Bow Ties Are Cool

With apologies to, and no infringement intended of, Steven Moffat or the BBC – It’s a bow tie. Bow ties are cool.

We will cover neck ties at some point, of this I have no doubt, but today we are going to talk about bow ties. They had been dwindling and disappearing for quite a while, but they are making a comeback!  Here in Arkansas, bow ties have consistently remained on the fringes but never gone.  This is thanks, in part, to the Arkansas legal community who seems to wear them more frequently than others.  See, e.g., The Brothers Arnold; The Honorable Price Marshall.  This may also be a nod to some of the Southern traditions embedded in the culture here. Or maybe we stayed far enough behind the times that what is now retro is timed just right?

I try to wear a bow tie at least once a week.  Why?  Well, I am a dandy.  I am a lawyer.  I like to be just a little bit different from everyone else. A bow tie is still enough of an outlier to stand out and the fact that you will tie one means that you put more effort in than someone who didn’t. They also have a bit of pizzazz about them, as long as you don’t have a comically overlarge tie.

What sort of outfit should get the shot in the arm we call a bow tie?  I think if you have a bow tie, you really ought to have a jacket.  This could be a suit jacket or a blazer but it helps balance the look.  If you’ve got the gumption, you can try wearing one with a vest, but be careful you don’t look like a waiter!  Trust me, I’ve made that mistake. A cardigan will also work if you want something on the softer, more grandfatherly side of things. The bow tie doesn’t lengthen your body at all, so the jacket helps create the illusion of greater length on the body. Also, don’t use the very hip and fashionable extra-wide spread collar shirts. Just don’t with a bow tie.  Please.

Use color, too.  Unless you are going to a formal event with black tie, you will stand out by having a bow tie.  You may as well use this as a chance to add that pop of color or that splash to the outfit when wearing one.  If you are going to stand out a bit, go ahead and own it! Remember, precept number 3, have some confidence in what you choose to wear.

Downsides? They are harder to tie than straight ties.  It has been described as trying to tie your shoelaces on your neck. That description never worked for me either. They also can’t be loosened, only undone.  Unlike a neck tie, you can’t give yourself a little breathing room at the end of the day; the bow tie is either tied or it isn’t.  Bow ties can be tough to get a hang of and you need to wear it with confidence.  Without the little half smile that says” Of course I’m wearing a bow tie!” you may come across as trying too hard.

Okay, so now you have stepped up to plate and want to take a swing at a bow tie even after those negatives?  How do you do it? Here is a great step by step illustration culled from google. To be honest, I practiced, and practiced, and practiced, and had trouble with the last pass.  I could not get it right.  Finally, I found this video which had one little trick that made it all make sense to me. The part he calls “the most important part” is what I needed to hear so I could tie a bow tie any day.

Now that I can tie a bow tie on any day of the week without breaking a sweat, I won’t even think of wearing a pretied one.  There is something about the slight imperfection of the knot when you tie it yourself (sprezzatura is the Italian word for studied imperfections, especially for stylish purposes; you’ll see that phrase again) that is more appealing.  It demonstrates the effort, or at least demonstrates the ability to not be too perfect. And you can undo the tie and have a Tony Bennet-cool moment at the end of the night. If you want a little more information on the different cuts of a bow tie, check this link.

Bow ties are cool. And if you want to give them a try, I think this post will let you step up. Maybe we should designate Tuesday bow tie day and see who follows through?

  • Chris Vaughan

    Hey, I recognize those!  Nicely done on the knotting by the way.  Now convince everyone we can wear ascots and I’ll be content.

  • Bradley Jordan Phillips

    I would never be able to learn how to tie that.

  • Joel

    We can give it a try sometime! Once you get it, you just get it.

  • Ashli Ahrens

    Great job on the post! I love bow ties. I have a couple vintage pre-tied bow ties that came from my grandfather. I know they’re passé but I like seeing them in my scarf drawer. I would like to learn how to tie a bow tie; need to find an inexpensive one to learn on. Then the challenge would be to get Kelley to wear it. Thanks for the link.

  • Joel

    The video and the .pdf in the post should be all the instruction needed, but I can pop by sometime to try to help if need be. A good, inexpensive bowtie can be found at which has a great selection of $15 ties, bowties, and more.