“Thank Doctor Who” a friend said scornfully as we wandered around TopMan, slack-jawed at the mass of teenage bow-tie aficionados strutting around the store with their Bieber-fringes, check shirts and turned-up denim. The only problem was that their ‘I don’t give a damn but I am a dandy’ aesthetic was let down by the uniform neatness of their bows; hardly surprising given that all were clip-ons.
Tying a bow tie is an art, not an exact science; the symmetrical ‘perfection’ sought by many, even when achieved through self-tying, is about as appealing as one of those dire photo-realistic paintings. The idea is to achieve expression, not facsimile; ‘perfect’ pre-tied and self-tie bow ties look stiff, clownish and unnatural. Not only would I oppose wearing a pre-tied bow tie – and not for the crude snobbery advocated by some that it shows you ‘went to the wrong school’ or university but because creation is so much more satisfactory than replication – I would also oppose the ‘craft’ of tying a bow tie too carefully, too symmetrically, too artificially.
The ‘messy’ bow tie may sound like a paradox – for why should a decorative effect be untidy? – but the ‘mess’ is simply a descriptive comparison with the uniformity of pre-tied bows. Mess is usually what you end up with when first attempting to tie a bow tie; uneven, lumpy and wonky. However, the great charm of this educational stage is often clouded with frustration; “Why isn’t it PERFECT?!” we scream into the mirror, knowing the happy end-of-the-rainbow glory of symmetrical bow tie bliss is far away, not realising that the grass is greener on this side of the fence.
Winston Churchill, though seldom feted as a style icon, was famous for his bow ties and in his later years, was rarely seen without one. The most famous photos of Churchill usually involve three crucial props; V-for Victory, a cigar and his favourite navy polka dot bow tie. Well worn indeed, but perfect? Symmetrical? Not a bit of it. Though he wore one every day, every day was different; lop sided on Monday, tiny on Tuesday, bulky on Wednesday, approaching the perpendicular on Thursday.
The water-colouring aesthete’s routine of dressing was the very opposite to that of a man like Brummell, who discarded neckties if they were not perfectly tied the first time. Churchill tied it – possibly with a cigar in his mouth – whilst his head gradually filled with the grave concerns of the day; there was no concern of symmetry, or perfection and because of that, the beauty created was natural.
If you are planning on making the step from pre-tied bows to self-tie you will probably be put off by the idea of a bow that looks like it was tied by a pair of pig’s trotters but think on this: a bow in of itself is a decoration, a fancy. It is not ‘natural’ to wear a bow. However, it has been customary to adorn a buttoned collar for hundreds of years with a splash of what is really creative art. There is nothing creative, nothing pleasing about a glued, stiffened replica and nothing appealing about something that has been touched and tweaked to within an inch of its life. Try it, tie it – and be happy with the result. The best way to achieve the small-winged minimalism? Try tying it with as little length as possible.