Style

Justin Mikita of Tie The Knot: Style in Real Life

This lawyer-turned-activist looks stylish on both coasts

By Megan Collins | Last Updated: May 27 2020

I first met Justin Mikita on a confetti-strewn dance floor in a Las Vegas nightclub. Exact time unclear, but definitely past my bedtime.

The lawyer-turned-activist was in town repping Tie the Knot, the equality-promoting bow tie collaboration with Chicago-based The Tie Bar that Justin Mikita co-founded with his husband; actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson, at a retail trade show I was also in town attending. A mutual friend shout-introduced us near the deejay stand, we smiled through the strobe lights, then got back to singing along to The Weeknd at the top of our lungs.

We met up again recently – in daylight – to discuss Tie the Knot’s latest designer collaboration, bringing bedding to the male masses, and our shared retail resumés.

Below, a style profile of lawyer, activist, and entrepreneur, Justin Mikita:

You grew up in southern California. Were you that kid in Billabong, OP, all those surfer brands?

I went through all of it. I went through Billabong, Pac Sun, high school was Abercrombie, double polos –

Did you pop them?

Yes!

Did you work at Abercrombie? Because I worked there in high school.

I worked at Hollister. I actually preferred it because it was less… It just felt a little less intense. When you walked into Hollister it was a little more laid back.

We didn’t get Hollister until later, and it was very close to the same thing, but there was a feeling of “This isn’t for kids in Wisconsin,” which is where I was.

Totally. And I do really love watching the evolution of Abercrombie now, and I love that they’re trying so hard to get to a new place.

But I mean Abercrombie was *it* when I was in high school. I grew up in San Fernando valley which is a bit north of LA – it’s a very suburban city, and the closest mall was like 45 minutes away, and the shops that we had were limited.

45 minutes to the mall?

Yeah, it was a hustle. And then finally we got a mall in our city after I left and moved to New York City, but you make do with what you’ve got. 

But high school is a challenging time, and I think even if I had more options, I probably would have maintained a similar aesthetic to what was around me, just to conform a little bit. I was also coming out, and I’m a cancer survivor – I had cancer when I was 14 – so there were just a lot of transitions for me in high school, so that period was rough.

College was when I really got to start playing with fashion and learn to come into my own and bought my own clothes and had the money – I was working – so I could actually do my own shopping.

How did that go?

I loved it. I still love it. I have a hard time buying clothes online, because I feel like it’s such a tactile experience. You have to go to the store. I don’t always want to try stuff on, but I just want to at least see it. Feel it, touch it.

My favorite thing is discovering new stores. I was just in Chicago and – I wish I could remember the name of the street – we found this cool little street with all of these little ‘mom and pop’ shops. The small brands are my favorite; I love to find little pieces in different shops.

It gives you the opportunity to mix and match, you know what I mean? To be able to go and have sort of standard pieces from different places, and pull them all together in a way that you’re excited about. It’s fun.

You have such an East Coast vibe about you. Is it just because of the dark hair? You don’t give off a surfer vibe…

Yeah, I know – I don’t necessarily fit into beach culture, per say, so maybe that’s why. I love New York, I mean there’s nothing better than this.

(Justin Mikita and husband Jesse Tyler Ferguson, both in Tie the Knot bow ties)

You got married here, right?

Yeah, it wasn’t legal in California when I got married. So that’s why, but also I loved New York and my husband, he moved from Albuquerque to New York at 17, and spent 15 years here, so he’s a New Yorker…he considers himself a New Yorker.

Do you consider him a New Yorker? Because the way you said that sounded like you put that in quotes… (laughter) “Oh, that’s just something he says to people..”

Well at this point he’s been in LA for as long as he’s been in New York so I don’t know what he is now… he conforms to whichever city. But all of his friends are here and his roots are here, that imperative time of your life where you’re finding yourself, starting college, that was here for him. So he’s a New Yorker.

Do you dress differently there versus when you’re here?

Of course. There’s something to be said for style in LA for sure, but when you’re in LA, you hop in your car and you’re going to the grocery store or you’re running an errand, you just throw something on and make it work. When you’re here in New York, you actually encounter people.

I think people in New York just try harder, which is so much more fun. There’s nothing more inspiring than walking around any given neighborhood in New York, just checking people out – people try. And anything from like, super casual to bankers, to business suits, whatever – you get such diversity.

In LA, it’s a lot of Lululemon. Which is cozy, and it happens here on Sundays – “Lululemon Sundays” I call it. We walk around and everyone’s in Lululemon carrying a green juice.

You travel so much; how do you maintain a semblance of normalcy? Do you keep clothes at the ready in a suitcase?

Well I just got a place here, which is nice, so I have a load of clothes here, and so I can actually get on the plane from LA with my briefcase, and that’s it. I have my seasonal stuff here because LA unfortunately doesn’t really see too many seasons. So I have my heavy sweaters, and that’s great.

