Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Bow Tie

The bow tie is a men's neck-tie normally worn with formal attire such as suits and dinner jackets. It consists of a ribbon of fabric tied around the collar tied in a symmetrical manner such that the two opposite ends form loops. The traditional bow tie, consisting of a strip of cloth which the wearer has to tie by hand, may be known as a "self-tie," "tie-to-tie," or "freestyle" bow tie to distinguish it from ready-tied bow ties and clip-ons. Bow ties may be made from any material, but most come in polyester, silk or cotton.
The bow tie originated among Croatian mercenaries during the Prussian wars of the 17th century by using a scarf around the neck to hold together the opening of their shirts. This was soon adopted under the name cravat, derived from the French for "Croat") by the upper classes in France which was a leader in fashion in the 18th and 19th centuries (see blog post entitled "Fashion in the 18th Century"). It is uncertain whether the cravat then evolved into the bow tie and necktie, or whether the cravat gave rise to the bow tie, which in turn led to the necktie.
The most traditional bow ties are usually of a fixed length and are made for a specific size neck. Sizes can vary. Fixed-length bow ties are preferred when worn with the most formal wing collar shirts, so as not to expose the adjusting buckle of the bow tie. Adjustable bow ties are the standard when the tie is to be worn with less formal turn-down collar shirts which obscure the neckband of the tie. "One-size-fits-all" adjustable bow ties are a later invention that help to moderate production costs and size complications.
While bow ties tend to be worn by professionals, the accessory has become increasingly more fashionable, showing up around the necks of both male and female celebs, as well as on the night scene. Russell Smith, style columnist for the Toronto Globe and Mail, observes that opinions of bow tie wearers are mixed. While he observed that bow ties were experiencing a potential comeback among fashionable men, he also stated that "the class conscious man recoils at the idea" of pre-tied bow ties. He observes that "followers of fashion wrinkle their noses at the anachronism," and that bow ties are "deliberate eccentricities," that "basically dull men" use to project the image of being "zany and fun." He argues that, however, the anachronism is the point, and that bow tie wearers are making a public statement that they disdain changing fashion. In Smith's view, the bow tie is "the embodiment of propriety," an indicator of fastidiousness and intelligence, and "an instant sign of nerd-dom in Hollywood movies," but "not the mark of a ladies' man" and "not exactly sexy." Most men, he observes, only wear bow ties with formal dress. While Smith may have a point, the inconsistency of his line of argument is evident, as anyone even remotely fashion-savvy can attest to the level of coolness the bow tie has accrued.
Although the necktie is more prominent, the bow tie is making a comeback with fun-formal events such as dinner, cocktails and nights out on the town. Bow ties, especially narrow "string ties," are still popular with men of all ages. It is also still much more common to wear a bow tie with a dinner jacket than it is to wear a necktie with one; the latter, of course, being technically incorrect.

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