It takes a man with a certain amount of confidence and skill to pull off wearing a bow tie, because it immediately makes someone stand out. In fact, so few people wear bow ties that the famous ones are easy to count. Bill Nye the Science Guy, Pundit Tucker Carlson, and Comedian Paul F. Tompkins are some of the most well-known bow tie enthusiasts.
For most other men though, this accessory is a complete mystery. Bow ties are tied differently than a regular tie. They only go with certain clothes and they aren’t appropriate for every occasion. Nobody wears a bow tie to a job interview, for example. So, knowing when and how to wear one is the first issue. Actually being able to pull off wearing one is the second.
Recently, I took a shot at learning to tie a bow tie and I thought the best place to start would be talking to the one bow tie enthusiast that I know. It’s possible that you know a person like this too. They’re unique. They’re stylish. And their impeccably dressed pictures make your Facebook Feed much classier than it might be otherwise. For me, that meant chatting with my friend, Nikhil Patil, and asking him all about bow ties.
Nikhil Patil: I’m flattered. Although I don’t know how much I will be of help, other than I wear bow ties. And I like wearing them. And I look good in them. But I only started wearing them a few years ago.
David Newstead: Great. So, what attracted you to bow ties?
Nikhil: Hmm. Not sure. They looked fun. It was a bit of Southern flair, connecting with fraternity culture in the South. I had worn those clip on ones for orchestra when I was in middle school, but I started wearing bow ties properly (like the kind you have to tie) to football games at Georgia Tech.
Nikhil: It’s an essential component of proper game day attire in the South. Gentlemen dress up for games. One of my best friends, a fraternity brother of mine, taught me how to tie it.
David: But you’ve kept it up since then. Habit or Passion?
David: I mean, you pull it off even in Kenya and Nigeria.
Nikhil: Haha. I do. I think they are fun to wear and they are less serious than (regular) ties.
David: What kind of comments do you get from people?
Nikhil: They like my bow ties. I don’t think I’ve had any friends or even strangers say they don’t like the bow tie. But I’m also careful about when to wear the bow tie.
David: So, no bow ties at funerals, for example?
Nikhil: Hmm. I’ve never attended a funeral wearing one. But I guess that makes sense. I haven’t seen a list of appropriate versus inappropriate occasions to wear a bow tie, although I’m sure an informal list exists somewhere. Like no white after Labor Day.
David: When are you careful about doing it then?
Nikhil: I mean, I don’t wear a bow tie when I’m hanging out at home. Bow ties are meant to be seen.
David: That’s a goddamn lie, Nikhil. And you know it! Haha.
Nikhil: Hahaha. You wear them with a nicer shirt. No t-shirts and bow ties. Some type of collared, long-sleeved dress shirt. I have seen guys wear bow ties with polo shirts, or even short-sleeve collared shirts, and I don’t necessarily agree with that fashion statement. Maybe that’s a Northern/Yankee thing, but I prefer the slightly more “classic” prep look. But in the end, it’s about what you’re comfortable with. Bow ties are just like all fashion, it’s about confidence. I don’t have rules, rather places and ways that I think I look good in a bow tie. I don’t try to force it. Although I do have to say, don’t even bother with the pre-tied, clip-on bow ties, unless you want to look like you’re a 13 year old boy.
David: In Facebook Feed, at least, it’s noticeable. Which I don’t mean in a bad way. I mean, that’s the main reason I was like… “I should talk to Nikhil”.
Nikhil: Yeah, that’s the one reason you wear a bow tie. To get noticed. To do something that stands out. Not everyone has the confidence to rock a bow tie. Plus, they are insanely difficult to tie. Took me a few months to get it down, so that I can now tie a bow tie, even after a few drinks. Important for game day where there are lots of opportunities for a bow tie to come undone.
David: Well, that’s real skill!
After this conversation, I scoured the internet for more information about bow ties. And the most interesting thing I learned is that they were invented by Croatian mercenaries in Paris during the Prussian Wars of the 1600’s. This fashion statement made an impression on the French and, from the carnage of war, the bow tie was born. Needless to say, that origin story was much more action-packed than I ever would have guessed, which made all the other articles I found seem less cool by comparison. Regardless, more research was necessary. I went out and purchased a bow tie to practice with. Afterwards, I printed off some directions, looked at pictures, and watched YouTube videos explaining this specific tying technique.
Then, I watched them again.
To be honest, I fumbled around on numerous attempts and I didn’t seem to make much progress.
What the hell is this, I thought in frustration.
Not surprisingly, tying a bow ties isn’t intuitive, which is another reason you don’t see them that much. The only solution? Perseverance. I just have to keep practicing and maybe someday I’ll be as well-dressed as my friend. I mean, one can only hope, right?