But yeah, when we travel it’s hard because when you travel – for instance, this week I’m going from New York to DC to LA – and you want to try and pack but I hate planning outfits, I’m not the person that will lay out an outfit.

I respect those people!

I do too, I wish I could be! I’m the other person that needs to have seven options, and then when I get there I’ll figure it out, which drives my husband crazy. But it’s one of those things where I have my standards. 

Do you have a uniform?

My Rag & Bone denim, with a Feathers scoop tee – a regular crew neck. I’m tall, so I love the long shirt trend. It feels like I’m just wearing a regular shirt. A regular shirt is like a midriff on me, so I’m excited that shirts are longer. And Nike’s.

On the formal side of things, I’ve been wearing suits for a long time and because of the industry I’m a part of and that Jesse’s in I love getting dressed up and love putting a suit and tie on, but I’ve gotten so casual as I’ve gotten older. If I can just chill out in a t-shirt and jeans, it’s my favorite.

What would you tell guys who have to conform to a more corporate office dress code? 

I think a well-fitting suit is key. I love bow ties; I think they’re a great expression of individuality, and that’s why we used it as a way to support marriage equality with Tie the Knot, because we felt that it was something super subtle but still an individualized expression – you can be loud, you can be proud, but not wearing a big “Equality” t-shirt. They’re subtle but still chic and stylish.

So neckwear is key, though I love the invisible tie look. It’s such a cool trend, though my friends at The Tie Bar would kill me for saying that! But there’s nothing better than a well-fitted suit. When you see a well-fitted suit walking down the street it’s like “That is IT, that’s IT.”

I have so many H&M suits. I have this one H&M suit that I get so many compliments on it, and I’ve had it for six years. I can’t give it up because it looks like Burberry. I didn’t even have to have it tailored; it actually fit off the rack!

But now when I go to Topman or I’ll go to J.Crew and get a really nice suit but I always get the jacket cinched just a little because that’s the important part.

As long as it fits in the shoulder, everything else can be adjusted.

I think guys are starting to realize how easy it is to be stylish without being intimidated. Whether it’s a fitted suit or grooming products, and hopefully with bedding (Justin  Mikita co-founded men’s bedding company, Thread Experiment

). That’s what this whole industry is – what you’re doing – teaching guys that it’s okay to care a little bit, and not feel intimidated.

I like to say that it feels like we’re finally moving past the “Men don’t ask for directions” era.

It’s okay to be stylish and not feel like you’re… I feel like it’s okay to be stylish and straight is what I’m trying to say.

Definitely. We’ve been well past the “metrosexual” era for a while, but the fact that we even still have to say that, it’s exhausting but true.

And I mean it was always that way, metrosexual was almost a derogatory term, like why is there an in-between? There shouldn’t be. Just because you dress well doesn’t mean you’re gay, you just care.

And, really, it’s so easy to up your game. You need a good pair of denim, and some good tennis shoes, you can do it very minimally, you don’t have to have racks of clothing to do it, because you can always mix and match.

Let’s talk about Thread Experiment, your new men’s bedding company.

So Greg Shugar, the founder of The Tie Bar, who I worked closely with and still do, he sold the company and then moved to Florida and just retired and was playing tennis and I called him one day and was like “What are you going to do next?” and he said “Nothing!” 

I said, “If you ever come up with an idea or want to do another dot-com I would love to do it with you.” Because we had partnered so closely together on Tie the Knot, and it was so successful and continues to be successful, and that was sort of me dipping my toe into design.

Did you think you would have a knack for that?

I mean, well, designing bow ties is such an easy way in, because it’s such a tiny piece of real estate, you can’t really screw it up.

And I knew the quality was good so I could be super bold with them, like if a tie didn’t work for everyone, it was okay, because there was an audience for it somewhere.

So not long after, Greg called me and he says “What about men’s bedding?” We talked about it for a while and it was really interesting and something I knew nothing about.

{The fall Tie The Knot collection}

And in terms of design, a lot of what’s out there is either frills and floral for women, or dark paisley meant for dudes, and nothing in between.

Yeah, there’s no in between, and no one markets to men. No one is teaching men about bedding.

It took about 18 months to develop, and it was a learning curve – we were all learning about bedding, about thread count, about percale vs. sateen and all sorts of weaves and how it’s made, you know all those things where I’m like, This is interesting for me but it’s something we’re going to have to teach men.

We keep saying “This isn’t a home goods brand, it’s a lifestyle brand.” I mean, you spend half your life in your bed, and the most important things you do happen in your bed, so why do you care so much about what you look like on the street, and not care what your bed looks like?

Did you ever see yourself being so entrepreneurial when you were in law school?

I have always been this way. When I was younger, I was always thinking of business ideas and I taught myself how to do web design when I was sick with cancer, and I was actually designing websites for clients, because I was so bored and I had nothing to do and was being homeschooled. So I’ve always had this knack for making a buck.

