Tuesday, May 18, 2010
I once worked in a company owned by a very nice, very smart man who always wore a bow tie with his suit. He was in his sixties and portly; the bow ties looked so natural on him that I could not have imagined him wearing a longish necktie.
One August, over twenty years ago, I was invited to attend his birthday party during a business convention in Las Vegas, of all places. I say "of all places," since that particular town does not spring to mind when you think about men who favor wearing bow ties without the tux; also, one is never eager to visit that place in high summer, if at all. On this occasion, I thought it would be fun to buy a bow tie to wear to the party, and so I did (shown above), despite the fact that I had previously only worn them, like most men, to formal affairs.
Funny thing, but, after finally succeeding in tying it in the hotel-room mirror, it immediately felt as though I had been wearing bow ties my whole life. Funnier still, people at the party thought it looked just right too with my navy suit, and my old boss was very pleased at my effort.
And so began my bow tie years.
Some Can, Some Can't
There does not appear to be any particular rule about who might look good in a bow and who might not. Some tall thin men can, some cannot. Some short and stout ones cannot, some can. Some men with full chins can pull it off, others appear too have added one too many chins. Some can only wear them at weekend parties, or when professing to a college class, while certain others can wear them all the time: for business, at the club, saving democracy, or sitting in a favorite chair reading a book.
Truthfully, there was some disagreement in my immediate family as to which group I belonged. I thought that I looked pretty good in just about every situation. My spouse, daughters and son disagreed. They thought it made me look nerdy. Most business colleagues seemed to enjoy my wearing bows and thought they gave me a distinctive style, but several eventually admitted that they were embarrassed when I wore them to meetings with other companies.
Despite the lack of unanimous acceptance, I always felt comfortable wearing a bow and acquired quite a few in various styles and sizes.
Favorites, And Not
My trusted standby was a navy with white dots (left/top), which we might call The Churchill. I wore out a couple of these. Whenever I saw a good one in a store, like Brooks Brothers or JPress, I bought one. How do we define a "good one?" It's silk, of course, and it may be unlined or have a thin lining, which affords ease in the tying (more about that later, don't panic yet). It should have either a sliding length-adjuster or a small t- hook that fits inside a marked neck-size.
As with "regular" ties, the idea here is not to attract attention away from you. So, loud colors or intricate patterns are to be avoided. You begin to see, then, the beauty of the dot ties: achieving timeless style through simplicity of design vs. making a fashion statement.
When I now look at the bow ties remaining in my collection, I do wonder what I was thinking about when I wore or purchased some of them. One in particular stands out (below right), because of its large size and bright colors. It is hand-painted silk from Dunford Wood in Oxford and I bought it in Harrods. I have never worn it.
Fit To Be Tied (the expurgated part)
Men who favor bow ties have a secret: they know how to tie them and you don't.
Perhaps you still have your friend or spouse tie those formal bow ties for you. That can be fun. We assume that nobody in our audience would even consider having one of those "pre-tied" things. That would be a travesty. Some of you might even have a bow tie hanging in the closet, but you just could not understand the instruction booklet that came along with it. That is understandable; we've all been there.
Here is the thing: you can overcome this problem without therapy or even tears. Our suggestion is to try tying it yourself a few times any old way that you'd like to try. Don't try this fifteen minutes before a party is to begin or your train is set to leave. Do it in your own free time. You might even get very close to success by yourself.
Yes, these are the best instructions available. Be patient, go slowly, and they will make perfect sense to you after a few tries. Once you get it, it is like riding that proverbial bicycle; your fingers will not forget. You will be able to tie one, while siting in your airplane seat about to land in London, Hong Kong, or Timbuktu.
As your style evolves along with your life, our rule is: step bow-ldly, but lightly.