Column: Fashion Forward
Learning To Bow To The Bow Tie
Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 23:01
For many centuries, men have been adorning their necks with different shapes, sizes, types, patterns, and colors of fabrics. Originating in 17th-century Croatia, the cravat is the predecessor of all modern-day neck apparel and was a Croatian innovation adopted by the French. Over the course of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, the cravat morphed and changed into the recognizable neckwear of today. But this column is not about your ordinary, run of the mill, four-in-hand long tie. Rather, I would like to praise the virtues of the oft-unsung bow tie.
While the exact sequence of changes to the cravat that led to the modern bow tie is unknown, we do know that the bow tie emerged in the 19th century as a popular neckwear choice for men. However, in the 20th century, one can see the neckwear trend move towards long ties and, by the second half of the century, bow ties faded from everyday usage in the business and political worlds.
This is not to say that bow ties disappeared entirely. The realm in which they have always held a preeminent position of sartorial superiority is that of formal dress. Here, I speak of the quintessential James Bond look—tuxedo jacket and trousers, pleated white shirt, cummerbund or waistcoat, and black bow tie. While the ’60s and ’70s saw some abhorrent innovations in the traditional tuxedo, the black bow tie was always and still remains the standard choice of neckwear for men’s formal dress.
Although the bow tie has remained standard in the realm of formalwear, there has been a decline since its early 20th century heyday in day-to-day usage. However, it has not altogether disappeared, but rather occupies certain niche spheres.
Most commonly, the bow tie is associated with academic look. By this, I mean tweed coat with suede elbow patches, slightly frayed pants, sweater vest, and bow tie. While most students reading this column will scoff, as they notice their young professor walk into the room wearing jeans and a button-down, this attire, though dated, can be seen around campus. I have seen a number of faculty members and administrators wearing bow ties, including (but not limited to) Karl Bell and Hiroshi Nakazato. Though it is certainly true that this academic style has declined on the modern day college campus, there is still a public association of bow ties with the collegiate academic.
Another bow tie association is with the ironic hipster. In the last two decades, in a time in which bow ties were not cool, hipsters have been seen wearing bow ties ironically. Many times, this has been in the form of pre-tied bow ties hanging unclipped around the neck. As a bow tie aficionado, I have always condemned anyone ever donning a pre-tied bow tie.
Recently, however, bow ties have started to break out of this stereotype. From the Northeast to the SEC, preppy schools across the nation have seen a re-emergence of the bow tie. Looking at recent collections of Vineyard Vines and Brooks Brothers, both staples in any preppy wardrobe, the bow tie has made noticeable appearances in their lines for the collegiate crowd.
In this day and age, I think that there is a place for the bow tie in the young man’s wardrobe. While some still perceive the bow tie as something best left to the old and erudite, the bow tie has come a long way. The key is in how and when to wear.
First and foremost is the point I mentioned earlier—never wear a pre-tied bow tie. It makes you look like a little kid being dressed by his parents for a wedding. Second, the pattern, color, and material are crucial for avoiding looking like an old man. If it’s spring or summertime, go with bright and bold colors. You will already be wearing a bow tie, so you have committed to making a fashion statement. Material can be standard silk or a little edgier seersucker or madras cotton. In the fall and winter, wear more subdued colors but keep it up to date by avoiding gimmicky patterns and non-silk ties. One of the other crucial elements for picking out your bow tie is size. You don’t want it so big that it’s floppy, but you don’t want it so small that it is comical next to your head.
After picking out your bow tie, the next thing is where to wear it. It would be best to eschew wearing it to a job interview or any other professional function. It is, however, excellent for more casual, private affairs—a trip to the theater, a nice dinner out, or a Sunday brunch.
I’d like to conclude with why I think people should wear bow ties, so I’d like to quote New York Times writer, Warren St. John, who wrote, “Most of all, wearing a bow tie is a way of broadcasting an aggressive lack of concern for what other people think.” So express your individuality and wear a bow tie.