How to pull off a bow tie
In the last couple of years we’ve been experiencing a comeback of all things sartorial. Tailors and the whole bespoking/made to measure concept have become popular once again (kudos for those who have always embraced it), as have some forgotten trends and accessories. One such accessory is the bow tie: this piece of neckwear is easily one of the most overlooked and underrated when it comes to menswear. Putting my love for it aside, I must admit that the bow tie is not for the faint of heart. When you wear one, you walk around with more than a simple item; you carry all its historical and social background. The origins of the bow tie are uncertain, dating back to original appearance of the Cravat worn by Croatian Soldiers in the 17th century, as a means to fasten their shirts. Later on, it was introduced to the French upper classes and became a mainstream fashion item during the 18th and 19th centuries, mainly worn by successful men and dandies. As such, the bow tie may come across as affected or even arrogant, a way to show that you are above other peers and don’t really care about what they think; on the other hand, some may find you ridiculous, childish or eccentric. So, as you see, pulling it off is no easy task…
I do agree with one aspect of those perceptions which is not to give much importance to third parties’ opinions: you like it? want to wear it? Then by all means do. The thing is, as I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, that an individual sense of style may clash with social conventions as we live in a society, so bear in mind that you are prone to disapproving looks and remarks. Ignoring them however, is easier said than done, especially if you live in fashion-repressed cities (it’s definitely easier to sport a bow tie in Milan or NYC than anywhere in Portugal).
That being said, I fully encourage you to wear one if you fancy it and here are a few tips to make it easier to pull off:
- Break it down: since the bow tie alone will make you all put together, I would advise against “over dressing”. Give it a more relaxed feel by pairing it with casual pieces, like slim fitting jeans, loafers or sneakers and an oxford shirt;
Casual done right - boat shoes, rolled up jeans, white shirt, patterned bow and a yellow rain slicker (photo from Unabashedly Prep).
- Pattern: for starters, try to find a balance between the shirt and the bow. If you decide to go with a striped or checked shirt, choose a solid colored bow and vice versa, pair patterned bows with solid shirts. “Advanced users” can have fun by trying to mix different patterns;
Above: 1- keeping it simple: white shirt by Paul Smith + checked bow tie from Coisas d’Homem; 2 - taking it up a notch: striped shirt with contrasting collar and patterned bow tie (photo from Pierrepont Hicks).
- Fabric: satin bow ties are more formal than their cotton/wool counterparts. The latter are easier to pair with your everyday attire;
Above: Cotton gives it a more relaxed feel - both items from Coisas d’Homem.
- Confidence: is key to make the whole look work. You’re wearing an iconic Go to Hell item, so why not embrace the attitude? (more on Go to Hell in a future post);
Nick Wooster (Photo by Tommy Ton for GQ).
- Smile: have fun when wearing a bow tie, after all it’s a joyful item.
Brad Goresky (photo from Papermag).
One other thing to consider is the type of bow tie: clip on or self tie? Real prepsters and bow aficionados will tell you that there is no option but the self tie version: this is true to some extent as it will enable you to add a personal touch and nonchalance to the knot. For beginners, the clip on is much more practical and has been supported recently by designers such as Band of Outsiders’ Scott Sternberg. If you go for the self tie version, expect a steep learning curve while getting the hang of how to tie it, but to make things easier here’s a video from David Hart: