The Neckties of Harry S. Truman

The Neckties of President Harry S. Truman

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.

Barleycorn Suit with brown tie & pocket square with Churchill

Barleycorn Suit with brown tie & pocket square with Churchill

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.

Purple Silk Foulard Tie with Figures custom made by Lenard Stern Chicago for Harry S

Purple Silk Foulard Tie with Figures custom made by Lenard Stern Chicago for Harry S

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!

Harry S. Truman wearing the purple custom tie

Harry S. Truman wearing the purple custom tie

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.

A Sulka Tie in Silk with circle and dots in blue, black & white

A Sulka Tie in Silk with circle and dots in blue, black & white

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.

A. Sulka Printed & Jacquard silk tie Truman wore in the picture

A. Sulka Printed & Jacquard silk tie Truman wore in the picture

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.

Tie Detail with peaked lapel

Tie Detail with peaked lapel

 

A. Sulka Printed silk diamond - check pattern on jacquard woven backgroung in nav, red & white

A. Sulka Printed silk diamond – check pattern on jacquard woven backgroung in nav, red & white

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.

Navy & purple silk tie by A

Navy & purple silk tie by Amos Sulka

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.

Fine Jacquard Weave Micropattern Tie with grey flannel suit, white shirt & pocket square

Fine Jacquard Weave Micropattern Tie with grey flannel suit, white shirt & pocket square

Micropattern tie with solid 6x2 suit and white shirt

Micropattern tie with solid 6×2 suit and white shirt

 

Domestic Ties

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.

Typical 1930's silk tie by Superba Cravats 1873

Typical 1940’s silk tie by Superba Cravats 1873

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.

Printed Silk tie in purple with notes by DiTieri Miami Beach, Palm Beach, Ft

Printed Silk tie in purple with notes by DiTieri Miami Beach, Palm Beach, Ft

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?

Printed & Jacquard Silk tie made by Merchandise Mart for the society night club Stork Club in New York

Printed & Jacquard Silk tie made by Merchandise Mart for the society night club Stork Club in New York

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.

Jacquard Striped Black & White Silk Tie by Beau Brummell - note the differing front and back blade of the tie

Jacquard Striped Black & SilverSilk Tie by Beau Brummell – note the differing front and back blade of the tie

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?

Bold Zig Zag tie in navy and red silk Made in England for Henry Morgan Montreal

Bold Zig Zag tie in navy and red silk Made in England for Henry Morgan Montreal

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.

Printed flower silk foulard tie in blue & white by Charvet & Fils New York - Now there is only a Paris store at Place Vendome

Printed flower silk foulard tie in blue & white by Charvet & Fils New York – Now there is only a Paris store at Place Vendome

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.

Orange printed silk tie with white and blue pattern by Savoy Taylors Guild London

Orange printed silk tie with white and blue pattern by Savoy Taylors Guild London

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.

Hand woven Shantung silk in dark blue made into a tie with white embroidery

Hand woven Shantung silk in dark blue made into a tie with white embroidery

Interestingly, he also owned a faux madder tie in matte silk from Christian Dior – it was probably made in the 1960s.

Fall tie in paisley faux madder silk by Christian Dior

Fall tie in paisley faux madder silk by Christian Dior

 

Cotton Ties

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.

Cotton Tie in red, grey and beige

Cotton Tie in red, grey and beige

Silver grey cotton tie by Botany Brand Gabartones

Silver grey cotton tie by Botany Brand Gabartones

Truman with Tartan tie & handrolled contrast edge pocket square

Truman with Tartan tie & handrolled contrast edge pocket square

Unusual Ties

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.

Unusual beige, brown and white patterned tie

Unusual beige, brown and white patterned tie

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.

Geometric Pattern silk tie by The Custom Shop Shirtmakers from imported silk

Geometric Pattern silk tie by The Custom Shop Shirtmakers from imported silk

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.

Unusual 8-fold jacquard silk tie by Saks Fifth Avenue with printed patterns and front folds

Unusual 8-fold jacquard silk tie by Saks Fifth Avenue with printed patterns and front folds

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?

Final Words

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?

20 replies
  1. Mark Seitelman
    Mark Seitelman says:

    Now, I’ve seen it all!

