Apr 292011

Who among the following New Wave–era skinny tie wearers were Skinny Tie Poseurs and who were the Real Deal, Stylish Hepcats?

Real Deal, Stylish Hepcat or Opportunist?

If you don’t recall or are too young to have lived through it, the New Wave era of the late-1970s was when skinny ties were first brought back into hipster vogue by a generation of forward-thinking, backward-dressing musicians who weren’t comfortable with the wide ties of the late-1960s through mid-1970s. While The Clash sang about phony Beatlemania having beaten the dust, a number of their music-scene peers were embracing the skinny ties and suits that Brian Epstein and his tailor pushed as de rigueur among original British Invasion bands.

Goin' skinny!

It’s funny, to me, that The Beatles’ skinny tie beginnings carried so much stylistic clout because they were not skinny tie purists. Through the 1960s they would ride the vanguard of rock tie fashion: from skinny to bow to wide ties and eventually the cravat. Not that it really matters to this discussion, but as a boy I modeled my fashion sense along with each new development in the Fab Four’s Look, which explains why I’ve never moved past a deep preference for wide ties let alone developed much of a Look beyond what the band left me following their breakup.

In the mid-1970s, Noddy Holder, lead singer of Slade, exhausted the possibilities of the wide tie, ensuring a backlash from New Wave rockers, including some who probably cut their teeth on Slade’s bubblegum-rock rallying cries. David Bowie, contrary to what would be expected of a visionary, did not lead the skinny-tie revival. That distinction would probably go to eternally dapper Bryan Ferry, who kept it skinny even while going tartan. However, kinder, gentler New Wave, neo-Mod, and Power Pop bands of the late-’70s, like Blondie and The Knack rode this style the hardest and opened the floodgates to a generation of Skinny Tie Poseurs, a group of aspiring Corporate Rockers who figured it was high time to jump on the latest stylistic craze. Most notably, already established superstar Billy Joel used the skinny tie to reassert his Rock ‘n Roll Credibility. By the mid-1980s, faceless musicians in bands such as Pat Benetar and Quarterflash followed suit.

For every credible skinny tie band, such as The Cars, there were suspect skinny tie wearers, who could cite some sincere stylistic and musical identification with this trend in haberdashery. For instance, Robert Palmer, who turned off rock snobs with his massive mid-’80s success, had previously made a credible name for himself as a stylish R&B afficianado keeping pace a step or two behind the aforementioned Ferry. Or consider Huey Lewis, who quickly became an easy hipster joke as the News hit the top of the pops. Almost simultaneously, however, those same hipsters would be confronted with research into his humble Pub Rock roots, topped off by the future News’ My Aim Is True backing band credibility. Heavy stuff to work through in those formative rock-nerd years, but ultimately enriching.

I’ll let Townspeople work through these issues and see if we can’t determine which borderline skinny tie wearers were Real Deal, Stylish Hepcats or Skinny Tie Poseurs, and we’ll see what other skinny tie advocates and bandwagon jumpers are brought to the table. I look forward to your thoughts.


  61 Responses to “New Wave Skinny Tie Poseurs”

  1. Totally forgot about including black New Wave skinny tie wearers. Great calls on both artists!

    On a related note, I didn’t dig into the New Romantic scene. If memory serves, a lot of those guys pulled off the skinny tie. Can we say that those who wear the skinny tie as more of a ’40s homage, like Bryan Ferry, tend to get away with it without charges of posing?

  2. tonyola

    Hepcats: The Jam.

    Skinny-tie Poseur: Eddie Money. It could be argued that Eddie was a poseur about everything.


  3. Eddie Money is a great poseur call, although he was supposedly a cop before he was a rock star, so maybe it was all in a day’s work?

  4. BTW, like the livestock onstage with ZZ Top and Bob Dylan’s “motorcycle accident,” is there any truth to the old story that Eddie Money was a cop before making it as a rock star? Shouldn’t a quick scan of the first 10 pages of Google Images on “Eddie Money cop” show one old photo of him in uniform?

  5. tonyola

    “Money, 31, is the son, grandson and brother of policemen and was briefly a New York City police trainee himself before dropping out and joining SDS and the Berkeley street scene.”

    People Magazine, 6/9/80

    So he never officially was a cop, just a trainee for a short time. Poseur!

  6. tonyola, you ARE the man! Thanks for clearing that up.

  7. The gold standard for me is the Specials because they weren’t trying to mix in New Wave elements with their skinny ties.

    What makes their Look so awesome was that it really just came straight from the thrift stores and parent’s closets with no contemporary touches. Just a recreation of what I consider to be the golden age of menswear.

