It wasn’t until the third episode of Seinfeld that Jerry Seinfeld really found his stride. His sartorial stride, that is. Because it was in this early episode from 1990, entitled “The Stakeout,” that he debuted what was to be the first in a long line of directional, weird (and sometimes just plain wrong) ties in the stand-up segments that opened the show. While Seinfeld changed the face of mainstream comedy with his eponymous show, famously “about nothing,” and made himself one of the wealthiest men in show business in the process, his daring, avant-garde neckwear is not something for which he has been given due credit. It’s time to rectify that, and take another look at Jerry’s ties.
The ties only ever appeared in these short stand-up sections, lasting less than a minute. Jerry the comedian was far more dapper, in his own coiffed and blazered way, and definitely more sartorially adventurous than Jerry the character. (The character’s wardrobe did become a signature uniform in its right too, with the tight jeans, button-down shirts, chunky Breitling, and white Nikes.) Although the show ran for nine seasons, culminating in the final episode in May 1998, which is said to have been watched by 76 million viewers (making it the third most watched finale in TV history behind those of M*A*S*H and Cheers), Jerry only really cut loose with the ties from season one until season four. By season five and six he was opting for more subdued patterns paired with smarter blazers, and by season eight the stand-up section had disappeared from the show entirely. Incidentally, the year before the show ended, in a nice gesture, Seinfeld himself designed a tie together with his nephew Joshua, which sold in aid of Save the Children.
Various costume supervisors worked on the shows over different seasons of the tie’s heyday – Jane Ruhm on season one, Llandys Williams on season two, and Marie Burk on season three. Reached at her home in Los Angeles, Marie Burk, responsible for arguably the most daring and dazzling ties from the show’s whole run, recalled, “Jerry’s ties came from an independent vendor, and were avant-garde compared to the norm at that time. That particular style was suggested by me for the very reason that it caught the viewer’s eye. Different, and a separation from the norm.” Asked about the difference between Jerry himself and Jerry the character, Marie replied, “As far as Jerry wearing the ties during an episode … well, it wasn’t warranted or in keeping with the script. The tie from the standup was much too hip for the character that Jerry portrayed.”
Sadly, efforts to find out which visionary designers and labels were originally responsible for the tie designs came to nothing – even Marie was unable to help: “I don’t recall the designer of the ties, but they were a conversation piece. I retired recently and finally let go of all my supplies and donated them to our local university costume department.” A lucky Californian drama student is going to find a sartorial goldmine at some point soon. One can only hope that Seinfeld himself has kept the ties he wore; as well as being a fascinating fashion statement from the 90s, they’re an unsung, integral part of the comedy icon’s character. A man with one of the largest collections of rare Porsches in the world, housed in a custom-built, climate-controlled garage on the Upper West Side, must surely have an extra rack in the wardrobe of his penthouse apartment for storing such prized accessories.
JAMES REID is the photography director of Wallpaper*.