In a world where “business casual” has become the norm in most workplaces and our most dynamic industries are fueled by twenty-somethings in t-shirts and jeans, a bow tie stands out. But if you think a bow is merely quaint, conservative, or nerdy, think again.
I’ve been wearing bow ties for over twenty years, and believe me when I say that sporting one conveys distinct advantages—both to your own self-esteem and the ways in which others interact with you, in the office or on the street.
The power of the bow
Wearing a bow tie projects an image of self-confidence and individuality. It’s dressy but not stiff, quirky yet eminently professional. It declares you as a dependable, serious-minded man, but also a friendly fellow with a good sense of humor. The bow tie wearer is in league with Bill Nye, Winston Churchill, and Frank Sinatra, but also with fictional characters like Indiana Jones or Buckaroo Banzai—bold men all.
When I wear a bow tie, I feel more self-assured and in control of my space. I stand a little taller. And people respond to that confidence with politeness and respect. Wear a bow tie, non-ironically and with conviction, and you can own the room.
They’re even trendy now, thanks to Matt Smith’s tenure on Doctor Who and a resurgence among young celebrities. Hipsters from Brooklyn to the Mission are adopting them, and barriers have fallen—it’s perfectly fine to wear a bow tie with a nice pair of jeans, for example. But bow ties remain a classic style that will still look good long after the hipsters have moved on.
Four keys to rocking a bow tie
1. Know your styles & materials
When shopping for a bow tie, you’ll have several decisions to make regarding shape, material, and pattern. Be sure to look around to see what best matches your style.
- The “butterfly” or “standard” is the classic triangular bow tie shape, suitable for all body types and occasions. These are usually about 2.5 inches tall.
- “Straight” or “slim line” ties are narrow and rectangular. They have a simple, contemporary look, great for men with slimmer figures.
- “Batwing” or “diamond point” ties may be straight or tapered. Pointed ends give them a distinctive, vintage appearance.
- Most fine bow ties are made of silk, but cotton weave is also common and can be good for a less formal look. There are even hipster bow ties made out of wood or other crazy materials, if you really want to go there.
- Patterns are usually printed. If you’re willing to spend more, woven patterns have a rich, striking look. But be aware that woven ties can be a lot thicker and more difficult to knot.
2. Choose a good retailer
For a long time, it was difficult to find good bow ties except at high-end clothiers or via mail order. Today, you can find a small selection of bow ties at most department stores. And vintage clothing shops will usually have a few bows buried amongst the piles of long ties.
For selection and convenience, your best bet is to shop online. Most of my ties were mail ordered from Beau Ties Ltd. of Vermont, which has a huge, ever-changing line of interesting designs and great handmade quality. Bow Tie Club is another good option. And for something really distinctive, check out the awesome science and botanical designs at Cyberoptix TieLab.
If you want a tie with a message, BowTie Cause partners with local and national charities to produce specialty ties as a way to spread awareness and raise money. You may have seen sports reporter Ken Rosenthal sporting these at last year’s World Series.
3. Always tie it yourself
This is important. Do you want to look like a poised, self-sufficient man or like Pee-Wee Herman?
A piece of cloth tied by hand shows the unique flair of the hands that tie it. A pre-tied or clip-on tie has no flair: instead of being smart and individual, it will look stiff and fake. And that conveys exactly the opposite impression from a proper bow tie.
Learn to tie your own and never look back. It’s really quite easy once you get the hang of it. The tie will be imperfect, and this is good. A slight flaw, the saying goes, is the mark of a true gentleman.
Here’s a PDF diagram showing how it’s done. If you prefer a video, this demonstration from The Art of Manliness is easy to follow:
4. Be confident
Wearing a bow tie is a bold choice that tells the world you’re levelheaded, independent, and ready to tackle whatever life throws your way. Clothes may not make the man, but they do reflect who you are, so wear your bow ties with pride.
Now go forth and show ‘em what you’ve got.
Chinatown, San Francisco—December, 2013.
Union Square, San Francisco—February 14, 2012.
I'm using my temporary unemployment as an opportunity to clean some things up: my daily routine, the house, and—perhaps most daunting of all—my computer. Digging through old computer files is an exercise in bafflement and hilarity. Why did I feel it was necessary to keep this editorial calendar spreadsheet from three jobs ago? Hey look, here's two gigs of random flash video files I scraped off the Internet in 2005! Here's a bunch of files formatted for software I don't even have anymore (hello, OmniGraffle!), and this appears to be a Christmas shopping list that maybe I emailed to myself.
Hoo-boy, now I realize why I've been putting this off for so long.
But every once in a while I hit a gold mine, or at least something that's actually kind of interesting. Six layers down from my main Documents folder, tucked away in an archive of crappy HTML pages from long-defunct personal websites, I found an assortment of surreal animated GIF images. BEHOLD!
It's a fish! A fish! Get it? Huh? Don't you get it?!
Nope, I don't get it either.
Let me explain. These things go back to the late 1990s. Back then I had a little box in the upper right-hand corner of my website called "FO TV," which just displayed these GIFs randomly. Most of them served no purpose whatsoever except to give me an excuse to fiddle with my computer and distract the eye from my cringe-worthy homepage.
As you can see, I also went through a big geometric phase around this time.
Animated GIFs are all the rage now, of course, but most of the current GIF-happy generation were mere toddlers back then. It was a world without Spongebob, without YouTube cat videos, and without mercy. We had to scrape and sweat for our online kicks, and we liked it! So unlike the current wave of animations, which are usually just clips from movies or TV shows, these puppies were handmade: each frame was individually crafted in... gosh, I have no idea what image editor I used back then. It wasn't Photoshop, that's for sure. Anyway, I created each frame separately and then had to stitch them together using some other program I can't remember.
But it wasn't all fun and games in the late 1990s. Danger hung over our heads—a ticking time bomb set to go off at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve 1999! Society as we knew it was set to collapse! Here were my thoughts on the impending Y2K apocalypse:
Deep, huh? That's the level on which I was apparently operating in my late 20s. I really, really needed a girlfriend.
One of the big features of FO TV was self-referential humor, sometimes including a crude 8-bit self-portrait:
Actually, I still rather like the video game one. Maybe I should bring that back.
Other animations were just weird or embarrassingly dorky. I wanted the three or four people who were likely to visit my website in any given month to pause and say, "what the hell is wrong with this guy?"
That's my college buddy Stephen delivering the important PSA about lye. Listen to him, kids. He speaks truth. Incredibly, he's still my friend.
Towards the end of FO TV in 2000 or so, I began using the space to promote KZSU-FM, where I had just begun what would become a 15-year radio stint. So these final examples are particularly dear to my heart, even though most of them contained ZERO useful information, like, um, what a KZSU was or why I was promoting it or how you could tune in:
"Unknown format," get it? Because it's a freeform radio station and, um... oh, well. I'd never worked in marketing back then!
So there you go. I've actually spared you from the worst GIFs. At least now they're finally back online, where they always belonged. Can't wait to see what's lurking in the next folder...