Bow Ties

The man who tied the best bow-tie knots I ever saw was someone who rarely wore a tie of any kind. My brother Bill fit none of the most enduring stereotypes of the bow-tie wearer. He was neither the fusty professor nor the anemic Pee-wee Herman type, but he did have the soul of an artist and when he did don a tie, he did it with a panache that would rival the Scarlet Pimpernel.

But when I asked him to teach me to tie one just like him, he said, "Sink me! Why would you want to?" His objection wasn't that he mistrusted his own skill, but that the bow-tie knot was the personal expression of a man's character.

Otherwise, why not wear those cookie-cutter, pre-tied numbers? The shape of bows and tightness of the knot, the relative obsession or insouciance with form, all bespeak idiosyncrasies of the wearer. His knot was always a contradiction, with the most florid bows and an intensely, tight little knot. Go figure.

I only mention this because bows are back and the timing, with warm weather's arrival, couldn't be better. Most of us wear them only on formal occasions—which is a shame. The bow tie is at heart so nose-thumbingly snarky that it goes great with the brighter colors and more expressive patterns (especially seersucker) of the spring and summer. The season is especially conducive to the bow format as you avoid all that fabric of a fore-in-hand tie wagging around when you are more active. The bow tie is also designed for quick release. Give it a yank and it's off.

For inspiration see the bows pictured here. Robert Talbott (roberttalbott.com) supplied the first, third and fifth ties from the top and Dion (dionneckwear.com) the second and forth. If you haven't mastered the knot, plenty of Web sites provide instructions. Unless a bow tie is adjustable, never buy it without trying it on. Many of the ties from our two providers also include a hook that lets them break apart in the back. Using that allows you to take the tie off and on without having to retie the bow (or getting your big brother to do it for you).

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