How To Choose A Black Tie Bow Tie And How To Master Tying One

 

What am I?

Who am I?

That is effectively what you are going to answer when you choose your bow tie. It might seem like a small piece of silk but, like shoes, it conveys a lot about what your attitude is towards life. Do you subscribe to tradition? Are you chivalrous? Do you take pride in your appearance? Are you liberal or conservative?

A bow tie speaks to those around you. Did you tie it yourself? Did someone else tie it for you? Are you so busy with your time that you choose a pre-tied bow tie, or is it that you are lazy? Or maybe you just do not care for traditions you don’t feel you ought to subscribe to in the 21st Century. Black tie is, after all, a bit like a school uniform, there are rules. But as Picasso one said – first you learn all the rules, and then you learn how to break them.

For those of us that love black tie in menswear I believe that the reason is that it is the great equalizer. Once you have all the rules in place, like starting everyone on an even playing field, then those that really excel are the winners in the great meritocracy of menswear. That is of course taking into account that some are not as genetically blessed as others. But even then, if you make the effort to hide your sins and work with your natural physical attributes, you can scrub up better than an Adonis that has no idea how to tie his bow tie or shoelaces.

So, what are you looking for in a bow tie?

 

  1. Proportions: Knowing the size of your face and its shape can really affect which bow tie your choose. The most common problem, for example, is men with narrow skinny faces choosing a bow tie that looks too big for their body. You must take a ruler and measure from the out edge of each eye (not the socket itself). Any bow tie that is more than 1cm bigger than this width may look clownish and needs to be considered VERY carefully. You must also consider the size of your lapels on the jacket. If you are slim and looking for a skinny lapel, do NOT choose a big bow tie, it is incongruent. Choose something narrow and sleek, like a slim batwing or a diamond point. By contrast, if you have exceptionally large lapels on your chest in a sweeping peaked lapel, choosing a small bow tie will in most instances look ridiculous.
  2. Shape: I will go into shape in more detail shortly, but this is the second most important aspect for choosing a bow tie. A shape may be dictated by the cut of your lapel (shawl, peak, db, notched). NB: Notched is not recommended for black tie. But it may also be dictated by the period, the style of the event you are going to, how you are feeling and what style of man you are.
  3. Materials: In black tie there are a variety of weaves and finishes. I will list the main ones below but ideally you should let the fabric of the lapel guide you.

Shapes

  1. Skinny Batwing: I begin with this shape because it has a big history. Arthur Miller, Walter Gropius, Charlie Chaplin, Albert Einstein. It is the easiest bow tie to tie. It was not worn exactly by Abraham Lincoln, he had a slim batwing with a diamond tip – but you can imagine, trust me, it’s famous. It usually is around 4cm in height and measures around 10 to 12cm in width depending on how you tie it. Because it is narrow and has no markers in shape, it can be tied to taste a lot more easily than other shapes of bow ties.
  2. The Classic Butterfly – like a cheeseburger it does not really need describing or explaining. It is the most commonly known bow tie. It has been worn by everyone at some stage though it has many ways and styles of being cut. Some, like Hermes, keep a very gentle concavity with a narrow height and width – 5.5cm and 10cm, respectively. However, on the flip side, men like Roger Moore wore butterflies in the 70’s that were often 12cm wide and 9cm tall. It just depends on the aesthetic of any given period and what your own personal tastes are.
  3. Diamond Points – One of my favourite shapes of bow ties. Again, I could reference a great many characters from Groucho Marx to Abraham Lincoln and that is before we mention how many times James Bond has been spotted in film wearing one. It is a very good bow tie for a peaked lapel dinner suit, the peaks of the lapel marrying in shape with your bow tie keeping some continuity. So, if you are going down the path of either a peaked lapel or double breasted peaked lapel dinner jacket, don’t overlook this shape.
  4. Oversized Shapes: This is a loose description for all those bow ties we have seen in the past and in contemporary menswear which may look out of proportion in either size or in an accentuation of the shape of the bow tie. Approach with caution. They are most excellent when done well, but if you do not know how to tie them properly you will look clownish if you get it wrong.
  5. Modified Shapes: The most common bow tie shape in the past decade has been the modified butterfly which is a cross between a batwing (straight edge top and bottom side) and a classic butterfly. When this shape is tied well it gives the wearer a drape on the underside which has a nod to the old glamorous but pre-tied velvet bow ties of the 70’s. It is not most definitely its own look and should be considered only if the wearer has the confidence to step out of the confined of traditional black tie.
  6. Other Shapes: This is broad umbrella for all other shapes of bow ties which are out there. And there are some strange ones. From spade heads to giant diamonds, butterfly (like actual butterfly) shapes, tapered edge bow ties, Texan bow ties and so on.
  7. Velvets : One of the few fabrics which we will discuss below, which lends itself to pre tied bow ties ( which we in almost all instances suggest is a bad choice to make) is velvet. Velvet is exceedingly difficult to turn, the process of sewing something and then turning it inside out to reveal the finished piece. Because velvets are a heavy pile and difficult to sew, most designers and bow tie makers make them pre-tied as it is easier to make on mass. Really, it’s better to have a self-tying bow tie if you can, but if you can’t find one, then go for the next best thing and get it pre-tied.
  8. Pre-Tied Shapes: It is actually far easier to make all sorts of tricky and dicky things with a bow tie when it is pre-tied in a factory. Piping, accents, mixing fabrics etc. These are cheap and easy ways to make something look fancy but in essence it is just a trick and those that are in the know will always know you fell for a gimmick and not the real thing.

