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Neckwear, Why Not Tie On A Classic Bow Tie?

Originally Posted: November 05, 2009

Douglas MacKaye Harrington

  |   3 Comments · Print Article

Long ties are the norm for gentlemen and men should have at least a dozen. Photos courtesy of R. Hanauer at www.bowties.com

Southampton - Neck to waist for a formal event or a business meeting we grab the tie off a high-end, mechanized rolling tie rack or a simple wooden hanger where we have draped our silk nooses. I enjoy wearing a tie, and with an appropriate pocket square there is nothing that so completes a suit or says more about the man that wears it.

I love ties and choose them as carefully as women choose bras, and believe me guys, women search out and ponder the perfect bra fit like we ponder over the perfect car. Yes indeed, if you have not figured it by now, men are from Mars and women are from Venus. By the way, as the universe contracts and we are drawn closer to the Sun, we will all burn up in a fiery destruction no matter what planet we are from anyway. So as we are destined for self destruction boys, let's at least reconsider our neckwear alternatives along the way.

Give bow ties a try.

I am assuming here that if you are less than 25 years old, with the exception of my well-bred son, that many of you could have possibly never even owned a tie - if so - buy one! Showing up at a job interview dressed like it is July at the Pink Elephant in Southampton will not make a lasting good impression, nor will you even remotely be taken seriously as a potential employee. This is not your fault, it is the fault of a generation of parents that have decided to define child rearing as "quality time" moments, as opposed to actually teaching you good taste and demanding proper social manners. Admit it, did you actually ever hear the expression, "No!" Yes, I am an archaic, pompous traditionalist, but I, and my son, can walk into any party from Manhattan to Montauk to Monte Carlo and never feel out of place, at least when it comes to our attire and table manners.

That being said, let's think outside the long tie, but first let's talk about it. The long tie knotted at the neck is indeed a beautiful thing and the most common of all male neckwear. The least expensive suit can look brilliant with the proper tie. Proper, by the way, is totally subjective. That is the joy of a tie; it purely expresses our individual personality. Beyond that it defines us in the same suit worn by a thousand other men. You will indeed hear, "Nice tie!," more times than you will ever hear, "Nice suit!"

A pocket square finishes off any look.

Trust me, I have been at parties with a dozen men wearing the same Brooks Brothers or Ralph Lauren suit as me, it was the tie that separated the men from the boys, and the boys without an appropriate pocket square were not even in the debate.

So get yourself at least one tie and a matching pocket square, although at least a dozen is more appropriate. You are safe with classic stripes (diagonal or horizontal), brilliant solids, tastefully understated patterns or the venerable polka-dots. In my opinion, avoid team logos, silhouettes of naked women, Christmas trees or bells and the often too busy paisley pattern. Pocket squares can match ties in exact color and design imprint or simply be a solid color that matches the tie or a color within the tie. With a white shirt, a simple white handkerchief will do nicely as well.

Long ties now aside let's talk about the alternative neckwear genre of bow ties. "Bow ties you say? Are not those reserved exclusively for Yale Law School professors?" Well my friends, if Harrison Ford looks that good in one in the "Indiana Jones" movies, why would you not think that you would too? Long before there was the long tie there was the bow tie, or at least variations of it. Of course, I am not talking about the formal bow tie one would wear with a wedding tuxedo or with a tux on New Year's Eve. I am talking about the bow tie that can be worn to work, dinner or at parties on a regular, less than formal event basis.

Try to avoid clip-on bow ties and stick with the real thing.

A real bow tie is a measured fit, not a clip-on or one with an adjustable neck string, although an adjustable neck string will allow for fluctuations in your weight. Sadly, with age, come those additional chins. The thicker the neck the longer the bow tie must be to avoid an undersized bow, which will never do.

You will only find true bow ties at better men shops and with the exception of a special sale expect to pay $50 to $75 for a nice silk number. In my opinion, add a half-inch to your normal shirt neck length when buying your first bow tie, it will take you some time to perfect the art of tying it and the little extra silk will help. Bow ties work best with spread collars and button-down Oxford shirts, but can still be pulled off in the point-collar variation, but not the "Wise Guys" extended point style. The winged collar tuxedo shirt is, of course, always a suitable match for a bow tie. In fact, the bow tie is really its only true companion.

Learning how to tie a bow tie may not be easy.

