Knot Guilty

Hannibal is a meticulously designed show at every level, from the lighting to the presentation of the food, and of course to the clothing Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal Lecter wears. His choices in attire set him apart from those around him, an elite, elegantly assembled perfectionist in an era of business casual. Given how much thought is put into every aspect of the show’s presentation, it’s safe to assume that every suit and every accessory Hannibal dons possesses a thematic purpose. However, while Hannibal has been lauded for the smartness of his suiting, there is one thing about his attire that causes more controversy than his diet: the size of his tie knot.

Certain knots, like tie widths, drift in and out of style. Had Hannibal followed the original timeline, the show would be set in the late 1970s/early 1980s, and the size of Hannibal’s tie knot would be perfectly in line with pervading (if not entirely advisable) fashion trends of the day. But set as it is in the present day, the oversized knot seems to clash with the modern, slim cut trend in which we currently find ourselves. While ties themselves have recovered some of their girth after a few years of flirting with skinny and ultra-skinny and “excuse me, sir, but you seem to have a shoelace around your neck,” the knots themselves are, by and large still on the smaller, more reasonable side of things. So why does Hannibal, a man who exercises an almost fetishistic dedication to presentation, favor such a flamboyant flaunting of reserve? And which tie knot is that anyway?

Royal Lineage


To answer the second question first, the knot is a Full Windsor. Although commonly attributed to the famously well-appointed Prince Edward, the Duke of Windsor and briefly King Edward VIII of England, the knot was actually passed down to him by his grandfather, Edward VII, whose personal preference was for a large knot and so had his ties made from a thicker material than was usual. The Windsor Knot, then, was an effort to recreate the size of his knot but using a tie made from a more standard fabric thickness. While touring the United States in the 1930s, the immensely popular Prince Edward also popularized the knot, which many quickly came to emulate.

Edward remained king only briefly, being coroneted on January 20, 1936 and abdicating the throne on December 11 of that same year. It was a contentious reign, characterized by tense conflicts with Parliament and capped by Edward VIII’s intention to marry American Wallis Simpson, a twice-divorced socialite obviously without any royal ties. Convinced that Great Britain would not respect a queen who had been divorced two times, and whose past put Edward in moral conflict with the Church of England (of which the king is officially the head, and in which divorced persons are not supposed to remarry if their former spouse is still alive), a political row was brewing at a time when England, facing increased Nazi aggression, needed to remain unified.

If you accept the romantic angle, Edward gave up the throne rather than give up his true love for Simpson, resulting in his brother assuming the mantle of leadership under the name George VI while Edward had created for him the title of Duke of Windsor. The slightly more sinister version of the story, however, claims that his impending marriage to Wallis Simpson was mere icing on the cake, and that the true reason Edward was pushed into abdicating the throne was his pronounced respect for Hitler and feeling that England should throw its lot in with, rather than against, Germany during the Second World War.

Too Thick By Half


Whatever the case, the Windsor knot reigned for much longer than Edward VIII, and Nazi sympathies disregarded (the Duke himself claimed his respect was for Germany itself; not for Hitler or the Nazis), the Duke of Windsor was a very influential figure when it came to gentlemen’s style. The Windsor Knot was favored by no less than John Kennedy, and every well-dressed man from Fred Astaire to Cary Grant sported the knot. It became the official tie knot of the military. During the early 1960s, it was the go-to knot for businessmen, owing largely to its more polished, symmetrical look compared to the common four-in-hand knot (which was sometimes referred to as “the little boy’s knot”). Ian Fleming was famously dismissive of the knot:

“He was wearing an old reddish-brown tweed coat with his flannel trousers, a pale yellow Viyella summer shirt, and the dark blue and maroon zig-zagged tie of the Royal Artillery. It was tied with a Windsor knot. Bond mistrusted anyone who tied his tie with a Windsor knot. It showed too much vanity. It was often the mark of a cad.” — From Russia with Love, Chapter 25

But when it came time to translate James Bond to the big screen, Fleming’s tastes were themselves dismissed, and Sean Connery appears in Dr. No sporting the knot his creator so disliked. Perhaps Fleming, himself an iconoclast, identified the knot with the military in which he served but with which he so often found himself in conflict. Or perhaps he bought the idea that the Duke of Windsor was a Nazi sympathizer.

Fleming not withstanding (the man also adored Miller High Life beer, so not all of his opinions were above reproach), for some people who admired the symmetry and cleanliness of the Windsor Knot, there was an issue of size. The point of the Windsor was to show off the quality and pattern of the tie’s fabric, a somewhat ostentatious display that was not always in keeping with the drive to conserve materials for the war effort and later, with the more reserved “grey flannel suit” style of the early 1960s. A full Windsor also requires an unusually long tie to compensate for the amount of it that goes into the knot itself. Worn with a concealing waistcoat, the potential tie length faux-pas is obscured from view. On the flip side, for a man of modest stature, such as I happen to be, will find that using a Windsor knot prevents the opposite faux-pas, when the tie ends up too long and dangles past the top of one’s pants like some overly fanciful, complex, and thoroughly inadequate loincloth.

The substantial width of the Windsor also demands a wider collar, so that there is actually room for the knot. As menswear became slimmer fitting, and as it is slimmer fitting now, there may not always be room for a full Windsor knot. Enter my preferred knot, the half-Windsor, which maintains the symmetry of the more full-bodied variety but cuts the size of the knot roughly in half but skipping one of the loops.

The Psychology of Hannibal’s Knot


Granted, I’m not as bold as Hannibal Lecter, so Hannibal goes for the full version of the knot. So now we return to the first question: why would Hannibal favor a full Windsor knot? It’s a knot that draws attention to itself, as the very existence of this discussion demonstrates, and doesn’t Hannibal lead the sort of secret life where one would prefer not to draw attention to oneself? Well, yes, but therein lies the point: a full Windsor knot draws attention to itself, and away from the face of the person wearing it. It is what one notices, what one focuses on. It renders Hannibal himself somewhat shrouded behind the burly identity of his tie knot.

It also marks Hannibal as an iconoclast. In a world that favors a smaller tie knot and more casual appearance — a world for which Hannibal possesses no small amount of contempt — sporting a full Windsor is one more way Hannibal has to set himself apart from hoi polloi. Which might seem a bit of a contradiction, that the knot can both obscure Hannibal and set him apart. But that’s exactly what it does. It diverts your attention while also drawing it. The symmetry of the knot also communicate control, power, and precision. He wouldn’t be Hannibal Lecter if he wasn’t complicated.

In the books by Thomas Harris on which the various incarnation of the character is based, Hannibal Lecter is described as an aesthete, a life and style philosophy championed most famously by Oscar Wilde and related in many ways to dandyism. Hannibal creator Bryan Fuller said in an interview with Esquire UK, “For me, the Duke of Windsor is a huge fashion icon, so I wanted to make sure we had that classic gentleman represented on the show, because Lecter really is that devil in a blue suit.”