped construction. It was made by Beau Brummell, a company based out of Cincinnati, Ohio that was established in 1920. Forty seven years later, a young Ralph Lauren would design ties for them, before he created his own label…. Looking at the tie just briefly, you may notice that it is a black and silver striped jacquard tie that could be worn at weddings or with formal morning dress. However, upon closer inspection you’ll realize that it was actually made of two pieces of different silk – just compare the stripes in the front and back. Apart from the fact that you should never really use the tie keeper loop on the back of your tie, with this kind of tie it is particularly important that you let both ends hang freely, so you can see the different silks.
Ties From Abroad
To my surprise, Truman also had quite a few ties from abroad. The first one, is another tie from the thirties with its bold zig-zag pattern in navy and red with a flared cut. It was bought in Montreal, Canada, but was actually made in England for Henry Morgan & Co. Would you wear something like this?
Among tie enthusiasts, Charvet has always been a staple. Today, they maintain a magnificent store at Place Vendôme in Paris, which has been there since 1877. At one point in time they maintained branches outside of France, including one on 18 East 53rd Street, New York. That’s where the tie below was purchased. A light, printed silk foulard tie with flowers and triangles certainly make for a bold statement but compared to some of the other ties here, this one is almost subtle.
The orange tie below was made in England by the Savoy Taylor’s Guild in England. The company was bought by Moss Bros. in the 1980’s but this tie was probably from the forties or early fifties.
Surprisingly, Truman also had a tie from Asia. This was made of hand woven shantung silk and features an embroidered motif. These kind of visible elements close to the tie knot were popular in the late fifties and early sixties.
Interestingly, he also owned a faux madder tie in matte silk from Christian Dior – it was probably made in the 1960s.
Interestingly, Truman also possessed a few cotton ties in his collection. Based on the shape and the thin interlining, I’d assume these are from the thirties.
Most of the ties here are definitely unusual compared to current standards but on top of that, Truman had a few very unusual ties that I’d like to highlight.
First of all, this 1930’s tie with its beige, brown, and white Art Deco pattern that I have never seen before. I could certainly see myself wearing it with a brown three piece pinpoint suit and orange or off white shirt.
Today, you will hardly ever find these kind of geometric pattern ties. On the one hand, it has probably to do with the taste of the masses: on the other hand, this kind of tie is more difficult to make because any deviation from the center line will make the tie unwearable.
Last, but not least, this is definitely the most unusual tie in Truman’s collection. I found it hard to believe that Saks Fifth Ave offered this kind of 8-fold jacquard silk tie in silver grey with printed motifs. It reminds me more of a futuristic U.F. O. inspired tie rather than a tasteful piece of neckwear. To be honest, I am not surprised at all that this style never really succeeded and, in fact, I am grateful it did not. Have you seen a tie like this before?
Obviously, Truman had a very eclectic tie collection, yet in his photographs, he would ofter wear more subdued ties. That makes me wonder how often he actually wore the more unusual ones. At the same time, most of them show some signs of wear such as stains, threads, etc. which makes me think that he had to wear them at some point in time. However, I don’t know how the ties were stored so it is difficult to tell. What do you think of this tie collection and which ties would you wear today?