Evening Wear: Why a Four-in-hand is Better than a Red Bow Tie

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Aren’t you just sick of celebrities turning up to the Oscars in a four-in-hand tie? A black tie event demands a bow tie. A long tie may be trendier, but this is an outfit steeped in history. History and tradition demand a bow tie. Right?

Wrong. The four-in-hand was designed by Washington Tremlett, in 1892, for an American called Wright. He first wore it to the opera, and indeed it was originally designed as an unusual evening tie.

In an age where most men wore a bow tie or a shorter form of collar tie, the four-in-hand was fussier and less ordinary. Quite the opposite of how it is seen today.

It was seen as fussier because of its length. If you think about it, a long tie is less neat and more ornate than a bow tie. It is less practical and more likely to get in your way.

It was designed as evening wear and evening wear is what Harrison Ford and Leonardo DiCaprio are wearing it as in these photos. They don’t know its tradition; they’re wearing it because it seems trendy or less fussy. But they are still correct, if only by accident.

Contrast that with the men that insist on wearing a red, purple or other coloured bow tie. Perhaps with a matching cummerbund. These men are, in my limited experience (and apologies to Americans everywhere), largely from the US. And they couldn’t be less correct. It’s a black tie event. You’d think that would be a clue.

Black tie is constructed to highlight contrast of black and white: to create sharp and striking lines under the dim lights of evening. It is about shade and texture. Patent shoes, corded silk lapels and sliver shirt studs provide the highlights in texture, shiny out from the matte black elsewhere. There is no need of colour.

The only exceptions are a red boutonniere or, possibly, handkerchief. But these are eccentricities for the dandies in the room. The basic uniform is not in doubt.

Nicholas Storey puts it well: “Novelty, coloured evening ties and matching cummerbunds made an appearance with dinner jackets; this was a brief encounter with sartorial solecism exemplified by the British actor Trevor Howard in a couple of his gruff, crusty film roles. Coloured evening ties may safely be consigned to the annals of history, and tagged ‘experiment: interesting but unsuccessful’.”


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Simon Crompton is a journalist and a style enthusiast living in London, who blogs at permanentstyle.blogspot.com. He has too many suits.

Comments

  1. David V says:

    Because one man wore one in 1892 that makes it a tradition and correct?

  2. Jim O'Donovan says:

    Love the blog but I have to disagree on this one. Well, maybe not disagree because I don’t think it matters which is better. They are both horrible. Black tie means black bow tie. Anything else is an error.

  3. Your side-by-side photos of Mr. DiCaprio illustrate something I had not previously noticed: black bow ties frame the face while black four-in-hands draw attention away from it. In the picture with the long tie the actor’s face and tie form an inverted exclamation mark. All the more reason to stick with tradition!

  4. Glenn says:

    Sorry, I cannot buy this. A black tie event calls for a black bow tie – nothing else.

    i could design a new style of black tie just like Tremlett did – would not make it correct.

  5. Jim K says:

    Interesting, if off-base analysis. I can’t help but think the four-in-hand is older than that. It is true that neither the colorful bow tie nor the four-in-hand tie is acceptable evening wear. To say one is more acceptable is silly.

    As a side note, there is some precedent for maroon bow ties and cummerbunds with white dinner jackets in summer.

  6. Me too will prefer to wear four-in-hand than bow tie. I don’t know, maybe because I happen to be just like what you’ve said about Harrison Ford and DiCaprio, I feel it as trendy and less fussy.

    Nice blog :)