Bow ties are a tricky proposition for a man not accustomed to wearing them. While it is an item of clothing that could easily seem anachronistic, rather like braces or a fedora, the bow tie has the added disadvantage of being purely decorative. At least braces create the best line in a trouser leg and hats keep you warm and dry. A bow tie is mere fancy.
And yet, and yet the bow tie taunts a man with ambitions of style. It is so hard to wear well that the possibility of doing so always seems temptingly and frustratingly out of reach; if only it could be held, fully in both hands, with success and admiration from one’s peers, what an achievement that would be.
Well, here are some tips to try and bring that goal a little closer.
First, what you wear the bow tie with. I recommend starting casual and opting for a shirt and sweater. This has the advantage of appearing casual, and so perhaps not to be taken as seriously as a suit. We will return to the casual theme later.
A bow tie, unlike a normal neck tie, does not require space on the chest to play around on. Rather, it benefits from tight surroundings, making it a pop of colour on a neutral outline instead of a damp bow drowning in shirting. So a V-neck sweater works well. But even better is a polo-collared sweater, the one with a collar, like a polo shirt. This surrounds the tie, rising up around the collar, and so provides more context for it to relate to.
If you want to make the big jump and wear the bow tie with a suit, make sure it has a waistcoat or at the very least a high-buttoning front (in which case it becomes even more important not to take that jacket off). Worn with a waistcoat and jacket, the bow tie has surroundings similar to that of a polo-collar sweater.
Second, what the bow tie is made of. I recommend a plain navy wool – several establishments sell such things. Navy, as anyone familiar with the lore of neckties to wear with suits will tell you, is the most adaptable and reliable colour. It goes with anything, even a navy suit, and the Italians wear it with a blue shirt as the background to absolutely anything.
And the matte surface of the wool reinforces the casual nature of the look that was begun with the sweater. This is now clearly not an office look, and has no right to be associated with Manhattan lawyers or dandyish professors.
Thirdly, and possibly most importantly, tie your bow loosely. (I do hope you didn’t consider getting a ready-tied bow. Nothing could be done to render that stylish.) Tie the bow tie as per normal but, when you get to the point of tightening and adjusting, stop. Leave the look unfinished. Both sides should still be the same length, and there should be no chance of the bow flopping undone, but leave the knot big and the ends slightly askew.
Wear with any colour of sweater and shirt that takes your fancy. Personally, I like a blue button-down shirt and a charcoal merino wool polo-collar from Ralph Lauren. With flannels or dark jeans, as the mood dictates.