Thursday, 28 May 2009

The Bow Tie Post (A Primer)

It's time

  Truth is, the bow tie just seems incapable of dying, no matter how far out of favour it's fallen as daywear. Even if half the attendees at a black or white tie event can only put together a clip-on-centric ensemble, they still have to wear the curious little thing (and note that the Oscar attendees who haven't succumbed to the silk black necktie opt-out in favour of tradition are the ones who draw the most sartorial praise, or perhaps the least ire). Even if treated as costume, my jaunt to Prohibition, and my subsequent uncovering of related events such as next week's The Blitz, proved that some men will pay attention to such details

   Meanwhile, on American television, Chuck Bass runs amok, barely tamed by the show's stylist, and dorky, baby-faced Harry of Mad Men somehow adds to the drama's cool and influential allure (and his own need for maturity) by wearing his BT like it's the most natural thing in the world (and though its decline was setting in even back then, playing such an affectation straight makes all the difference in its perception). And outside of the box and all over the country, Southern, WASP, Trad and older gentlemen are working with these fictional constructs to subliminally influence the male metropolitan young in broadening its look

   And then there's the geek chic thing. For comparison's sake, imagine a small-scale style version of the image makeover Sony gave to video game players when the PlayStation first emerged. Introduce, say, four more male sex symbols wearing these adornments on a regular basis and widespread popularity just might ensue

  It would be remiss not to credit the designers who are unable to let a good thing die. Dolce & Gabbana, Valentino, Yves Saint Laurent, Junya Watanabe (briefly), and especially Ralph Lauren and Tom Ford - all have produced collections that feature the bow as part of an affectionate tribute to old world glamour, rather than as a rehabilitative stylistic exercise. Understanding and insight into tradition and elegance is the secret weapon of the man who wears a bow tie well; it's what separates him from the hipster method, which is usually so much ironic, style unconscious pap

   To whit - a bow tie on a polo shirt is a geek's game. It really, really helps if you are an actual geek, or at the very least, an indie kid with geek affectations. Otherwise, it's a look perpetrated by one who self-consciously doesn't know what he's doing, probably because he's aping someone else in the first place. To make matters worse, the polo will more often than not be clashing with the clip-on in the first place. And it would really help if arbiters whom I trust to know better would refrain from encouraging the impressionable

   The BT + plaid shirt take isn't much better. Plaids are a particularly strong pattern and tying up the collar with a BT seems even more contrived, like trying to contain a fit-to-burst balloon of colour and pattern with a non-complementary string. About the best ways to minimise and refine the look are to wear a relatively less bold shirt, use a bow tie that harmonises with the colours of the shirt (so it's best to keep the BT plain and perhaps in a more luxe material such as silk) and wear a sober, well-cut sportsjacket or knit v-neck, both of which always balance out more exuberant shirting

   But really, my point is this: it's not a Herculean undertaking to wear a bow tie in this day and age. Sobriety and subtlety are the key and the bolder models will be mastered with time and confidence. BTs have been denigrated as flamboyant for decades but there's little flamboyant about their use amongst traditionalists, who team them with otherwise plain, neat ensembles, and it's this sort of principle that should guide their use - no pushed up jacket sleeves or untucked shirts or daft clip-on braces

   A bow tie is a creative piece and should be treated as the most idiosyncratic item in an ensemble. With a suit, the pocket square should be fairly tame or folded, and the shirt pattern can be reasonably discreet - too loud and it's off to clown school. I myself have worn far more ridiculous items than BTs, and on my rambles in the less fashionable areas of South London, the bows have attracted far less scepticism, scorn or sneers than my old graphic t-shirts and outlandish jackets. In fact, they've gone almost entirely unnoticed; quite the exhilarating feeling in truth. It's a simple matter of making the surrounding garments calmer, or, conversely, as interesting

   Anyone can see that one is wearing a bow tie, but you'll suffer if you feel the need to draw attention to it by, say, selecting an awkward silhouette of drainpipe jeans and an overlarge jacket or a full-bore Victorian ensemble. Wear it in good taste and a compliment or two might be forthcoming - particularly from women - with bonus points awarded for self-tying. Wear it like a clown and any negative response is really on your own head

Dsquared2 A/W06: clownish might be too harsh in this case. In the real world, shedding the topper, pulling up the trousers, shrinking the sleeves and detaching the fob chain from the fly would make this look hard to argue against

Lanvin A/W06: The first outing under the Lucas Ossendrijver/Alber Elbaz creative wing presented a realistic hypothesis of modern bow tie wearing, based principally on a slick high school senior's approach to eveningwear. All the colours are neutral and solid; most of them dark. The cropped trench ably substitutes for a double breasted jacket, the silhouette is relaxed and worn, and the gloves support both the formality and casual practicality of the look. The shapes allow the trainers to blend in. The bow tie is a little out of proportion with the model's face, but keep the widths and height restrained and this won't be an issue

   The best bow ties tend to be British-retailed - excuse my bias - or from Ralph Lauren. The most attractive and varied ones at the moment are available from the old standby likes of Hackett, Turnbull & Asser and Budd, while Brooks Brothers, RL and Tom Ford (who else?) take care of business on the American end. More affordable products abound at Woods of Shropshire, Clermont Direct and eBay. And if there's anyone I've missed, do let me know - I'd be more than happy to wear them

Runway images:


Vanna said...

So fabulous.

Dan D said...

The way in which they are tucked under the shirt collar, rather than standing before, is quite appealing: how do you achieve this ? Is it simply tied in the normal manner and then tucked under the collar ?

Barima said...

Thank you both. Dan, that's exactly right. I was inspired by Fred Astaire in Easter Parade, Jeremy Brett in the 80s/90s Sherlock Holmes series (which derives the look from the Sidney Paget illustrations of the original stories) and old photos of Peter O'Toole in eveningwear. It's also used by my friend and fellow blogger at Le Vrai Winston

Matt Fox said...

Of course I'm a big advocate of the bow tie. Looking dapper as ever!

Barima said...

Thanks Matt, always a pleasure

Toad said...

Thanks for stopping by from a long time bow only wearer.

Barima said...

And you, Toad, and you

Kimberly nut said...

Love it .. it looks Cool. I love Bow Tie. The one look of the first man thats cute I like that outfit.
bow tie color combination very good. I am a big advocate of the bow tie. Dude this Bow Tie is bomb and all my friend love. Barima this a great post.

Barima said...

You're enthusiastically kind, Kimberly. Keep it up

THE Blog said...

Hey awesome post..I'm a BT man myself but I have a question for you. I just bought a light brown/dark brown leather bow tie. It was something purchased on vacation in Cape Town. I'm having the toughest time figuring out how to put a look together. I was thinking more casual, but I don't want to look like a clown. I was thinking of going with a dark blue shirt but I'd like to wear jeans, and I'm not sure of the rules on shoes for a leather bow, lol. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.