At a vintage shop in my neighborhood today, I saw a nest of bowties in a basket. Although it called out to me, I shied away from it like a man in the market for a sports car who doesn’t know how to drive stick.
When I got home, I discovered I had purchased my first genuine bow tie. Normally, when invited to a black tie affair, I (as they say in New England prep schools) follow "the letter of the dress code, but not the spirit." Lots of great designers are making classy looking pre-tied bow ties.
But like most men, I don’t like to show up to a wedding where I might be mistaken for a member of the band.
Until quite recently, the unprovoked bowtie was worn only by smug telecasters. Even Tucker Carleson hung his up for good in 2006. So why the stigma?
David Sedaris put it best in his latest volume When You Are Engulfed in Flames: "It’s a pretty sorry world when wearing a bow tie amounts to being ‘out there.’ I’m just not sure which is worse, the people who consider it out there that someone’s wearing a bow tie, or the person who thinks he’s out there for wearing it."
I’d heard lots of advice over the years. Esquire says to lay down in bed until you get it right (this doesn’t actually help anything, but only prevents your frustrated arms from getting tired). You might think this is something best taught from father to son, but few of our fathers were antebellum robber barons. Furthermore, this is one of those things (like learning to drive stick) that you’d rather not have to go through with your father.
But bow ties are practical and fantastic (I dare you to try and spill on one). Modern bowties also come with the same adjustable strap as the prefabricated kind, so you can loosen it on a flight and crank it back up when you land.
The adjustable strap, however, is best used to control the size of the bow. Ratchet down the slack before you tie it for a smaller bow, and make the knot snug and comfortable from the start, not at the end. Once your hands learn the job it becomes easier to get the knot right the first time than it is with a standard necktie.
Furthermore, the dapper novelist Honoré de Balzac wrote a volume on the subject:
But for the life of me I had no idea how where to begin. Instead I turned to youtube, the modern equivalent of looking-at-the-picture-on-the-box.
I watched this instructive video with my iSight camera on in another window and just mirrored whatever I saw. It took about fifteen seconds to master it. I spent the rest of the afternoon getting compliments, and feeling vaguely like I needed a high-five.
One word of advice, however – each tie will hang differently, so you should practice tying and untying it a few times before you leave the house. Or else you may be mistaken for Wayne Coyne. Which wouldn’t be the worst thing…