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OPINION | MALE CALL: Wearers of bow ties yearn to stand out in a crowd

by Lois Fenton | May 16, 2021 at 2:25 p.m.

Q As an avid bow tie wearer, I love seeing new converts! Being in the world of finance at a large broker-dealer, I started wearing bow ties as a differentiator from my charcoal suit/four-in-hand tie-wearing colleagues -- a happy side effect being an English client who always tells me I look "very smart." It's always nice to get that kind of validation. I'm wondering about wearing a bow tie today, as informality combines returning to the office with Zoom.

A It is always nice to hear from a man who gets pleasure from the clothes he wears and also from the feedback he receives about what he wears. I imagine that will not change in the latest iteration of the workplace.

You did not say whether you wear bow ties exclusively or if you intersperse them into your rotation. But your use of the word "avid" suggests that you wear them often. In either case, it's apparent you have seen how much fun it can be to be recognized as "a guy who knows how to dress." There are so many different ways to achieve this; one of the easiest is to be a bow tie wearer.

I tend to find that bow tie wearers are often in academia (think of English professors) or in professions requiring that people bend over drawing boards (they prefer a tie that won't get in the way). Sometimes, however, the guy in the bow tie is a successful businessman or lawyer who merely prefers the flair and unconventionality of a bow tie.

Men who choose a bow tie do so as a form of personal expression and so, those wearers are likely to continue. When you see someone wearing one outside of formal settings, you know he really enjoys wearing it (unlike a regular tie, which can sometimes feel like an obligation). Wearing a bow tie always makes a statement; it says: "I'm not here to blend in," and "I'm fine with standing out." Bow ties are a departure from the usual, occasionally for business wear, more often for social situations, and as an essential element of formal dress. We tend to identify certain men as bow-tie guys. John Flannery, a well-known lawyer and frequent guest on "The Beat with Ari Melber," wears one regularly; it has become his signature.

Every so often, bow ties become the hot new fashion, and we see many more men wearing them. This was the case just a few years ago, but the style's popularity does not generally continue for very long. Even so, wearing one is never wrong ... unless the specific tie you choose is a mistake.

What constitutes a mistake?

Wearing a silly, way-too-small bow tie, or an equally silly, floppy, too-large tie. The correct size has changed over time; today's bow ties should be 2 ½ inches wide. It's wise to pay attention to this small point of fashion; check to be sure that all of yours are in style. For an investment from as little at $20 to $95 (depending on the store in which you are shopping), your whole outfit can be brought up to date.

A more common error is wearing a tie that came pre-tied (or, worse, a clip-on). Can you even conceive of James Bond (or Fred Astaire) wearing a clip-on bow tie? It's important to tie your own. And because the bow tie itself is noticeable, another mistake is combining it with other noticeable or offbeat elements; the rest of your outfit should be subtle (no bold patterns).

Bow ties do specifically say a lot about the wearer. Since they are fun and playful in a way that regular ties are not, they can make you look friendly and approachable. A bow tie can soften a look that is too edgy, or sharpen a look that may be too boring. While they are worn by those who are unconventional, it is true that they can also be associated with older styles. I generally think that people who like bow ties are those whose fathers, or significant figures in their lives, wore one ... a nice homage.

Please send your men's dress and grooming questions and comments to MALE CALL:

Lois.Fenton@prodigy.net

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