The ability to actually tie a bow tie is the art of a true gentleman. It has been said of golf that it is an easy game to learn, but a hard game to be good at. The reverse can probably be said of tying a bow tie. It is not easy to learn, but once learned you can become quite good at it. It takes practice and patience, but once conquered it will become as natural as tying a shoe. There are 277,000 entries on the Web explaining the art of tying a bow tie, many in video form. The best written instructions that I have found are thanks to Adam Tschorn of the Los Angles Times:

"First, drape the tie around your neck and make an overhand knot with one side a few inches longer than the other. Next, fold the shorter end roughly in half so that it forms a flat bow. Hold it flat, centered against the overhand knot. Hint: One hand should hold this configuration in a tight pinch. With the other hand, lift the long end of the tie and let it fall over the center of the knot and bow. Pinch the ends of the bow together around the draped end of the tie, noting which side has just one layer. Feel behind the bow for a hidden loop of fabric (you'll be able to see it in a mirror). Fold the long end of the tie over the end of a finger and push it through the loop, making sure to push in the direction of the single-layer end of the bow on top. Once the fold is through the loop, keep pulling until it lines up with the single end. Adjust the tie into something approximating symmetry by alternately tugging on the bows and ends. If the knot is not as tight as you'd like, a soft tug on the two parts of the tie that actually run under the collar can help pull it into a more familiar shape."

A bow tie and pocket square can be worn year round.

In his article of January 4, 2009, Tschorn went on to suggest practicing on your leg or that of a willing partner just above the knee. I agree, but remember to come at it from behind your partner's leg, not kneeling in front of it. You are after all trying to learn how to tie your own bow tie, not learning how to tie one for someone else.

Bow ties come in as many colors and design variations as long neck ties, but as you will probably invest in but a few of them I suggest either classic striped or polka-dot. Again, the appropriately match pocket square should always be part of the ensemble. The bow tie is always well matched with a suit, more so with single than double breasted I personally think, but if you can make it work go for it. Perhaps the most appropriate suit in combination with a bow tie is the vested suit. It is also proper in combination with tweed sport coats in winter and navy or seersucker blazers in spring and summer. Of course, it is perfect with a cardigan sweater in autumn.

Bow ties are also available in numeous colors and patterns.

For a superb selection of bow ties, neck ties, pocket squares and yes, even ascots online I can recommend R. Hanauer at www.bowties.com. As noted earlier, better men's and department stores will offer a fine line of bow ties and other neckwear, particularly Thomas Pink, Brooks Brothers and Joseph A. Bank.

I am not sure I know why, but I always think that bow ties work particularly well at holiday parties. Perhaps it is that Norman Rockwell image of a New England Christmas that we all so long for, but rarely ever achieve. Well, I say tie on a red polka-dot bow tie and let the festivities begin.

Will you be in the minority wearing a bow tie? Absolutely! Will you stand out from the crowd? Undoubtedly! And I say, what is wrong with that? I think a bow tie expresses dignity and self-confidence. It evokes the era of a more mannered sensibility and I think the world could use a little more of those manners in both fashion and attitude. So be a real man, tie on a real bow tie.

Frequently mistaken for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials and the iconic gray-bearded Sean Connery, DMH is the Senior Contributing Editor at Hamptons.com. www.hamptons.com Hamptons HamptonsOnline HamptonsOnline

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Guest (Helle Rowlands) from http://www.PocketSquareZ.com says::
I agree with Roland. The thought expressed above make sense. But the selection of pocket squares and bow ties are limited I think. I have opted for custom made ones. There are a number of sites but for custom bow ties I like http://www.PocketSquarez.com
Feb 26, 2011 4:12 pm

Guest (DH) from Southampton says::
Thanks Roland! I checked out the site, you are right a very nice, well priced, huge selection; however, with bulk sometimes comes questionable choices. I would eliminate half their stock and certainly not choose several of their patterns, particularly the tacky options in the holiday selection. You are right, a great site for bow ties, if for nothing else their superb stripe and polka dot selection, one of the best I have ever seen. I do suggest my readers go to the site, but in the words of the "Indiana Jones III" movie, "Choose wisely!" Thanks, DH
Nov 14, 2009 11:34 pm

Guest (Roland Smith) from Mystic CT says::
Great article, but most of the places you suggest for purchasing bow ties have a very limited selection. The best place to find bow ties is online and my personal favorite is www.bowtieclub.com for their excellent quality and affordable prices.
Nov 13, 2009 10:44 am


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