The history of men’s clothing is always told through the same types of characters: the honest and true craftsmen and the dastardly capitalists. In neckwear, it’s said that the traditional method of making neckties is through the seven-fold, where a single square of silk is folded upon itself seven times – without any lining – to give a distinctive shape and lightness. This construction supposedly disappeared sometime in the post-war period. Some say it’s because the nuns who made them stopped producing for companies. Others say it’s because the technique required too much material and labor. Once manufacturers found how to sew two smaller pieces of silk together to reduce wastage, and fold the silk just three times over a wool interlining, the seven-fold was doomed. Manufacturers were seduced by the higher profits, and consumers baited with cheaper prices.
Or so we’re told anyway.
Robert Talbott told this story in the 1980s as part of his marketing campaign for his new line of seven-folds. He supposedly “rediscovered” the long, lost technique when he found Lydia Grayson, a Yugoslavian immigrant who made them in the 1920s. She then passed on her knowledge to his employees.
It’s not clear though if seven-fold ties ever really disappeared. Some have seen ads for them in American magazines from the 1930s, and Mariano Rubinacci once said that he remembers selling them in Naples in the 1950s. Anna-Lisa Calabrese – from the company that bears her family name – remembers them being called “cravatta ventaglio” or “fan tie” for the way the folds would fan out.
The history of traditional neckwear may be unclear, but it is clear what the seven-fold tie achieves. With little or no lining in the collar area, a seven-fold can feel very soft and light. In this way, it’s somewhat akin to Neapolitan tailoring, where the construction is often made with less padding and structure, to give the wearer a bit more comfort and casual sensibility.
When made, it also requires over a yard of material. The traditional technique uses just a single square, though nowadays it’s common to sew three pieces together to get the necessary length. Once folded, the back seam is hand sewn, the edges hand rolled, and the resulting tie gently hand pressed so it maintains its shape. For a necktie aficionado, this construction can feel a bit more artisanal and unique. We just wish we knew its history better.