But it’s sweet that you call me entrepreneurial because the fact is Thread Experiment is the first one that’s just for profit. I mean, Tie the Knot, which I’m so super proud of, has made over half a million dollars, but that’s all for marriage equality, and now that we have marriage in all 50 states, we can do more for LGBT issues around the world. I love activism – I’ve been working on marriage since prop 8 passed in California, I’m a bleeding heart over a lot of issues – so to be able to do something that’s for-profit for once is kind of fun and invigorating. But we do still have the activism side because we’re doing a One for One, which I’m proud of. 

Is there a part of you that, since you said you’re finally doing something to “make a buck” feels like you’re leaving behind activism or turning your back on it?

Yeah, its hard – that’s why I included the One for One, because when I sat with – we have another partner, another Greg – I call them the Gregs – I said, every company, in order to be successful now, you have to have a piece of your company that gives back in some respect, it’s just expected.

I mean it’s such a competitive market, at least for me as a consumer. It’s a no brainer; it’s something we can do as a business that costs us little to no revenue and helps with marketing but also is fulfilling my desire to give back in some way. And that’s my favorite part, we just did a giving trip where we of course partnered with a LGBT center in Los Angeles which is the largest drop-in homeless center, and then I went over with a bunch of sets of sheets, and it was super cool because I toured the center and got to see some of the kids there. Who wouldn’t want to do that? Like that’s the stuff that really makes me thrive, so if I can continue to do that in my life, I will. I have to.

What’s next? Do you want to expand?

Yeah, I think we’ll expand. The goal is to expand Thread Experiment to include some other categories and we have new stuff coming out soon… I’m not going to say I’ll never design menswear but that’s a long way down the road. Right now I just love buying it, being a consumer of it, and wearing it. That seems like a whole other beast that I’m not yet ready to tackle.

I think that’s a perfect place to end it, though first I want to ask you: you mentioned in a Coveteur article that you consider your style to be a mix of Tom Ford and stylist Brad Goreski – does that still hold true? I don’t think either of them would wear a sleeveless denim vest, which I love by the way.

That’s true, that’s so funny, that was a while ago. I think it’s changed now. Who would my style icon be now? It’s so hard to say. I want to say Kanye West? He’s so casual.

He loves a long tunic tee, haha. I could see you in the Boosts.

Yeah, I got a pair! I know. I got a pair for my birthday. I’ve been talking about them non-stop.

I kind of hate myself for how much I want them.

I know I hate myself too that’s why I cannot say he’s my style icon!

Do they feel good?

They actually do, they’re so comfortable. In fact, Jesse actually calls these Nikes my “stand in” Boosts because I got them before I got the Boosts but I’m scared to wear them because I’m scared to ruin them.

You just pad around the house in them, only where there’s carpeting.

But wow, I don’t know. Hmm, I’m infatuated with the men’s bloggers these days.

Well we have a friend in common, Justin Livingston from Scout Sixteen!

Yeah, he’s my favorite in terms of aesthetic, but I feel like I tend to be a little more formal than him. But I’m not like an Adam Gallagher; Adam’s always super buttoned-up, which I also love. But I think instagram has also paved the way for style icons that are just people. Because they’re really dressing that way, and we get to see them on a daily basis in these outfits that are super cool and chic and inspiring on the streets. That’s what I look up to – street style.

I like Moti too, he’s very buttoned-up. You know who I actually love a lot in terms of bloggers? The Brothers & Craft guys. They’re obviously a little more into cowboy hats and what not, which I don’t necessarily get into, but they’re definitely a little more casual in their style and I love their style.

Everyone pushes it when they have a personal style blog; like, are you actually going to the grocery store in that? But it’s great for inspiration – you know, Hey, I could wear that whole outfit without that hat. And that’s worthwhile.

I need a new celebrity style icon. It’s crazy that I totally cannot think of someone.

I actually don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, I mean maybe that you’re confident about your style to not need to hang your hat on someone else’s look.

I think that times have changed, that you don’t need a celebrity style icon because you’re always seeing these stylish guys on Instagram and so you relate to them more, you know?

Justin Mikita’s Style Profile

My style in three words (or less!)

Hipster Lite 

My go-to staple piece for the fall

My Yeezys 

Favorite “splurge” clothing brand/item

My new Billy Reid Ombre Sweater/Jacket (obsessed)

Favorite “steal” clothing brand/item

My fall herringbone bow from The Tie Bar

A man’s style is important because…

It is a reflection of his personality and desire to succeed (in everything: liberty, life, love, the pursuit of happiness…). It’s true when they say “dress for success”.

Tell me:

How to you stay comfortable, but still confident in your personal style?

Want more stylish inspiration? See how SG pals Adam Quirk, Peter Cortez, Jim SnedikerDavid Wolfe, and Jason Hammonds look good in real life