How to Wear a Bow Tie
The bow tie is one of the great polarizers in men’s wear. A man is either a bow tie guy or he isn’t, and members of both camps will tell you in emphatic terms why they’re not with the other group.
What accounts for the strong feelings many men have towards the bow tie?
The stereotype of bowtie wearers is that they are eccentric, obstinate, extremely intelligent, politically conservative and rigid in character. Bow ties are associated with nerds, comics, magicians, circus ringmasters, pediatricians, scientists, lawyers, university professors and politicians.
Some 900 U.S. residents surveyed in 2007 said they thought men who wear bow ties are dull, fusty, look older than they really are, and rated them least desirable as neighbors, colleagues and friends. Harsh!
Bow ties, according to Toronto Globe and Mail style columnist Russell Smith, are perceived as unsexy and “not the mark of a ladies’ man.” Ouch.
‘Strength of Character’
Bowtie lovers counter that it takes a lot of character to pull off this retro piece of neckwear. Bow ties are not for men overly concerned with stereotypes. “If you can accommodate a bow tie, you must have more strength of character than a stage clown,” says Telegraph columnist Christopher Howse.
Those who accuse bowtie aficionados of being unsexy need only take a look at quintessential ladies’ man, James Bond, hip-hop producer Swizz Beatz, and the generations of dashing actors who have made it the de rigueur neckwear at awards nights.
Types of Bow Ties
So what is the cool way to wear a bow tie? Let’s start with type. There are three basic types: 1) pre-tied or strap-on, 2) clip-on, and 3) self-tied.
Bow ties also have three general looks: 1) bat-wing, 2) butterfly or thistle, and 3) diamond tip.
A bat-wing tie has straight sides and is usually paired with a tuxedo. It comes in two sizes—the standard 2.5-inch version and the slimline 1.5-inch one. Men with thin necks look better in the slimline version, since the standard one could shrink their necks even further. The slimline bowtie is best paired with a standard-shaped collar, while the standard one should be worn with a winged collar.
The butterfly or thistle bow tie has curved sides and resembles a butterfly. It looks larger than a bat-wing tie, is a better match to winged or cut-away collars, and is more appropriate for daytime wear.
The diamond tip has pointed tips and needs to be tied carefully to avoid a too-symmetrical look. In fact, this rule applies to all bow ties. The consensus among fashionistas is that a too-perfect bow tie looks unreal and ridiculous, like a cardboard cut-out. The character of a self-tied bow tie, whatever type it is, lies in its imperfect uniqueness that makes it look different every time.
This is what prompts most trendy types to deride the clip-on as too perfect and infantile (in the same way that Velcro shoes are inappropriate for grown men because they were designed for infants who do not know how to tie shoelaces). So stay away from clip-ons.
You don’t have to take out your ruler when shopping for bow ties. Just try them on and observe this general rule: keep the width of the bow about the same as that of your collar, or even slightly smaller. If it is too small, your neck will look plumper than it really is; if it is too large, you will look goofy.
More Bowtie Rules
Then, let’s move on to fabric. For daytime wear, opt for ties fashioned out of fabrics with texture, such as flannel, suiting wools, hopsack, selvage denim, straight cotton, seersucker and madras. For evening formal wear, a black (or white, if the invitation says white tie) satin self-tie, not a clip-on, is a classic and elegant choice. Grosgrain and nubby wool also give a black formal bow tie a more modern feel.
There are further rules about color and pattern when it comes to daytime ties. They are supposed to be patterned to avoid looking like formal wear substitutes, so opt for paisleys, stripes and dots. Colors should be dark, sober and muted so the bow tie does not clash with the rest of your outfit. A good way to wear a bow tie is to sync its colors with that of your outfit.
Now that you know the rules, you can break them. Dress down a bow tie by rolling up your sleeves or donning a leather jacket instead of a suit. If you are the trendy type, wear it with a slim-cut tailored suit, a cable crew neck, or a spring ensemble of a blazer, short-sleeved shirt and tailored shorts.
Another way to rock a bow tie is to leave it untied and wear it with an open shirt collar and jacket, like Daniel Craig did in the poster for Casino Royale. It looks more rakish and leaves the impression that a woman undid it and carelessly draped it around your neck, which should permanently put to rest allegations of the bow tie’s unsexiness.
So the conclusion of the matter is, give the bowtie a chance! You might feel more dignified and classy when you wear one than you ever thought you might. You never know until you try!