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Above the winding din of cocktail chatter closing down the Water Club on the East River in Manhattan, an NYPD detective in a light blue tie and a gray suit barely containing bulging biceps and quads is leading Police Commissioner Ray Kelly up a dark back staircase to the restaurant’s empty roof.
When Kelly emerges onto the dimly lit deck he points to an NYPD helicopter descending onto a helipad a few blocks farther up. “That’s one of ours,” he says over the hum of its propellers. “But they don’t even know we’re here,” adds the detective.
And they would not be easy to spot. Standing along the railing in a charcoal Martin Greenfield hand-tailored suit against the backdrop of lights speckling the skyline and the Queensboro Bridge—now the Ed Koch Bridge, whose new name is the cause célèbre that night—the only peep of bright is Kelly’s Charvet tie, so pink it practically reflects the faraway Pepsi-Cola sign.
For Kelly, ties are more than just a neck piece, and his favorite kind, Charvet, more than just a tie. “A tie is the only true way men can make some sort of statement,” he says. “I can tell when someone’s wearing Charvet from a distance—even dark colors stand out.”
And what about the Windsor knot? “You knew about the Windsor?” he asks. It is Kelly’s staple knot, one he got from his father, who was always clothes-conscious. “I think an awareness of quality clothing gives you a better frame of mind, and my father always said that,” says Kelly.
He will not take credit, but under his watch the police department’s dress has improved.
“Detectives are looking better than ever before,” he admits. Do people work harder when they dress better? “I think they feel better and that probably makes them work better,” he says.
If there is anything he could change about NYPD attire it is its weather-driven variations, such as the choice between a duty jacket, a short-sleeve shirt and a long-sleeve turtleneck. “I’d like to see a more consistent uniform,” he says.
Kelly’s own style might appear unchanged, but he says it has evolved from his David Dinkins days. “I think my own personal tastes have refined and I’ve become more discerning.” Politicians and public figures have a “decorum requirement,” he says. “You should be dignified and discreet.”
He admires President Obama’s style, mostly because of his physical condition. “He’s also a Charvet tie wearer, not all the time, but he does wear Charvet ties,” says Kelly. He finds fitness as important as fashion and does cardio and weights most mornings, when he trades in Charvet and Brioni for hoodies and sweats.
“I’m a big hoodie fan,” he says. “Hoodies are on both sides of the fence now.” Today his hoodies are relegated to the gym. “Now it is more speaking events with ties than wrestling with somebody in the good old days,” he says. But tie or no tie, “we will jump out of a car if something happens.”