    Mod, I find your preference for wide shirts and collars to be at odds with your personality, given your self-described predilection for rules. I think you’ve even gone so far as to describe your self as a “tight-ass” on previous occasions. Are you secretly acting out through your clothing?

  8. BigSteve

    Rick Springfield


    Though I want to forgive him because Jessie’s Girl is such a great record.

  9. First of all, tremendous points about the Specials!

    Second, I’ve never shied away from my Inner Dandy – and I pick my spots to let him out and about. For instance, I’ve got my long-desired purple velvet jacket in my closet and lined up for this year’s office holiday party!

    As I noted, my sense of fashion progressed along with that of the Beatles. When they stopped being fashionable (eg, Harrison in the white suit and Christ beard or Lennon in that sleeveless New York City t-shirt), I was content to attempt to maintain the point to where they took me. And anyway, hippies and other freaks can have rules. You think Stephen Stills was easy to deal with just because he wore a pancho?

    In 1972, when my mom and grandmother first took me to visit my Italian relatives in the homeland, I bought a huge, silk, yellow-based paisley tie with some Italian designer’s name on the inside lining. It was so cool, so wide, and the knot seemed like the size of my adult fist! I was 9, mind you, so the couple of times I put it on – just to feel cool – it hung about as low as Noddy Holder’s knee-length tie.

    A year or two later the tie ended up in possession of my grandfather, who was more likely to have use for it. He was the world’s biggest baby when he was feeling a bit sick, especially if he had a headache. He had pretty long, shiny black hair (think Johnny Cash or Charlie Rich [in terms of length, not color] in the ’70s) and kick-ass sideburns. Now, keep that image in mind.

    When he got a headache he had this hilarious home remedy of soaking a tie in vinegar and wrapping it around his head. He’d make a point of coming out of the bedroom and stumbling through the house and moaning dramatically. My grandmother cut up on him ceaselessly. One day he must have worn out his go-to headache tie. He came down the hallway moaning and with his Frankenstein gait with my Italian designer tie soaked in vinegar and wrapped around his head. I wanted to cry, but luckily I was distracted by the laughter provided my grandmother, as she started up with, “My god, Joe, can’t you just take aspirin? You look like Cochise with that thing around your head!” That would get him back into the bedroom, where we didn’t have to hear him bellyache.

  10. BigSteve

    I assumed the Specials’ Look was not thrift store but trying to ape the early 60s ska era.

  11. tonyola

    Talk Talk – not a bad band at all but definitely poseurs with not only skinny ties, but suspenders, high-waisted pants, and tie clasps.

  12. Wow, that picture says all that ever needs to be said about why I checked out during the ’80s. “None more white,” to paraphrase Spinal Tap.

  13. tonyola

    Sparks for Stylish Hepcat with just a bit of Poseur for fun. Ron Mael rocked the skinny tie look even before punk/new-wave hit (this album cover is from 1976). Not only that, he wore a Hitler mustache and got away with it. Despite Russell Mael’s helium-pitched voice – definitely an acquired taste – Sparks was sometimes a pretty great group.

  14. Heartbreaking and funny. “You think Stephen Stills was easy to deal with just because he wore a pancho?” made me laugh out loud.

  15. misterioso

    tonyola, you seem like a bright guy, so, can you explain to me, once and for all, the deal with Sparks? After all these years, I still am far, far from getting it.

  16. misterioso

    Poseurs or real deal? You make the call. I can go either way on this one, since it seems to be largely a distinction without a difference.


  17. I had heard it was convenient that the thrift stores happened to be full of that stuff because it was out of fashion. But I’ve been known to make up history when necessary to back up my ramblings.

  18. That song kicks so much ass that it doesn’t matter.

  19. alexmagic

    I’m going to ignore this “just a trainee” nonesense – People probably wrote that because they didn’t want to blow Eddie Money’s cover and to protect his family, I bet – and speculate that Detective Money and his squad probably broke up some illegal skinny tie importing ring, and Eddie cracked open a box of ties, put it on and was all “Hey, look at me, I’m New Wave!” and they all had a good laugh, but then one of the cops stopped laughing and said “Geeze, Ed, that ain’t so bad a look on you…” and that’s how we got the Life For The Taking album cover.

  20. I was into the skinny tie era big time. They may fall into the poseurs category, but my favorite New Romantic band was ABC — who combined skinny ties with shiny and sparkly suits.


    ABC’s so-called “rock” album, Beauty Stab (a guilty pleasure of mine), tanked, so they went back to dance pop for the remainder of the 80s.

