It's not like it wasn't time for an adjustment. As recently as a couple of years ago, the standard American tie was essentially the wide, straight-cut variety that your algebra teacher wore. That model's slim-down began on the runways, driven by nostalgia for a time when men dressed better (for those not steeped in fashion-industry rhetoric, that time was the fifties). From there, it clambered to greater visibility on the necks of spindly rockers: Pete Doherty. Fabrizio Moretti. Ryan Adams. Then, like any epidemic, it spread—to Jude Law. Orlando Bloom. Zac Efron. Even Daniel Craig wasn't immune. At a recent movie premiere, Josh Hartnett had on a tie so borderline-bolo it looked like he was wearing an avant-garde collared shirt with a stripe down the front. The celebrities were followed by packs of knee-jerk adopters—mostly media types. And that's when things went very wrong.

"People like Thom Browne helped our eyes adjust to the smaller lapel, the tighter suit, and the skinny tie," says Tommy Fazio, men's fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman. "But I see some guys on the street now and it's like, 'He's wearing a shoestring!'"

"At some point, you have to figure out what works for you," says Band of Outsiders founder Scott Sternberg. "You have to say, 'This makes me look like a human pear' or 'This thing on my neck makes it look like my head's about to explode.' When my dad's friends request ties, they're getting three-inch tips.

I don't want them rocking skinny ties in Dayton, Ohio."

To be fair, it's not just middle-aged Midwesterners who can't pull off the anorexic tie. Contrary to what its ubiquity suggests, it doesn't look that good on most men.

"The guys wearing it in the beginning were the canaries in the coal mine," designer Michael Bastian says. "But then it just became 'The skinny tie equals cool.' If you've got the whole Joey Ramone thing going on, that's one thing, but if you have on a going-to-work suit, it doesn't work. You have to follow through on your swing."

Besides, anything taken to extremes eventually becomes unseemly. The chunky tie of a decade ago needed a sensible Weight Watchers plan, not an ephedrine-laced diet drug.

"It's really about proportion," Bastian notes. "The guys with the enormous lapels and the super-skinny ties—they didn't get the memo." And those are the guys you can blame when, inevitably, the fashion Tilt-A-Whirl tips and ties get fat again—faster than a no-carb fanatic on an Entenmann's binge—and the only ties you can find are nipple-spanning numbers in oversize plaid.