A respected image consultant once said that ‘the average person who wears a bow tie is distrusted by all.’ What all bow tie wearers know is that an average person would never be wearing a bow tie in the first place.”
—Owen Edwards for Town and Country
The bow tie originated in the 17th century amongst the Croatian mercenaries during the Prussian War. At that time the Croat mercenaries would tie a scarf around their neck in order to hold together the opening of their shirts. This scarf, which was synonymous with the mercenaries, was soon adopted (under the name cravat, derived from the French word for “Croat”) by the upper classes in France, which at that time were perceived to be the leaders in the fashion realm. Thus, the bow tie flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries as upper-class fashion staples.
More so than ever, the bow tie is resurging and making its way into the gentleman’s everyday wardrobe. Despite a strong association in the Northeast, likely due to its history and the saturation of Ivy League schools, I’d venture to say that there are more bow ties per capita in the South than in New England. I saw this first-hand in my college days in Birmingham, and I’ve since seen the 500-year-old “trend” becoming more and more ubiquitous.
For me, seeing my fraternity brothers wear perfectly tied bow ties for in-class presentations, fraternal activities, and church on Sundays exposed me to the myriad of opportunities that call for a bow tie. An elderly gentleman lawyer that I also met in Birmingham, who of course was an avid bow tie wearer, left the strongest impression on me of why a (gentle) man needs bow ties. The pride with which these men displayed their neckwear was something special, and uniquely Southern.
My mother gifted me my first bow tie and taught me the intricacies to tying the perfect knot before my first horse race. One day at the races in a bow tie, I was a changed man. I needed more bow ties. I wanted more reasons to wear them. I craved the high from feeling distinguished amongst the masses.
Wearing a bow tie is an easy way to set the bow tie wearer apart from the proverbial crowd. A “bow” dresses up a mundane suit on Monday. A bow creates a stir upon arrival at a fashionably-dull gathering. A bow invites conversation at networking events. A bow tells the bartender you’ll take your bourbon on the rocks. A bow tells the band at a wedding that you’re ready to party.
Knowing how to tie a bow tie is an essential tool to have in a gentleman’s sartorial toolkit. There is an understood sophistication that comes with a hand-tied bow. No gentleman should be found in the somewhat precarious situation of holding an invitation to a black tie affair in one hand and an un-tied black bow tie in the other.
So do your wardrobe a favor and invest in a bow tie—if you don’t already have one, that is. (And while you’re at the shop, be sure to get a lesson on how to tie it!) You’ll feel like a new man… and part of a timeless Southern tradition.
Written by Jonathan Snyder