Bow Tie: How To Stand Out Amongst The Well Dressed

Two things come to the mind when you mention “bow tie”. Either the elegant dinner suit in a formal black tie gala, or a clown wearing a fancy costume. The former is fittingly accurate. Black bow ties are the defining factor in a black tie dress code. However, the latter is nothing short of a lazily accepted pop-culture. The truth is that bow ties are just as elegant as the regular ties too. But how exactly did bow ties fall out of popularity in the modern world of the elegantly dressed?

Close-up of a man's throat area, showcasing a pink bow tie matched with a solid white shirt and blue/white seersucker jacket.
A bow tie is just as elegant as a regular tie if you know how to pull it off.
Image by stokpic of Pixabay

Both The Regular Tie And Bow Tie Descended From The Same Ancestor

We’ve previously shared about the more popular regular ties, both woven and knitted. Today we’ll take a look at the post-split of the evolution of men’s neckwear. We’re not discussing the comprehensive history here. For that, you can take a look at the detailed evolution of the modern tie. For the rest of us, let’s be contented that both the regular tie and bow tie share a common ancestor.

An artist drawing of a neckwear as worn by the Croatian mercenaries.
The neckwear, as worn by the Croatian mercenaries during the Thirty Years’ War. This is the direct predecessor of the modern day cravat, named after the “Croats” who wore them. And this in turn evolved into the modern regular tie and bow tie.
Drawn by David Ring, commissioned by Europeana Fashion, under Wikimedia Commons

Most high-level social dress codes demand a bow tie rather than a regular tie. Think white tie and black tie galas. Many branches of military ceremonial dress uniforms also include bow ties too. And no, I’m not referring to the service dress uniforms, which usually include a regular tie. So it’s rather safe to assume that bow ties trump the regular ties in terms of formality. But yet, except for the most specialised cases, they fell out of popularity by late 20th century. So much so that even celebrities gracing the red carpet in Hollywood now wear regular ties with black tie outfits. Tsk, tsk, tsk… (shaking my head slowly). Do they even know what faux pas even means?

So When Is It Proper To Wear A Bow Tie?

The short answer is any time and every time it’s proper to wear a tie, any tie. To the office, for business meetings, upscale restaurants, enjoying a pint or two at the pub with your mates, etc. There really is no unsuitable time or place to wear a bow tie in place of a regular tie. Except maybe for funerals. You don’t want to stand out for the wrong reason. And wearing a bow tie instead of a regular tie really does stand you out pretty glaringly.

Let’s Take A Look At Some Examples Of Bow Tie Ensemble

Take note that the same formality scale as mentioned in previous episodes still applies across the board. Darker is more formal than brighter. Solid colours are more formal than patterns. Higher tie-shirt contrast is more formal than lower contrast. Let’s start with an ensemble where bow ties are mandatory – black tie dress code.

Close-up of a typical black tie ensemble - black dinner jacket with a shawl collar, dress shirt with pleated front, onyx shirt studs, and a black bow tie.
The bow tie is the central identifying piece to the black tie dress code. This is the only case where the bow tie isn’t an option to the regular tie.
Image by Author

Of course, bow ties aren’t just suitable for social settings. They’re just as suitable for business and leisure settings too, ranging from formality levels #1 through #4. Let’s take a look at some examples below :-

Close-up of an ensemble as described in the caption, matched with a solid white shirt and charcoal grey suit jacket.
A typical black-and-yellow regimental stripe bow tie. Suitable for formality levels #3 and #4.
Image by Author
Close up of a self-tie bow tie, laid flat on the table, showcasing the adjustable neckband
Here’s the same black-and-yellow regimental stripe bow tie, with an adjustable neckband. A self-tie bow tie is the only way to go. Not unless you’re a seven-year-old boy, wearing a bow tie for your annual school concert.
Image by Author

Bow ties are available in the same range of colours and patterns as the regular ties. But unlike regular ties, you can also double up on your bow tie usage too. Or at least half your budget when purchasing your next bow tie. Let’s take a look at some not-so-typical bow ties.

