Bow Ties 101: An Introduction to Bow Ties

Move aside, necktie. There’s a new sheriff in town! You may have picked out the perfect suit, but no ensemble is complete without the right accessories. Why not switch it up and try on a bow tie? A man who wears a bow tie exudes class and sophistication. He is a man who is not afraid to occasionally step outside his comfort zone and be daring. The right bow tie can transform your outfit from unimaginative to quirky and confident. Use the following bow tie primer and unleash your inner James Bond.

 

Where Did the Bow Tie Originate?

Let’s take a ride in our flux capacitor equipped Delorean for a little history lesson, shall we? The bow tie has Croatian roots, dating back to the 17th century. Croatian mercenaries used neckwear, similar to scarves, called the cravat to hold the collars of their shirts together. These were rapidly adopted by the French upper class, who were known as leaders in fashion at the time. Over time, the cravat evolved into the men’s neckwear we know today: neckties and bow ties. At the turn of the century, bow ties were an essential part of formal “full-dress” attire. By the 1900s, the bow tie became a staple in men’s fashion, often worn by surgeons and academia. While bow ties fell out of everyday fashion after the second World War, it has remained a customary part of formal attire to this day.

Croatians Celebrating Cravat Day

Croatians Celebrating Cravat Day

Flash back to the future and you’ll see that the bow tie has stepped out of its stuffy stereotype. In recent years, the bow tie has regained some of its former popularity among fashionable men. Even women are getting in on the trend and are sometimes seen sporting men’s attire, complete with suit and bow tie. Today, you’ll find men incorporating a bow tie into outfits for a variety of events: work, cocktail parties, and casual everyday wear.

 

What’s the Difference Between Self-Tie, Pre-Tied & Clip-On Bow Ties?

Bow Tie Types

The Self-Tie Bow Tie

The classic type of bow tie is the self-tie, also known as the “freestyle” bow tie. “Self-tie” means that it comes untied and you tie it yourself. Once tied, the natural form and slight asymmetry of the self tie shows charm and quirkiness that a pre-tied bow tie can never match. Although it will never have the precise look of a pre-tied model, it helps you stand out from the sea of cookie-cutter bows. An added plus is the George Clooney-esque look of an untied bow tie hanging loosely around your neck at the end the night. Who doesn’t want to look that effortlessly debonair?

The Pre-Tied Bow Tie

Next up is the pre-tied bow tie. Attached to an adjustable neck strap, it has, you guessed it, a pre-tied bow. This style is easy to size and can be worn in a matter of seconds. A disadvantage of a pre-tied bow tie is that it can look stiff and almost too-perfect. Any bow tie aficionado knows that a pre-tied bow will never have the same dimension or character as a self tie. While we recommend the everyone wear a self tie bow tie, a pre-tied can be a great starting point for a newbie or adolescent.

The Clip-On Bow Tie

Last and generally least, we have the clip-on bow tie. It has a pre-tied bow with a metal clasp on the back that hooks directly onto the collar of a shirt. We recommend these for young children or infants, as these look too juvenile on adults.

Sizing Your Bow Tie

A bow tie is a one-size-fits-all affair. With a little trial and error, any adjustable bow tie should fit the average (or not so average) man’s neck. The neck strap on a bow tie should either have an adjustable slider or a hook and holes with pre-marked measurements. To measure your neck length, start by laying a dress shirt with the collar flat on an even surface. With a tape measure, measure in inches all the way around the collar band, starting and ending at the center collar button. This is your neck size. The average neck sizing of a bow tie is 14.5 inches to 17.5 inches. Adjust your bow tie to your neck size and tie it up to see how it feels. It should be snug but not uncomfortably tight (don’t asphyxiate yourself). It may take a couple tries to achieve the perfect the fit, but once you figure it out, you’ll never have to guess again.

How to Tie a Bow Tie

Learning how to tie a bow tie is a rite of passage on the journey to becoming a true gentleman. Tying a bow can be difficult the first few times and takes practice to master. Ties.com has made the job a little easier with this easy to follow bow tie infographic.

 

How to Tie a Bow Tie

Also, check out the instructional video below featuring the well-known bow tie enthusiast, Bill Nye.