    Truman, a former haberdasher, was very meticulous about his clothes and appearance. I would say that his clothing tastes were mid-western rather than eastern establishment. That explains the loud neckties which were the fashion but not among the eastern establishment.

    Excellent article.

    Mark E. Seitelman
    http://www.seitelman.com

  2. Alexander Cave
    Alexander Cave says:

    The ‘bold zig-zag’ is so distinct, it has to be the (British Army) Royal Artillery regimental tie – especially as it is by an English maker.

    As it is one of the gravest faux pas possible to wear a regimental tie without having served in the regiment (along the lines of wearing ribbons to medals you have not been awarded), it begs the question of how it comes to be in the HST wardrobe.

    If he wore the tie for its fancy pattern, the offence Truman will have given to RA servicemen can only be guessed at – both at the time with 1939-45 war veterans, and more recently. What can have possessed the man?

    • Sven Raphael Schneider
      Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      If it was sold at Henry Morgan and he liked the tie, chances are the buyer had no clue that it could be a regimental tie, and in my opinion it is not the job of the buyer to check on this. On the other hand, the seller should know that it is in poor taste to sell people regimental ties, that they wear without knowing some people may be insulted.
      That being said, the tie of the ROYAL REGIMENT OF ARTILLERY AND ROYAL HORSE ARTILLERY is very similar but not quite the same in my opinion.

  3. Dave Bell
    Dave Bell says:

    I’d agree that the RA tie pattern is very distinctive. Some regimental ties are less so, my school tie looks very like a Guards Brigade tie, though the colours might not be exactly the same. Another version of my school tie, worn by prefects, appears to be worn by SS Veterans in the movie of The Odessa File. I was all rather embarrassing when I discovered this.

    It is possible that the tie was a presentation gift, and likely to be Royal Canadian Artillery. He commanded an artillery battery in France in WW1 and as President at the end of WW2 and during the Korean War. The etiquette of wearing that tie isn’t going to be simple.

  4. Brindle
    Brindle says:

    I wish to say, first of all, that I am impressed with your website and with the the detailed research you include in articles. Your blog/website is in a class by itself, and I wish you to know that it is recognized and appreciated. I have always had an interest in the development and history of menswear, and your website goes beyond just talking about what is current, in contrast to most of the menswear blogs.

    I have read the articles on Harry S. Truman with interest, and the ‘zigzag’ patterned tie in the stood out to me. It is more than merely a vintage geometric or art deco design. This is in fact a Royal Artillery tie, and being made in England would be consistent with that. The only perplexing thing about it, is the fact that it was sold by Morgan’s, which was an iconic department store chain in Montreal, later acquired by the Hudson’s Bay Company. Perhaps the tie was a gift from someone from Canada. He was not president during the Quebec Conference, but Morgan’s had a store in Quebec City–it would be interesting to check out when he might have been in Canada.

    Mr. Truman served in World War I, and continued in the United States Army Reserve in the 1920s, achieving the rank of Colonel. His military arm was the artillery, so the inclusion of this in tie collection is quite logical. The same tie can be found today on websites that specialize in British and Commonwealth regimental ties.

    B.

  5. Richard E. Press
    Richard E. Press says:

    Truman dressed like the Main Street Babbitt haberdasher he was before Boss Pendergast made him. Fortunately he was a better president than his clothes suggested.

  6. Wadim Burkiwsky
    Wadim Burkiwsky says:

    Dear sirs
    The collection is very professional,
    For me is likable silver grey cotton tie by Botany Brand Gabartones.
    ——————————————————————————————–
    Wadim Burkiwsky – Oktober 24, 2013

  7. Jim Demetrakis
    Jim Demetrakis says:

    Gentlemen
    My compliments to the terrific work of the author Mr. Sven. You always manage to out do yourself time & time again, keep up this great volume of work, I am sure that you will get a Pulitzer Prise soon ! Now back to the subject at hand, I am a Republican thru & thru but I have always admired H.S.Truman as a man with courage to speak his mind, to follow his own path and to act with conviction when he was in office. He in my humble opinion for what it is worth should be on the list of our “Greatest Presidents” bar none. With that said I personally feel that he was a very sharp, distinguished and maybe the best dressed Presidents of the 20th century. Plain speaking he was a dandy all the way around from his shoes, hats, suits & ties he was well dressed period. So there is my take. Your articles are great, look forward to more you are a time machine in print !