    Spandau Ballet’s Tony Hadley was still sporting a skinny tie at their big reunion show in London a couple of years ago.


    They were the first band I ever saw live that did the same song twice (“True”). Back in the day, they could get girls screaming (at least when I saw them at something called the Carlton Celebrity Room in the Twin Cities.) I remember our dates were supposed to meet us there . . . and in a role reversal . . . the girls showed up d-r-u-n-k.

  21. ladymisskirroyale

    Clarification – I believe that the 40’s was the era of the wide (often short) tie, not the skinny tie.

  22. ladymisskirroyale

    Patty Smith on the cover of “Horses” is sporting a mean skinny tie. I’d call her the real deal.

  23. tonyola

    They were early punchy power-pop with tuneful songs and amusing lyrics. As I said, Russell’s voice might be hard for some to take, but get past that and you’ll find delightful tunes. They were at their best through Kimono My House and Propaganda. After that, they got desperate and went through a try-anything-once mentality with mixed results. Frankly, I don’t see how anyone who likes Roy Wood and the Move can categorically reject Sparks. To me, they’re both great examples of rock-as-artifice. But then again, I might be more tolerant of glam and theatrical rock than you.


  24. The underrated Garland Jeffreys was a skinny tie guy too. Not a poseur — love the man.


  25. ladymisskirroyale

    Don’t fashions come back around every 20 years or so? Then where does that leave more current skinny tie scenesters, such as Franz Ferdinand? Whereas I like the look, I would put them in them in with the poseurs.

  26. tonyola

    ABC’s first album (Lexicon of Love) is absolutely wonderful in my book – one of the very best synth-pop records ever. They never matched it afterwards.

  27. tonyola

    That’s right. What really brought narrow ties into fashion were French and Italian films of the 1950s.

  28. misterioso

    Thanks. I should say that I don’t categorically reject them, I just find them bewildering and their appeal elusive. But, just between us, to a certain extent I feel the same way about Roy Wood and the Move.

  29. misterioso

    It is a classic of its kind. (That is, of Elvis Costello knock-offs.) No, really, I quite like it.

  30. In an attempt to get their fan base to join Skinny Tie Nation, The Members included with their “1980 – The Choice is Yours” album an actual skinny black tie with the “The Members” running down its length. I still have it, and feature it in my wardrobe just for a larf.

    Who’ll be the first band to include a free cravat?

  31. misterioso and tonyola, thank you for conducting this dialog. As the bright and articulate tonyola surely has sussed out, I too am bewildered by Sparks – and I really like The Move and Roy Wood’s Boulders! Go figure. I’ve tried Sparks a few times over the years and the voice doesn’t bother me. I love Feargal Sharkey with The Undertones and think Freddie Mercury is amazing despite the fact that I don’t really like Queen. With Sparks I’ve felt like I don’t get quite enough loose rocking (ie, Why can’t they be be a little more like Roxy Music and blow my mind with their music despite the artifice and humor?) and I don’t get quite enough pure pop (ie, Why can’t they be more like Todd Rundgren and deliver a heartfelt, toe-tapping song now and then?). They fall into the same category, for me, as The Tubes and 10cc. I wish that just one time they sounded like they gave a shit about something/anything. I think the word that describes their sole perspective and my main stumbling block is “arch.”

  32. Good call, by the way, on the band’s groundbreaking employment of the skinny tie. And, man, that photo is frightening. The whole “sexually charged brothers” thing (or sisters, for that matter) makes me feel icky.

  33. I think it’s a strong effort at real-deal wear, along the lines of The Knack. It won’t get them beyond the velvet rope of rock hipsterdom, but at least the hipsters will spot them just beyond the back room and nod in approval at the fact that they shopped at the right store.

  34. OK, thanks for the correction!

  35. I was never a fan of those New Romantic bands, but Lexicon of Love was one of the easiest “girl” albums (ie, albums I only heard in the company of a girl I liked) to enjoy, and that “True” song is solid. Now I’m reminded of E. Pluribus Gergely’s excellent point that the entire catalog of The Style Council couldn’t hold a candle to the three hits songs by Culture Club…

  36. I’m glad you brought this up. Can third-generation ANYTHING be good (not including third-generation citizens of a particular country, of course)? I haven’t given this much thought, but my sense is that based on the fact that I don’t go for third-generation skinny tie bands, third-generation ska, and third-generation neo-hippies, I might suggest a “one-and-done” rule for all nostalgic revivals.

  37. Now THAT’S the kind of insight we expect in the Halls of Rock!

  38. ladymisskirroyale

    But if so, that would leave out The Jam, Blondie, the Specials, Madness, Wire, Buzzcocks, most of the 2-Tone label, Joy Division…all of whom fit the Second Generation moniker.