Five Bow Tie Shapes You Should Know

Know Your Bow Tie Shapes 

The Butterfly

The first shape is the modern butterfly, also known as the thistle shape. This is the standard style that most people are familiar with. On average, it is around 2.3 inches in height and fits most face shapes. This particular style is very versatile and works for virtually every occasion. It is a great starting point for those who are just venturing into the world of bow ties and should be a staple in every man’s wardrobe.

The Big Butterfly

Next, we have the big butterfly, which has a larger and more relaxed silhouette.  It is sometimes worn for very formal events with a tuxedo. Think Hugh Jackman presenting an award at the Golden Globes. These are typically three inches or greater in height and recommended for those don’t mind looking a bit cheeky.

The Batwing

The batwing shape, also known as a straight or slim bow tie, is the smallest in height. No, this won’t turn you into Batman. But this will make you look a little more like Don Corleone from The Godfather. When untied, this style looks like a long rectangle strip with flat ends. Batwing bow ties are typically less than two inches in height and provide a clean and modern look. It is slightly less formal than the butterfly, but is still acceptable for black tie events.

The Diamond Point

A shape gaining popularity is the diamond point bow tie. Instead of having a flat end, the edges are pointed to give it diamond shape. When tied, this style has an asymmetric look and adds even more personality to the self-tie bow tie. Although very stylish, these are not often seen.

The Rounded Club

The most rare of the bunch is the rounded club bow tie. Like the name suggests, the ends are rounded instead of flat. This style is not for the shy as it is very unique.

Now you may ask: which one should I wear? Choosing a bow tie style is more about personal taste than steadfast rules. While some styles may work better with your proportions or face shape, we recommend that you try a few and just pick the style that makes you feel the best.

Balboa Stripe bow ties

When is a Bow Tie the Right Tie?

Now that you’ve chosen your perfect bow tie, you might have a million questions floating around in your brain. “When can I wear it?” “What can I wear it with?” “Should I wear it in black or red?!” No need to panic, we’re here to show you the ropes.

Formal Attire

One of the most common places you’ll see a bow tie worn is at a formal event. The most well-known formal dress code is Black Tie. When attending an affair with this dress code, the standard black tuxedo must be worn with a black bow tie, preferably in satin, silk or grosgrain material. A self-tie is especially important with this outfit as a pre-tied bow tie will immediately cheapen the look of your ensemble. Now simply add a matching cummerbund or waistcoat and you’ll be ready to have dinner at the White House! Another place you’ll see a bow tie is at a White Tie event. Also known as “full dress,” white tie is the most formal of all dress codes. As the name suggests, a white bow tie (always self tie) is absolutely necessary. This is not the time to experiment with colors, or else you’ll stick out like a sore thumb. Although not very common, it’s good to know what a white tie event entails for your outfit. Be sure to take a peek at our article with a complete breakdown of all the formal dress codes.

Semi-Formal Attire

When attending a semi-formal affair, try experimenting with different patterns and textures in your bow tie. Play with polka dots or striped patterns in various colors. Bow ties made with velvet or tweed material add a fun, modern feel to your ensemble. Keep in mind the dress code though, as some hosts may not approve of patterns that are too crazy. You could pair your neckwear with a classic dress shirt under a nice suit with a coordinating pocket square. Prepare to be the center of attention because you’ll steal the spotlight with your awesome bow tie.

Casual Attire

For casual events, we believe in wearing whatever your heart desires, even if it means breaking the “fashion rules”. Want to wear a plaid bow tie with a bright dress shirt and cardigan? Go for it! Show off your own personal style with funky patterns or bow ties made with light materials such as seersucker or linen. You could even frame your bow tie with great supporting accessories like suspenders, printed socks, and bright shoelaces. If you go overboard you may end up looking like Pee-Wee Herman but at least Pee-Wee Herman had style.

Choosing your ensemble is only half the battle. The best thing you can wear with your bow tie is confidence. Too often, bow ties will wear the man, instead of the other way around. Now that you’re educated, put your new-found knowledge to the test and wear a bow tie the next chance you get. Wear it loud and wear it proud—you’re sure to be the best dressed man in the room.