The Bow Tie: History Reinventing itself for the Modern-Day Man

The bow tie. It’s an accessory like no other for men. It’s rich in history, rich in style, and rich in personality. It even has its own day: National Bow Tie Day, which is held August 28 of each year. Here’s all you ever wanted to know about the bow tie. And once you finish, you will no doubt want to join the bandwagon and purchase yourself one... two... maybe three of them for your wearing pleasure.

What is the bow tie?

By definition, a bow tie is a necktie tied into a bow knot at the front of the neck. It is an accessory mostly for men to wear with a button-up shirt. Traditionally, the bow tie has been associated with class and style. Today, bow ties also exude confidence, quirkiness, and uniqueness.  

How did the bow tie originate?

Dating back thousands of years, men have been known the world over to wear some kind of cloth tied around the neck. The first tie was discovered worn by the Pharaohs in Egypt. Mummies were found with ties around their necks, now known as the Knot of Isis. The Romans, too, had their version of the necktie, known as a “focal.” In 113 AD, the famous Column of Trajan was erected, and there, the sculpted men don a neck scarf. Even the Terracotta Warriors of China, dating back to 210 BC, wear a tie around their necks. Thus, the origins of the bow tie are many and are varied and are among some of the greatest cultures of the world.

The modern-day bow tie, however, has its roots in Europe and dates back to the 17th century. It was discovered during the Thirty Years’ War. France was at war against the Habsburg Empire. King Louis XIII of France hired Croatian mercenaries to fight alongside French soldiers. The Croatian soldiers wore a wide collar cloth knotted around their necks, which became known as the cravat. It is believed the French became a fan of this necktie and soon began sporting it themselves, bringing the style back to France.

In France, the cravat joined the highest ranks of society and became a staple of men in power. The trend trickled down, and it became a fashion statement, symbolizing power, wealth, and stature. From that time forward, the necktie has experienced different styles. It evolved from the simple tie around the neck to one of extravagance, made more popular by the British between the 17th and 18th centuries: lace, muslin, or linen cloth wrapped around the neck many times before it was neatly tied at the front.

In the late 18th century, the cravat evolved to a premade bow tie. In Venice, a staff member for the King with the title Cravatier was tasked with the responsibility of acquiring an assortment of bow ties made of imported lace. These bow ties were adorned with ribbons and often with a perfectly pre-tied bow.

But the cloth neck tie wrapped around the neck several times before finally tied into a bow would finally make its exit as a trendier, slimmer version of the necktie -- more akin to the modern-day bow tie -- made its entrance. It’s introduction into society is attributed to Count d’Orsay in the early 19th century. A French-born British gentleman, County d’Orsay had a taste for silk and a splash of color. No longer were the plain, white silk ties enough for high society. From navy to green to yellow, the silk cravat began to garner personality. And to this day, the bow tie enjoys a richness in style, made possible by its richness in history.

What types or styles of bow ties are there?

Throughout history, the bow tie’s style has transformed according to custom and culture. From its scarf-like appearance to its plain white wrap to its modern-day, sharp look, the styles of the bow ties are many. Fortunately for bow tie wearers today, the same holds true: there is not one style, but many. This is reflective of our culture: there is not one but many and the bow tie can act as the voice of the respective culture and personality of its wearer. Styles manifest in the type of bow tie, the size of the bow tie, the knot itself, and the make and design of the bow tie’s fabric.

The Three Types of Bow Ties

There are three types of bow ties: the self-tie, the pre-tied, and the clip-on. Here’s what you should know about them.

  1. The self-tie. The self-tie has been the preference since the time of mummies to the age of Kings and to the parties of celebrities. The self-tie is the tie you must knot yourself. It may never be perfectly shaped and may always be slightly off -- either by intent or not. Its imperfection is believed by many as what makes this knotted tie perfect and attractive to all walks of life, from higher society to hip hop artists to low-key book lovers: it’s the self-made style.

  2. The Pre-Tied. It is perfectly shaped and thus is absent the personal touch and character of the self-tie. The bow is attached to an adjustable band, making it easy to put on and adjust to size. This tie’s wearer is likely one of two extremes: (1) a man who is forced to go to an event requiring a necktie and never wants to wear it again; or (2) a child who wants to look sharp for a school or religious function.

  3. The Clip-on. It is a perfectly knotted tie attached to a clip. This type of bow tie was meant to make life simple and easy for the person wanting to benefit from the look of the bow tie. It has, however, its definite drawbacks. The clip, or metal clasp, can be heavy and can weigh down the top part of the shirt. If tugged or pulled at all or even if just left alone, the clip may show, revealing its phony identity. Any wearer, whether man or child, is cautioned when wearing this type of bow tie.

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