10 Tips for Rocking Your Bow Tie Like a Pro Celebrate National Bow Tie Day in style

Each year we secretly count down to August 28th, and for good reason. National Bow Tie Day celebrates one of the foundational pillars of men’s style: the bow tie. 

The bow tie has earned its place in sartorial history. First appearing in the Prussian Wars of the 17th century and surviving the ebbing trends of men’s fashion down to the present day, the bow tie is back in vogue. We have defended the bow tie and discussed where to wear it, but for those who take style seriously, it has never been obsolete. 

Bow ties are classy accessories, and when you decide to don one you are deciding thereby to make a statement. Bow ties do not lend themselves to subtlety. They say something. The bow tie you choose will reveal something about your personality, your character, and your aesthetic sense. Here are our 10 tips for masterfully sporting the bow. 

1. Tie Your Own Bow Tie

How to Rock a Bow Tie Like a Pro: Tie Your Own Bow Tie

If you take your style seriously, walk straight on past the clip-on and pre-tied varieties and get yourself a self-tie bow tie. Pre-tied bow ties certainly have their place, but if you want to master this accessory you’ll need to tie that bow yourself. Some say that donning a bow tie instantly puts one in a different league — one shared by top-flight professionals, academics, and the most design-astute people on the planet. Be worthy, not lazy. If you’re not going to tie it yourself, why even bother? Anything but a self-tied bow tie is an unredeemable pretense. If you don’t know how to tie a bow tie, watch this video.

2. It’s All About Balance

There’s a general rule of thumb here: the bolder the tie, the milder the shirt — and vice versa. A loud bow tie peps-up a muted outfit, and a simpler bow tie complements without confusing braver shirts and suits.

3. Don’t Strive For Perfection

How to Rock a Bow Tie Like a Pro: Don't Strive for Perfection

As you learn to tie your bow tie, know this: the “perfect knot” is slightly lopsided, asymmetrical, and perfect in virtue of its imperfections.  Jerry Lewis had perfect bows. Jerry Mouse did not. The Italians call it sprezzatura. “Bow ties are supposed to be imperfect,” writes Dennis Green, “and worn with a little bit of… ‘sprezzatura,’ a disheveled elegance by way of studied carelessness.” When we think of sprezzatura, we think immediately of a poem by Robert Herrick (1591-1674), “Delight in Disorder:

“A sweet disorder in the dress

kindles in clothes a wantonness…

… A careless shoe-string, in whose tie

I see a wild civility:

Do more bewitch me, than when art

Is too precise in every part.”

The bow tie is wild civility. It is bewitching because it is by nature incapable of being too precise.

4. Know When Not to Wear a Bow Tie

It is difficult to say when it would be inappropriate to wear a bow tie. Seemingly the same issue has been raised with respect to bikinis, belts, and bras — and that, perhaps, is telling.  Some have suggested that it is less than appropriate to wear bow ties to funerals (and we presume: to wakes too?), but we’re not sure. In mourning costume, better a flat-black bow tie than a garish novelty necktie. Troy Patterson writing for Slate came nearest to providing an all-purpose answer. “A guy should not wear a bow tie if it acts as an accent on his image as, say, an upper-class twit.” 

We say: 

  • If a necktie is appropriate for the occasion, then the right bow tie is probably appropriate.
  • If a necktie would be inappropriate, a bow tie might not be inappropriate — but assume a “no tie” occasion includes bow ties.
  • The exception to the above is a black tie or white tie event, both of which require bow ties.

5. Know When to Wear a Bow Tie

How to Rock a Bow Tie Like a Pro: Know When to Wear a Bow Tie

Assume, then, a bow tie is either acceptable, desirable, or required.  Occasions  which are bow tie friendly include the following:

  • Weddings and other formal events. 
  • The office. Work is work, and if you work in an office – or: if you are in a white-collar role – a bow tie is no less appropriate than a necktie.
  • Religious services. Religious services have, in many places, become casual affairs. If a tie is expected or maximally-appropriate, it is unlikely a suitable bow tie would be inappropriate. 
  • Brunch. dress for brunch. A bow tie and jacket is the best way to do your part to restore a bit of dignity to brunch.

6. Mind the Fabric

How to Rock a Bow Tie Like a Pro: Mind the Fabric

Keep fabric in mind when determining which bow tie to wear. Your cotton, linen, and seersucker bow ties will be most appropriate at events that skew toward the casual side; silk and wool for more formal affairs.

7. Mind the Shape

How to Rock a Bow Tie Like a Pro: Mind the Shape

Along with fabric, know that different bow tie shapes also come into play when considering which to wear. The butterfly bow tie (a.k.a. thistle) is the among the more traditional shapes, and is definitely go-to appropriate for most occasions. The club round bow tie is at the other end of the spectrum.

8. Know That Lots of Really Cool People Wear Bow Ties, Which Will Make You Awesome By Association

How to Rock a Bow Tie Like a Pro: Know That Lots of Really Cool People Wear Bow Ties, Which Will Make You Awesome By Association

When you begin integrating bow ties into your wardrobe, you’re joining a good crowd. High-profile bow tie enthusiasts include Winston Churchill, Bill Nye, Fred Astaire, Charlie Chaplin, Steve Jobs, and Ryan Gosling. 

9. Use Your Bow Tie to Break the Ice

Bow ties can easily be conversation-starters. For some reason, bow ties seem to make men more approachable, too — though we’re not sure why. 

10. And Finally

The final word: bow ties are cool. 

Bow Ties Are Cool

This article published by R J Firchau on August 28, 2015 was edited and revised by Eve Waites on July 27, 2017.