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The Straight Dope


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The other day at work we were sitting around (on our coffee break, of course) telling stories about our middle school days. We discovered that although we grew up in different parts of the country (Atlanta and Dallas), the students in both our middle schools believed you could tell the quality of a necktie by the number of golden threads running through the lining inside.

When we graduated to high school and our parents began to equip us with nicer neckwear, we noticed that some expensive ties such as Hermes and older Brooks Brothers models did contain the much sought-after golden stripes, confirming our beliefs. However, other quality ties such as newer Brooks Brothers and Perry Ellis were stripeless.

Is there any basis for the belief that gold threads mean quality? Or have we been prying open perfectly good ties all these years for nothing? --Paul White, Wally Ingram, Austin, Texas

This is what guys talk about nowadays? Whatever happened to cars, girls, and sports? Contrary to common belief, the number of gold stripes in a tie's inner batting (the "interlining") does not indicate its quality. Had we applied our minds to the problem, we might have guessed this. You really think a manufacturer would use a lining that proclaimed to the world that it made junky ties?

Gold stripes indicate the lining (1) was made by the Ack-Ti Lining company of New York City, the world's largest maker of interlinings and holder of the gold stripe trademark, and (2) contains some wool. Wool's resiliency helps the tie hold its shape and shed wrinkles hanging in the closet overnight.

The number (as opposed to the mere presence) of gold threads indicates not the quality but the weight of the interlining. One stripe indicates the lightest material, six stripes the heaviest. Tie makers generally use light interlinings with heavy "shells" (the outer part of the tie) and heavy interlinings with light shells. This ensures that ties of varying materials all have roughly the same "hand," i.e., bulk or feel.

Years ago Ack-Ti was quite successful in promoting the idea that gold stripes wool quality, and Joe Citizen naturally but erroneously concluded the more stripes the better. Interlinings without gold threads aren't necessarily bad; they may simply have been made by a different manufacturer (or else they're one of Ack-Ti's nonwool varieties).

So now you're asking: If the gold stripes are no guide, what does indicate a tie's quality? Cecil cannot claim to have made a detailed study of the subject. However, his guess is that if the tie has little lights that spell out "SHRINERS," this is not a good sign. One might, I suppose, deduce that a tie with a light shell (silk, say) and a light interlining was on the cheesy side, but even this is not certain because of the trend toward ties with a lighter hand, which make a smaller knot. My advice is to check with the one font of wisdom that's never let you down. If Mom's in Vegas this weekend, you can always fall back on Esquire magazine. The March 1988 issue covers the topic in abundant detail.

Why is it that when traveling in a car with the air conditioning on, with the vent blowing directly on you, the "breeze" goes off you for a few seconds when you turn the corner? Is air subject to inertia? --T. Cichock, Arlington, Texas

Get hep, T.--of course it is. We can demonstrate this by means of the following charming experiment. Take a balloon filled with helium along next time you're out for a drive and put it on the passenger's side. Now SWERVE LEFT TO AVOID THAT OLD LADY, YOU IDIOT! Sorry, just trying to make a point. Normally when you turn sharply left, everything in the car is thrown to the right. When we swerved left just now, however, the helium balloon was thrown to the left, the opposite of what you'd expect.

How can this be? Credit the inertia of the air. When you swerved left, the air, like everything else in the car, wanted to keep going straight, so it got crammed into the right (passenger) side. The heavy air forced the light helium balloon out of the way, and the only place for said balloon to go was left. Interesting, no? Believe me, your eight-year-old will love it.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.

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