“Hey, Dad likes horse racing — right?” (Toby Melville/Reuters)

Last-minute Father’s Day shopping brings out the worst in all of us. Or rather, the worst judgment. At least, when it comes to neckties.

Don’t fool yourself: That keyboard tie you bought Dad last year — because Dad loves music, right? — is languishing in the back of the closet with his tight jeans from the ’80s. And yet you just bought him a new one with geometric equations swirling around rhombuses. Because dads love math?

Ties have been the go-to dad gift since President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first Father’s Day proclamation in 1966. And once again this Sunday, good ties and bad, from Snoopy-adorned polyester to silk Hermès, will be gifted across the country as a token of love to the man who gave us life.

Father’s Day spending is expected to top $12.7 billion, according to the National Retail Federation, and nearly 40 percent of that will go toward apparel. A tie is the easy choice when deciding what to give a person who is notoriously hard to shop for.

“It’s one-size-fits-all, and it’s relatively affordable,” says Kyle Vucko, co-founder of online menswear company Indochino. And unlike, say, a pair of kooky socks, a colorful tie can’t be missed. “The tie is the one thing everybody sees,” he says.

A tie is like a wearable billboard advertising your personality. “It’s the one thing that gives you license to be colorful explicitly,” Vucko says.

Brightly hued cloth has been adding character to men’s necks for centuries. Mark-Evan Blackman, a professor in the Fashion Institute of Technology’s menswear design program, says the modern tie can be traced to the 1600s, when Croatian mercenaries wore different colored scarves to indicate their rank.

Ties as we know them today were popularized in the late 1800s and mass-produced starting in the 1920s. For years, their unspoken purpose was as a status marker. “You dressed in a manner that was equivalent to your professional status,” Blackman says. “If you’re a plumber, you’re not wearing a tie.”

So to reward our dads with a tie is a gift fraught with symbolism, one that suggests success in manhood as well as fatherhood — “this bringing-home-the-bacon idea,” says Monica Sklar, an adjunct professor in the University of Minnesota’s design and apparel studies department. It is a gift with an aspirational push to it, in the spirit of “dress for the job you want.” Sklar notes that wearing nicer clothes to work can affect your mentality and productivity. These ties, then, seem to be urging Dad to work harder.


A Massachusetts inmate adjusts his tie in preparation for life outside. Some experts say a suit and tie imbue a man with confidence he needs for the workplace. (Elise Amendola/AP)

“Hey, Dad, is this a boring enough tie for you?” A supporter of the U.K. Independence Party accessorizes his neckwear with a UKIP pin. (Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg News)

If we look up to our dads as protectors and providers, then a tie makes sense as a gift. So we may be undercutting this message with the all-novelty neckwear — no matter how epic that soaring bald eagle looks against the swath of stars and stripes.

And guess what? Your dad probably doesn’t want a tie anyway, says David Evans, who runs Grey Fox, a London fashion blog for men over 40. Beyond the fact that most Father’s Day ties are probably bought last-minute in lieu of shelling out for a nice grill, a tie is a surprisingly easy thing to get wrong. “It is such an individual thing in terms of color and style,” Evans wrote in an e-mail.

The more personality and propriety imbued in that tie, the trickier, says Mark Anthony Green, an associate editor at GQ. “It’s one of the most common gifts, but it’s actually one of the most difficult things to pull off.” But hey, might as well go for it, he says — if a man wears anything you bought him, it is a compliment to your gift-giving abilities.

Sim Khan, president and creator of the Washington-based custom suit-maker Brimble & Clark, agrees that it’s still okay to get your dad a tie. Just make sure it is a good one.

The biggest mistake is trying to buy your dad a tie you think he would pick out himself. “Most dads are the worst judge of what they should be wearing,” Khan says. “The child should say, ‘Hey, Dad, I love you enough to get you a tie that will make you look better than you know how to dress yourself.’ ”