If there was ever a misunderstood item of male clothing, then the bow-tie is that item. Perceived as an accessory appropriate for mockery, relegated from everyday use to infrequent evening wear, the bow-tie is the symbol of a lost generation.
So many people are incapable of tying their own bow tie. A fact which, in itself, shouts of a neglect for a style of necktie which has been ridiculed as much as it has been celebrated; people are as likely to associate the bow-tie with Jerry Lewis as Winston Churchill, and this unhappy result has had a marked effect on the pride of a wearer. Once deemed to be the height of artisan sophistication, if you wear a bow-tie on any occasion other than a black-tie event, ordinary people are likely to expect you to pull a bunch of flowers from your sleeve.
I used to be afraid of the bow-tie. I have always loved neckties, but I found the everyday bow-tie to be a step too far in the nostalgia direction; something about their declining status kept me away from even considering wearing one. Now, I cannot wait to find the perfect bow.
Below I have listed some rules and guidelines about choosing and wearing the daytime bow-tie.
The first rule is that the bow tie you select should be one you tie yourself. No self-respecting man should buy a ready-made bow tie; they are only for children and have the intractable flaw of being too perfect. A real bow-tie is imperfect. Though the Beau spent hours trying to tie his neckwear, discarding the ‘failures’, the key with bow ties is that they should be different every time, thus making the self-tie bow tie one of the most unique accessories in a man’s wardrobe. Sometimes a little fat, sometimes a little too tight, however they are made, they are usually gloriously asymmetric in appearance. This asymmetry has the canny effect of adding an air of old world civility to the wearer. Don’t crave for symmetrical perfection because that was never the point in wearing one in the first place; when you see Churchill’s bow it is loose and characterful, not a stiff cut-out.
The other rule with wearing a day-time bow tie is that it must be patterned. Non-patterned bow ties look like black-tie substitutes, so always shop for dots, stripes or paisley. Colours should be sober and darker in tone; forest green rather than apple green and claret rather than blood red. The reason for this is to turn the bow-tie into something which is not screaming for attention, but rather standing, silently still, ignoring the prying eyes and castigating remarks – rather like an Irish Guard on duty outside St James’ Palace. The idea of this simple revolution is to remove the comical bow-tie from the limelight of the Big Top and to forge a new association with the stylish gentlemen of the day.
I have found it rather tricky purchasing good quality silk bow ties. Nearly every shop assistant I have encountered has pointed me to the evening dress section when I have specifically asked for day-dress dickies. John Lewis had a small selection of paisley bow ties, reasonably priced at $30. However, one of the best retailers of preppy nostalgia clothing in the world, Ralph Lauren, has a wonderful selection in his stores.
When to wear it
Bow-ties look youthful when worn properly and they can brighten up almost any outfit. Wear a bow tie with a sharp, slim-fit suit for an on-trend cut with an eccentric dash. Or wear a bow tie with a casual collar and a cable crew neck for a ‘relaxed academic’ look. Bow-ties can also prep-up plain spring outfits of short sleeved shirts, tailored shorts and blazers. The key is to avoid overdoing a look with a bow tie; keep pocket squares to a visual minimum and try not to colour match too much.