Bow tie, butterfly tie, cravat: whatever you want to call it, the bow tie has become an icon of male elegance, with a long history and a timeless charm, always able to reinvent itself. Aristocratic and elegant, but also ironic and original: this small bow that is attached around the shirt collar, with a central knot and two symmetrical wings, never goes out of fashion and its versatility surprises those who only associate it with gala evenings.
A valid alternative to the more widely used tie, the bow tie has two main variants: the traditional type, composed of a ribbon to fasten around the shirt collar, and the pre-assembled brooch or collar for lovers of comfort.
Warriors, dandies and stars
The history of this accessory is lost in time, it’s difficult to pin down its origins. Although some theories date its beginnings back even to ancient Egypt, the most accredited hypothesis sees the bow tie appearing on the shirts of Croatian mercenaries during the Thirty Years’ War, in the seventeenth century.
Not by chance, the word “tie” would seem to come from the French transliteration of the word “hrvat”, which means “Croatian”. In fact, it was the French court that made the bow the emblem of Baroque elegance: little by little, ruff collars were substituted by scarves wrapped around the neck, knotted on the chest and decorated with rubies and diamonds.
Towards the middle of the nineteenth century, the bow tie took on a bourgeois connotation, becoming the preferred accessory of dandies. The tobacco magnate Pierre Lorillard, in 1886, made it part of the formal dress style created specifically for the exclusive Tuxedo Club ball. It was destined to have a great success: from that moment, his tuxedo with black bow tie became the mandatory dress code for every elegant occasion, a synonym of refinement and good taste.
But the adventures of the bow tie don’t end here: in Italy bow ties were symbolically appropriated by anarchists and futurists. Only during the 1920s, when it started to appear on the shirts of Hollywood stars, the bow tie was able to affirm itself as the stylish accessory par excellence, but without every completely abandoning its revolutionary ambitions.
You need to wait until the 2010s to witness a completely contemporary metamorphosis of the bow tie, which finally is able to free itself from being used in an exclusively formal context. Today it’s become a trendy item: designers have fun reinterpreting it with different fabrics, colors and materials, using originality to create an everyday garment that is also chic.
Between elegance and irony
So, when is the right time to wear it? Tradition usually reserves the bow tie for elegant occasions, especially in the evening. It becomes indispensable if you wear a tailcoat or tuxedo, accompanying a shirt with a so-called “diplomatic” collar: in the first case the bow tie will be white (in pique or eggshell versions), while in the second black. Even vests and cardigans can be accompanied by a bow tie, but on one condition: that you don’t forget the jacket!
The label aside, as we said the fashion of the new millennium has “downplayed” the bow tie, making it more ironic and playful, especially for young people, who aren’t afraid of daring when it comes to patterns and colors. And if purists could shudder to see a bow tie without a jacket, it’s good not to forget how this accessory, in its long history, has never been afraid of appearing anti-conformist.
A traditional bow tie requires a minimum of familiarity in order to tie it well: the aim is to achieve two wings that are perfectly symmetrical, of the same dimensions and length. How to do it? First of all, it’s necessary to wrap the ribbon around your neck so that one end is longer than the other, then place the longer end on top of the shorter one, cross them and tie them together. At that point the longer end is placed on your shoulder, while the shorter one is folded horizontally until it forms a bow, to be held momentarily between the thumb and index finger. The longer end will then be lowered over the knot and, with a cuff, will be inserted into the ring that will have formed on the back.
Looking in the mirror, you can adjust and straighten the wings so that they are equal.