A news feature that caught my attention reported on a surge in bow tie sales. They interviewed two young men who had purchased Beau Ties Limited of Vermont in late 2012 from an elderly gent who was retiring. He had wanted to sell his ‘baby’ to people who would nourish it as carefully as he had and keep the ties American-sourced and handmade. Based on the feature, he succeeded.
The sampling of silk prints I saw was mouthwatering and prompted me to do some research. I found a variety of bow-tie styles and ways to wear them. Since older gentlemen gravitate to the bow, I’ve put together a handy style reference guide. I won’t be covering bow ties interpreted in wood or feathers. Likewise not hokey ones with blinking lights. And certainly not ones tied onto parts of the anatomy other than men’s necks. (Sorry, ladies.)
When we hear “bow tie, ” most of us picture The Professor. It’s tied neatly, but it’s often worn crooked. For reference, check out Harrison Ford in the earlier scenes in the first Indiana Jones, or David McCallum in the hit TV show NCIS.
We may also imagine The Preppy Old-Boy style, with its angled repp stripe a la Brooks Brothers. These come straight or with rakishly pointed ends.
The Neck Pincher is a poorly-worn variation of The Professor. Its most famous wearer is Paul Rubens, aka Pee Wee Herman. The pinching has nothing to do with the thickness of the wearer’s neck and it differs from the Wattle Anchor (see below). The Pincher is simply a bow tie worn too tightly or a tie that is far too small in proportion to the wearer’s physique and appears to be pinching him.
Some interesting bow tie shapes are the Butterfly, The Fan and The Poufy Gift Bow. Note the features that differentiate them. The Butterfly is a full style, usually with two soft bumps on each outer edge. The Fan is often confused with The Butterfly, but The Fan has sharp folds and doesn’t dip in the center of the outer edges. The Poufy Gift Bow has three soft bumps, one of which may be almost imperceptible.
The Accordion is sometimes mistaken for The Fan, but it’s a flatter style, with straighter edges. Sometimes The Accordion is actually flat but achieves the folded look through a printed pattern.
The Wattle Anchor is worn by men whose necks have given up trying to look good in any type of tie. When gentlemen reach this point, they often start wearing a bow tie at the base of their wattle, in hopes of directing attention away from the droop. Their shirt neck does not gap (yet). For reference, we have the midlife Winston Churchill (who always had a wattle), an ignominious to-be-nameless former president of Brown University, and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey in the movie 42.
Do not confuse The Wattle Anchor with The Old Geezer, our final style. Again, these are similar ties, but The Old Geezer is worn by men who have decided to give their wattle some breathing room. There is never a pinch of the neck with this later style, and not much of an attempt to hide the wattle. The tie is more of a celebration of it. Churchill in his later years converted to Old Geezers from his earlier Wattle Anchors. The same tie can be used as a Wattle Anchor or as an Old Geezer, depending on how it’s worn.
You may notice that I haven’t mentioned clip-on ties. They’re as bad as clip-on suspenders. If you don’t feel qualified to tie a bow, have it tied by your haberdasher. Then have it converted to a strap that hooks at the back of your neck. It will be easy to put on and will look almost as good as the real thing.
But let’s face it. There’s no substitute for learning to properly tie a bow tie. It’s like learning to pour a proper cup of tea or the perfect head on a draft beer. Or in my mind, pairing the right wine with dinner. On that note…