Wearing a bow tie is a way of broadcasting an aggressive lack of concern for what other people think.– Warren St. John, The New York Times
Bow ties tend to provoke strong reactions. For some they conjure images of Winston S. Churchill standing firm against German bombings or of a young Frank Sinatra crooning. Others not as charitably think Orville Redenbacher or Pee-wee Herman. One thing a bow tie universally says, however, is “Look at me!”
Once common, in fact the bow tie is a more natural successor to the old cravat than the four-in-hand, they largely were banished from menswear since the middle of the twentieth century. Even in semi-formal wear (aka, the “tuxedo”), celebrity types led the charge for the black four-in-hand rather than the traditional “black tie” bow tie on the red carpet. (You should not ever do that: bow ties only with evening wear.)
While bow ties have had adherents across the political spectrum (Democratic Senators Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Paul Simon both famously wore them), conservatives have had their bow tie champions, too. Historian Daniel Boorstin was always seen in one. TV personality Tucker Carlson wore them until he moved to FOXNews (probably for the best that he gave them up). George Will has perhaps been most famously associated with them. There seems to be a correlation between four-in-hand ties and leftward drift for Will. And even here at The Imaginative Conservative Senior Contributor Sean Busick wears them, not to mention Editor-in-Chief Winston Elliott III.
But the recent resurgence of the Ivy/Prep movement has returned bow ties to a wider acceptance than they have had in decades. Bow ties always maintained a bit of a stronghold in the South–lawyers in seersucker serving as standard bearers–and in the Ivy covered walls of the Northeast. Now you can find their sartorial leavening virtually everywhere.
And bow ties are not only experiencing a revival in America. From across the pond, Matt Smith’s Doctor Who has been instructing the English-speaking world that “bow ties are cool”. Of course, the Doctor is not coming from an Ivy/Prep perspective, but rather from the English countryside with his boots and tweed jacket.
If you are interested in taking the bow tie plunge, start simple and classic, with either a Churchill dot or a traditional repp stripe. I’m partial to the Brooks Brothers Mini-BB #1 design and the classic Argyle & Sutherland stripe. Other reliable options include foulard prints (other than dots), paisleys and emblematics. There are many sources, but one of the best price to value options is from the Cordial Churchman online.
I find bow ties really shine with blazers, sport coats and sweaters. They can look fine with suits, but especially suits with a vest, either matching or odd vest.
Choosing to wear a bow tie also means choosing to learn to tie one (no clip-ons!). Many find this intimidating, but if you can tie your shoes you can tie a bow tie. It’s the same bow knot. Practice using the video instruction below and you’ll finally get it. Some find it useful to practice by tying the bow tie on their thigh so they can see the knot more closely.
And one final tip: shorten the length of your bow tie a quarter to a half inch beyond your normal neck size. This will tighten up your bow tie size, leaving less flop in the wings. You don’t want the bow tie to extend beyond the edge of your face.
Wearing a bow tie is an act of sartorial courage, but it is one well worth taking for the Well-Clad Conservative.
Books on this topic may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.