  8. Jim Demetrakis
    Jim Demetrakis says:

    Gentlemen

    P.S.: I forgot to add, while I understand that if you were a member of a particular regiment and wear your “Regimental Colors” I rightly assume that you are doing it out of pride of association
    with your fellow servicemen. But if you wear a regimental tie that you have no association with
    (and you know that) then I would think that you are honoring those men of that specific regiment and their history of military service. Looking at the “ilk” of dress codes today, people are not thinking of what they are wearing for the most part really scruffy if I may say; so if I wear a regimental tie I dont think I.M.H.O. that I would be offensive to their past regimental honor as long as I dress in good, neat & tasteful form. Please advise and enlighten me me if I am in the wrong.
    Thanks

    • Alexander Cave
      Alexander Cave says:

      Regimental (or for that matter, school, college, club or association) ties are badges of belonging, or unspoken indications to others that the wearer is, or was, a member of the body the tie represents. The only acceptable way to have to have the ‘right’ to such a tie is to be genuine member.

      As membership gives exclusivity, wearing a tie you have no ‘right’ to marks you out as a cad with the selfish intent of taking others’ merits for himself. If you wish to honour the members of a regiment, or sporting club perhaps, you should actually join the association. Genuine members feel no honour is being done to them if all and sundry feel themselves free to use the symbols of their exclusivity.

      As for the RA tie being in HST wardrobe, my father, whose field artillery unit went ashore on D-Day, tells of how they came under constant bombardment from American forces who seemed to fire at anything except the targets they were given. Later, during the Korean war, when my father’s unit found themselves again alongside American forces, their commander sent a message to say that half their guns were trained on the enemy, the other half trained on the Americans as an act of retribution, so the Americans would know why when the shells fell on them.

      The commander in chief of these American forces was who..? My father’s response to HST wearing a RA tie (even out of honour) cannot be printed here.

      The rule is simple: if you do not belong to the body concerned, do NOT wear its symbols of membership.

      • Sven Raphael Schneider
        Sven Raphael Schneider says:

        Alexander is right, at the same time, iIn the US or even in Germany, nobody on the street has even the slightest idea of the origins of such ties, and hardly anybody would care if it was a particular school tie.

        If you like a particular tie, I’d suggest you look for stripes that point from the left bottom to the right top because most, but not all, British ties that are associated with institutions point from the bottom right to the top left. That way, you can wear your tie without risking to offend any Brit.
        So, whenever you visit GB, pay attention to your tie choice!

      • JIM dEMETRAKIS
        JIM dEMETRAKIS says:

        To Mr. Anthony Cave
        Thanks for the rules on history & association for association, regimental units & club ties.
        I will endeavor to keep within the gentlemanly requirements required of one.

        Regards
        Jim Demetrakis

  9. William Wright
    William Wright says:

    Hello, In a followup I think Truman’s use of the bow tie should be followed as well. I understand from reading that he used to trade them with House Speaker Rayburn from Texas. He also shared a bit of the old bourbon too, but we won’t go that far. In the way things are these days, I believe strongly, we need a man of Harry Truman’s standing in the office of POTUS as there’s entirely too much denying, delaying, and just plain not doing or getting done. Harry was NOT afraid of telling the truth about people and that trait sorely needs to be brought back in dealing with the country and its problems today!

  10. Frank Morganti III
    Frank Morganti III says:

    Thanks for the interesting read. I know there are more important things that a President does than show the world what tie he’s wearing, but this is important as these products played a part in our history.

    Also, these products were made by so many different people who had not idea they were producing a tie for The President of the United States. If these ties could talk, it would be amazing to hear there stories.

    As for the navy and red zig zag tie I’ve seen the tie pattern produced in two publications over the years. The first was an Apparel Arts drawing in the 1930’s and another was in the 1994 Ben Silver Catalog.

    It’s a tie pattern I’d wear with a six on two DB suit or navy blazer, or a three piece suit. The pattern is in my view flashy but conservative when not shown too much, hence, why I’d wear it with a three piece or DB ensemble.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] And it might not be something you’d considered, but if you want a tie to go with your newly purchased suit, why not draw inspiration from Harry Truman himself? Maybe because most of his collection of “funny” ties are quite impossible to wear… In any case, this neat selection of Truman’s ties is a super-interesting piece of history. […]

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