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Bow Tie 101

Colorful striped bow ties on rock

The bow tie is one of the most attention-grabbing pieces of formal clothing a man can wear. Throughout its history, it has had several connotations, but it has always been something that people notice (for better or worse). Bow ties are one of the few alternatives to the common necktie, and if you're looking for an easy way to stand out from the crowd reach for a bow tie. A bow tie shows that you’re not afraid to express yourself or take risks.

If you're not yet donning a bow tie, this post is your first step. We'll provide you with a brief history, dos and don'ts, and other insights into the world of bow ties. Then, all you'll have to do is add one to your neckwear arsenal and you'll be a bow tie aficionado, too.

History Of The Bow Tie

The origins of the bow tie are tied (yes, we know) to Croatian mercenaries of the Prussian wars in the 17th century. As it turns out, the fashion-conscious French soldiers were enamored with this form of neckwear and brought the style back home with them. In France, the bow tie was a fashion statement that was primarily reserved for the upper class.

While the bow tie was not immediately adopted around the world, by the late 19th century it became a true staple of men’s formal attire. About this same time, the design of the bow tie was cemented into the one we are familiar with today. The bow tie then took a few decades to go from a strictly formal clothing accessory to something that could be worn for almost any occasion.

When To Wear A Bow Tie

Over the past few decades, there has been debate about when it is truly appropriate to don a bow tie. Some have said that it should be brought out only for the most formal occasions. Others have seen it as an extremely versatile piece of clothing that has its place in many different situations.

Today, most will agree that the bow tie is a viable option for all occasions, from casual to business and formal wear. There are, of course, exceptions. For example, we personally think a solid black bow tie should be reserved for black tie events or uniform wear. Conversely, colorful or patterned bow ties should not be worn to black tie events. (If an event is formal but not specifically black tie, such as a wedding or prom, wear those colorful bows!)

Dos And Don'ts

It’s important to make sure you're wearing your bow tie correctly. Your bow tie is bound to capture a lot of attention, so make sure it doesn’t look tacky and attract negative attention. Here are three simple tips for wearing a bow tie.

  1. Straighten your bow: Your bow tie should always be straight (horizontal). Bow ties have a tendency to turn, so make a note to check your bow when you walk past a mirror or use the restroom.
  2. Oversized bows: Don't wear a bow tie that's too big, it becomes clown-like. Stick with a bow tie that's 5-inches wide or less and 3-inches tall or less.
  3. Don't clash: Just because bow ties are a statement piece doesn't mean it's okay to wear any bow tie with any dress shirt. Pair your bold bow ties with more subtle shirts and vice versa. (As a side note, if you're adding a pocket square to your look, it's totally okay to wear a bold bow tie with an equally bold pocket square.)

If you want an example of how to wear at bow tie, look no further than Bill Nye the Science Guy. Mr. Nye has a vast collection of bow ties that always look great. (He even threw out the first pitch at a Seattle Mariners game in 2013 wearing a bow tie, collared shirt and jersey, and his bow tie stayed perfectly in place.) Take the photo to the right. His bow tie passes our 3-step list with flying colors.

Types Of Bow Ties

Bow ties come in pre-tied and self-tie styles. Some people say you should never wear a pre-tied bow tie, but they definitely have their place. If you want to create a uniform look among multiple people (staff, wedding party, father and son, etc.) pre-tied bow ties are great because everyone's bow tie is going to look the same, regardless of their tying abilities. If you're wearing a bow tie to an event where you're going to be photographed and aren't yet confident in your tying abilities, with a pre-tied bow you know your bow tie is going to look great, too.

Once you get the hang of tying a self-tie bow tie, you might consider shifting your bow tie preference over. You can typically find more prints and patterns in self-tie bow ties and self-tie bow ties come in different styles, like the batwing, diamond tip and club wing, that are rare to find in a pre-tied style.

A bow tie is a great way to express yourself. Now that you're a bow tie expert, get out there and start rocking your new look.

About TieMart

TieMart is an online retailer of men’s neckties, bow ties and other accessories. A wide selection of pattern ties are available at TieMart, including popular paisley ties for weddings, traditional plaid ties for the office and collegiate two-color striped ties for graduation or school uniforms. And, yes, if you really want to put your face on a tie, it’s possible with a custom photo tie. TieMart ties are affordable and ship quickly from their Midwest location.


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We are a family-run tie company based in Illinois. We've been in the biz since the late 90s, so by now we know a thing or two about men's fashion and accessories. Tiepedia is our lil spot on the web to share that knowledge with you.