  39. ladymisskirroyale

    The skinny tie crisp-n-clean-retro look was forever ruined by putting some piano keys down the length of the tie. Piano Keys Ties are instant poseur material.

  40. Seems like Paul McCartney might have been a Sparks fan. Remember the 1980 “Coming Up” video where Paul and Linda play all the musicians and singers on a stage? Paul clearly parodies Ron Mael in the video.

    I have to confess that I thought I was replying to you instead of misterioso. Apologies to both of you guys. I confess that I often like rock that is arch and smart-alecky. In fact, I sometimes prefer those qualities to faked authenticity and “realness”. At least the smart-alecks are honest about what they do.

  41. trigmogigmo

    I’m not sure how to categorize The Romantics on the skinny tie poseur scale. Horrible red leather suits with different colored skinny ties on their album cover.


    But from these two videos of their (only?) two hits, they wear the skinny ties well in the first one. The second video loses the ties but veers towards hairspray and back to shiny leather. Good songs, though!


    I think it comes down to liking the music or not. Like it and your skinny ties work. Hate it and your skinny ties are ridiculous!

  42. trigmogigmo

    Brrr. It creeps me out just to think about those ties. What’s worse, a keyboard player wearing one, or a non-keyboard player (fan) wearing one? Wilson choice.

  43. He was great in “Californication” a season or two back.

  44. tonyola

    The Romantics might have started out as Skinny-tie Hepcats but they didn’t hesitate in the least to become Poseurs in order to stay on the charts. Look how quickly they dumped their rough garage-roots rock in favor of the slick and soulless big-hair arena pop of “Talking In Your Sleep”.

  45. No, second-generation acts qualify as the “one-and-done” chance to revive a genre. It’s third-gen that go too far.

  46. Does the bolo tie still have any credibility left in music, or is it the skinny tie of country music? I can slap on a skinny tie, wide tie, bow tie, or ascot and still feel comfortable. I put on a bolo tie, and I want to catch myself in an alley outside with a sock filled with nickels.

  47. BigSteve

    I don’t know, I think Talking in Your Sleep is a terrific record. What I Like About You as well. I think they, along with Rick Springfield, illustrate the concept that being a poseur is not a bar to making great records. It might even help. Authenticity is a pose too after all.

  48. ladymisskirroyale

    And why do jazz musicians wear them so much?

  49. ladymisskirroyale

    Only if the clasp has a scorpion or tarantula set in it.

  50. hrrundivbakshi

    Comment of the week!

  51. hrrundivbakshi

    I once again quote Townsman Mwall: “No trend is definitey a trend… BUT IT’S THE BEST FUCKING TREND THERE IS!”

  52. I find that to be a highly credible scenario, & even if that isn’t what happened – like Keef’s tale of Muddy Waters being in the middle of painting the Chess Studio ceiling when they first met – it’s now the story I’m going with whenever the subject arises.

  53. Indeed.

  54. I think it’s time mention was made of Mr. Wazmo Nariz, oddball new wave performer, Stiff & I.R.S./Illegal recording artist, and sole champion, as far as I’m aware, of the “two tie” look (and big, wide polyester ties, at that). Can’t seem to find any videos of him in action (which is a shame, because he was quite the spectacle), though there are a few songs on YouTube. Here are a couple of photos of the man (& yes, he sported this look on stage, not just for album cover shoots):



    And here’s some more info: http://punkdatabase.com/wiki/Wazmo_Nariz

    Skinny ties? Pffft!

  55. I have the Stiff box set and I don’t think Wazmo rated enough to get a song included. Poor Wazmo.

    Good gimmick, though. Time to try wearing a tie as a belt, and a belt as a tie for attention.

  56. I had a track or two by him on an old, long gone, gatefold I.R.S. compilation…I had no memory of what he sounded like on that, but the gimmick certainly stayed with me.

    Maybe add wearing gloves on your feet & a nice pair of wingtips on your hands to that ensemble, and you’d really have something….not sure what, but it would be “something”.

  57. ladymisskirroyale

    In the 5/2/2011 issue of the New Yorker: “The singer-songwriter Marshall Crenshaw, who cut his teeth in the skinny-tied era of New Wave, is a tirelessly versatile musician.” Hmmm – in my 5 minute review of YouTube videos, Crenshaw seemed to go out of his way to not wear a tie, let alone a skinny one. The exception being his role as Buddy Holly in “La Bamba.”
    I don’t know what this all means, but I found it interesting.

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