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Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Mention bow ties to most men and you’ll get a variety of reactions, many of them not positive.  Unfortunately, over the years, bow ties have gained a reputation for being either very formal and stuffy, or the epitome of nerdom, but I think these reputations are undeserved.

Before we go much further let’s talk about the origin of bow ties.  Their beginnings go back to the Prussian Wars of the 17th century.  The Croatian mercenaries wore colorful scarves around their necks to keep the opening of their shirts together.  The French soldiers who fought along side them admired these scarves and started to wear them as well.  

Once this look was taken back home to France, the French, who were fashion leaders for the world, quickly made it their own.  These new pieces of neckwear were known as “cravats” (a derivative of the French word for the Croats).   This new fashion style flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries, and has evolved into our modern day long and bow ties.

There are several styles of bow ties and they will come in both "pre-tied" and "self-tie" options.  The "pre-tied" is just that, bow ties that are already tied and clip together with a strap that goes around the neck.  This option is fine, but it takes all of the fun out of the bow tie experience.  You can also get "pre-tied" bow ties that clip on to your shirt collar, but I personally think those are just wrong on so many levels.  The "self - tie" option is, of course, the one that you tie yourself and is my favorite.  

All of these options will come in three main shapes.  First is the "thistle", sometimes called the "butterfly" since that's what it's finished look resembles - this is the shape you are probably most familiar with.  The second shape is called the "bat wing" which has straight parallel sides like a cricket bat.  Finally, the third style is the "diamond point" which has points on each end rather than a flat edge.

Here are the three shapes of bow ties.  On the left we have the "bat wing" shape, next to it in the center is the "thistle", and on the right is the "diamond point".

Over the past six months I have discovered bow ties.  I have to admit that these ties were a wonder to me, while at the same time being very intimidating.  People I would talk to who wore them would tell me, “If you can tie your shoe, you can tie a bow tie,” but I still held back in uncertainty.  Keep in mind that I have been wearing long ties most of my life so tying those is no problem - I could tie one while blindfolded without any trouble - but the bow tie, now that was different.  Or so I thought.

Here are some plain bow ties from my wardrobe.  The rep striped tie on the left is from Brooks Brothers and was the first new bow tie I purchased.  Next to it is a Sean John tie that truthfully is much larger than I prefer, but I liked the colors.  The two ties on the right are from Countess Mara in a light blue floral pattern and a solid lime green.

I’ve always had a marvelous infatuation with bow ties and secretly, down inside, always wanted to wear them, but just couldn’t do it.  Last fall however, I had an epiphany of sorts which brought me into the world of bow ties.  It dawned on me that when I first started wearing long ties there was a learning curve, as I had to learn how to tie them.  Only with practice was I eventual able to master the technique to the point where now, decades later, it has become second nature for me.  I realized that in time, with practice, tying bow ties would become just as easy, and thus my journey into bow ties began.

Here are some reversible ties from my collection.  The tie on the left is a Social Primer tie from Brooks Brothers - I LOVE this brand!  The center tie is from Jos. A. Banks and is perhaps the most versatile of all my ties.  It is a reversible tie with four different colored striped patterns. Finally, the Tommy Hilfiger tie on the right, while not a true reversible, can give that illusion when tied.

I first bought an inexpensive bow tie at a thrift store so I could practice tying it – I needed to reassure myself I could do this before committing the “big bucks”.  I practiced off and on for several weeks until I felt I was ready to purchase my first bow tie to wear in public (you can learn to tie a bow tie here).  Once that point was reached, off to Brooks Brothers I went to purchase my first new bow tie. 
The first two color panels of the Jos. A. Banks tie are a blue and white striped section and an orange and white striped section.

From that point on I was hooked, and I have since added a few more pieces to my still somewhat small collection of bow ties (I’m sure many more will follow).  I will say that wearing bow ties does take a certain amount of confidence in order to “pull off” the look, as they make a very bold statement.

The last two color panels of the Jos. A. Banks tie are a pink and white striped section and an green and white striped section.

Today, while still a rookie at tying them, I am no longer intimidated by bow ties.  In fact I love seeing what styles and patterns are available.  I still own and wear a number of long ties, but bow ties are quickly becoming part of my wardrobe as well.

If you haven’t tried wearing a bow tie I recommend that you do.  You may find that it’s really not your style, or you may, like me, find that you absolutely love them.  If you do try them, remember to wear them with confidence, and above all have fun with them.

Having fun with the Social Primer.

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