 

 

 

Materials:

Now this is where it gets a little tricky and you can, depending on how you feel, be somewhat playful, but be careful.

Let us lay the ground rules.

The rule is that you should marry the material of your bow tie with the material on your lapels.

Going for a black twill weave wool with silk grosgrain peaked lapel dinner jacket …. choose a diamond point grosgrain bow tie.

Going for a sweeping black velvet jacket with a wide black satin silk lapel smoking jacket …. Choose a wide butterfly satin silk bow tie.

That kind of thing. But then the world has what we know as fashion designers and then there are those men that have relationships with bespoke and made to measure tailors and things get a little hairy after that.

The most important thing is this – Who Are You? What Are You Saying?

Satin Silk: The most common and classic. Satin is a weave which gives an exceptionally smooth finish to the fabric. Satin silk refracts light the most because of the flat finish which means it is shinier than grosgrain. This is a lovely fabric for a bow tie and when cut in the right direction it will tie beautifully with lovely dimples on both sides.

Grosgrain Silk: Grosgrain, French for ‘fat grain’ comes in many forms. All grosgrains are refined by rivulets in the silk, some are finer than others. Commonly today we find fine grosgrain far more common than the other forms which were fatter. It is a very elegant look, perhaps more English in aesthetic, because the rivulets refract less light and so it appears duller than satin silk.

Twill: Twill or serge is a style of weave whereby a grain is created on the 45-degree angle. Commonly we know twill in printed silk ties such as those from Hermes or Ferragamo. However, it can be woven as well and gives a certain drape and style which has its own aesthetic.

Ottoman: Ottoman is a weave much the same as grosgrain except that the grain comes from the warp and not the selvedge.

Barathea: If you were very much Old World and loved your classicism in menswear then you may well look into the barathea weave. Some know the barathea weave also as the “Charvet” weave, synonymous with the grand old chemisier in Paris in the Place Vendome where writers, pets and dandies have waxed lyrical about their silks for over two hundred years.

 

In conclusion:

Wearing a bow tie is a must for a black tie event if you are getting married. Choosing the right bow tie depends on who you are, your proportions, the width between the outer edges of your eyes and how you wish to present yourself to the world. A hand-tied bow tie is a necessity if you are going to wear a bow tie at all. The shape and fabric will come down to the style of dinner jacket you have chosen or commissioned and the fabric that will adorn the lapel will inform greatly your choice of fabric for the bow tie. Knowing your own style, knowing the style that you like and choosing something that feels comfortable, ultimately, will dictate your final choice on a bow tie.

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