Bow Tie Loyalists are a Special Breed
Photo from www.daviddonahue.com
Even if you can’t ever envision wearing one yourself, you’ve got to admire a man who boldly steps out in public sporting a bow tie. New York Times writer Warren St. John has been widely quoted as referring to “bow tie devotees” as the “Who’s Who of rugged individualists.” Think Theodore Roosevelt, Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill and every actor who’s ever played the world-class spy James Bond.
While most people associate a bow tie with formal events, such as weddings, galas, and proms, it takes a special kind of man to wear it well in an everyday setting. This time-tested accessory makes a bold fashion statement and is guaranteed to turn heads. Not everyone can stand up to such close scrutiny. To truly pull it off, the wearer has to be cool, collected and confident. A bow tie says to the world “I know who I am and I like what I see.” If you are ever in doubt as to who in the room has the unwavering nerve and audacity necessary to lead, follow the guy in a bow tie.
Photos from www.Boston.com. Left Fred Astaire, book cover, author J. Epstein. Center Winston Churchill, The New York Times., Right Frank Sinatra, AP Photo/Bill Koustron file.
The experts at Bow Tie Aficionado tell us that the bow tie dates back to 17th century Croatia, where mercenaries used scarves, known as cravats, to keep their shirt collars closed. Later adopted by French aristocrats, cravats became popular and eventually evolved into the neckwear we know today. Boston.com examined the bow tie’s more recent rise to fame in a piece that focused largely on the 20th century. Legendary dancer and actor Fred Astaire famously wore bow ties throughout his career, which started on Broadway in 1917. Comedian Groucho Marx followed suit a few years later when he launched his own illustrious career in the 20s. Bow ties reached the height of their popularity, however, in the 1940s and 50s. Britain’s World War II leader Winston Churchill is the inspiration behind the Blenheim Bow Tie, a navy bow tie with white polka dots named for his birthplace. And Old Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra, is credited with helping to make bow ties a mainstay of men’s formal wear during his decades-long journey into Hollywood and music stardom. In this heady postwar era of frivolity and fun, though, bow ties were not only the purview of gentlemen. The first service uniform ever to be patented was that of the Playboy Bunny, which consisted of a bow tie, cuffs, rabbit ears, and little else. And as all Disney and Dr. Seuss fans knew, you didn’t even have to be human to get in on the action. Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and The Cat in the Hat never went anywhere without their distinctive, one-of-kind bow ties.
Every generation has had its torch bearers. In fact, there probably isn’t an American school kid alive who wouldn’t recognize Bill Nye, the Science Guy, and his signature bow tie, a nod to nerds everywhere. The folks at Bow Tie Aficionado are so confident in the bow tie’s continued appeal, they are predicting a prolonged resurgence of interest, pointing to a Bloomberg report that bow tie sales have been increasing “dramatically,” rising from 4% of 2012 US neckwear sales to 7% in 2013. This small, but conspicuous, fashion accessory even has its own holiday. August 28th has been officially designated as National Bow Tie Day in the United States.
If you are planning to join the show, there are a few things you should know first. Bow ties come in three basic styles: Batwing, Butterfly and Diamond Point. Batwing bow ties have the thinnest blades, measuring 1.5 to 2 inches across. This style is slightly less formal and works best for men with long, narrow faces. Butterfly blades are broader, measuring 2.5 and sometimes 3 inches across. Bow ties with blades measuring 2 to 2.5 inches across are well-proportioned for most men and ensure a balanced look. According to the fashion gurus, successfully wearing a bow tie with 3 inch blades requires a large stature, as well as a large ego. The spread of the bow or blade should also correspond to the style of the jacket being worn. Larger Butterfly bow ties work best when paired with wide lapels and/or double-breasted coats. Last, but not least, is the Diamond Point style. Instead of a curved edge, the outer edge of the blade comes to a point, giving the impression of two diamond shapes, one on either side of the knot.
In addition to size and shape, bow ties also vary by fabric and color. Most are made from silk, but cottons, wools, and velvets are also popular. And they come in an endless range of colors and patterns, including stripes, polka dots, and plaids.
For the novices out there, there are clip-on or pre-tied variations with adjustable neck straps for easy sizing and fit. However, those in the know caution that both these choices can come across as stiff, too perfect, and (ouch) adolescent. A true gentleman always ties his own bow tie. We’re told it is not a difficult skill to master. There are myriad self-help videos and tutorials easily accessible online. And if your bow is slightly off kilter or askew, don’t fret. It’s that sense of singularity and uniqueness that gives your appearance character. Best of all, at the end of the evening, you can untie your bow tie, let it hang loose on either side of your open collar, and swagger out – still looking dashing and debonair. Admittedly, wearing a bow tie is a risk. And it’s not one many men are willing to take. But win or lose, at least you’ll know you’re in good company.