Double The Options, Or Halve The Price

Unlike regular ties that have a distinct front and rear, both surfaces of bow ties are exactly the same. Some creative people have come up with the idea of bow ties with two different designs on both sides. Let’s take a look at the examples below :-

Close-up of an ensemble as described in the caption, matched with a solid white shirt and charcoal grey suit jacket.
This is a red-and-black bow tie in a floral pattern – the front side.
Image by Author
Close-up of an ensemble as described in the caption, matched with a solid white shirt and charcoal grey suit jacket.
And this is a red-and-black bow tie in plaid – the rear side.
Image by Author
Close up of a self-tie bow tie, laid flat on the table, showcasing the adjustable neckband
A more economical, double-sided bow tie. Both are red-and-black, but front in floral pattern, whilst the rear in plaid. This bow tie also features an adjustable neckband.
Image by Author

Due to the darker shade, the above example is suitable for formality level #2 through #4. The double-sided feature means that you’re essentially buying two bow ties for the price of one. Not a bad choice if you’re dressing on a tight budget.

Let’s take a look at another example :-

Close-up of an ensemble as described in the caption, matched with a solid white shirt and charcoal grey suit jacket.
A white-based bow tie with small black paisley pattern – the front side.
Image by Author
Close-up of an ensemble as described in the caption, matched with a solid white shirt and charcoal grey suit jacket.
The same white-based bow tie with black polka dots – the rear side.
Image by Author
Close up of a self-tie bow tie, laid flat on the table, showcasing the adjustable neckband
This model is white base with black paisley on the front and black polka dots on the rear. And similar to the other examples, it also features an adjustable neckband. This particular model is available for sale at Trendhim.
Image by Author

This above example exhibits a lower tie-shirt contrast due to its white base. Hence it’s more suitable for formality levels #3 and #4. And considering the fact that you’re essentially getting two bow ties for the price of one, it’s a no brainer. Hence, there’s no excuse not to spice up your casual outfit with proper neckwear anymore.

“But I Don’t Know How To Tie A Bow Tie… ”

Nonsense!… If you know how to tie your shoelaces, you already know how to tie your bow ties. They’re essentially the same knot. The only difference is that you need to adjust the finishing touches to make it look balanced around your neck. Watch the video below for a step-by-step visual guide :-

Now you understand why it’s inexcusable for an adult to claim not to know how to tie a bow tie?

Now you know why it’s juvenile and totally unacceptable for an adult to wear pre-tied or clip-on bow ties? Even a seven-year-old boy who has just learnt how to tie shoelaces theoretically knows how to tie one. All you need is a little practice to master the skill.

“But I Can’t Even Find One At The Local Menswear Department… ”

That, unfortunately, is quite true. Ever since falling out of popularity in favour of the regular ties, not many conventional menswear stores carry bow ties. Just like the knit tie from the previous episode, the best place to purchase bow ties are actually in cyberspace. And just like in the previous episode, the best place to purchase one is also on Trendhim.

Close-up of a model wearing a navy/orange paisley bow tie with a solid white shirt and charcoal grey suit jacket.
This navy and orange paisley design is one of the many models of bow ties available on Trendhim’s e-commerce store.
Image by Trendhim

Trendhim has an inventory covering every conceivable solid colours, patterns, and fabric, not to mention the double-sided bow ties too. Feast your eyes on all the available options on this link. They’re a real gem indeed, considering that Trendhim is a relatively young company. Most conventional menswear stores don’t even cover some of the more obscure and traditional menswear garments and accessories.

What You Wear Is Fashion, But What You Project Is Style

If you want to project that you’re a stylish gentleman, maintain a slight gap in your attire with fellow attendees. Show that whilst you understand the rules of classic menswear, you’re also not afraid to bend the rules a little. Dress yourself appropriately to respect the host, but add a little flair to an otherwise uniform look. Come back for the next episode where we will delve into an even more obscure neckwear – cravat. In the meantime, let us know whether you’re a stylish gentleman with a variety of neckwear below. And drop a comment too if you know of some even more exotic types of neckwear.

Do you wear bow ties? If so, how often do you wear them?
10 votes

About CHOW Wei Ming

Brand consultant, photographer, creative director, storyteller, and a true believer of the power of visual communications. Outwardly expresses a friendly disposition, but hides a perfectionist nature deep inside him.

One Reply to “Bow Tie: How To Stand Out Amongst The Well Dressed”

  1. Pingback: What's A Knit Tie, And Is There Such A Thing As A Casual Tie? - Espoletta

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