How to Wear Bow Ties Without Looking Campy
Once an emblem of snazzy grandpas or nerdy whiz kids (think a young Sheldon Cooper), many men used to think that a proper, stylish bow tie had no place when not worn alongside a tuxedo. While many would still rather sport a longer necktie (or no tie) for casual wear, tying a bow around your neck for more dressed-down, everyday occasions isn’t unheard of, and is usually pulled off by the more sartorial set. Just refer to your nearest hipster bartender at a local craft cocktail bar for proof.
In case you haven’t considered adding bow ties to your rotation of accessories yet, here are a few things to consider: Bow ties are usually cheaper than your usual ties (they use less fabric), which means you can easily collect different prints and patterns. And unlike a necktie, which can get stained or jammed in the most inopportune places, a bow tie won’t interrupt or restrict your movements. It’s also not as fussy when it comes to face shapes and figures as a bow tie will look good with most faces.
It should be said, however, that bow ties are a statement piece; a subtle accent they’re not. Bow ties are great for jazzing up shirts and adding flair to your outfit. Here, a guide on how to wear a bow tie without looking campy.
Steer clear of pre-tied or clip-on bow ties.
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Learn to tie your own bow tie: It’s a worthwhile skill, probably easier than you think, and really the whole point of wearing it in the first place. No matter what you think, a bow tie that you didn't tie yourself detracts from the sartorial value of your outfit, and people will always be able to tell the difference. A pre-tied bow tie is always a little flat and too symmetrical. What you really want is something slightly more rounded and lopsided. The only time it’s acceptable to wear a pre-tied bow tie is if you’re a small child in need of assistance. Meanwhile, clip-ons are never acceptable. When you see them on a shelf in a department store, walk away.
Follow the rules of mixing and matching patterns.
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While dandy men have long pulled off spiffy bows with bold patterns, you can start with something more subdued if you’re still warming up to bow ties. For a more classic and versatile style that’s not too loud, get a plain one in navy or maroon. Gradually, you can work your way up to busier prints and patterns like a Glen plaid or houndstooth.
It’s also important to take note that the pattern or fabric can denote your bow tie’s level of formality. Black-tie and white-tie events usually call for a plain silk bow tie, while you can get away with linen or cotton for daytime wear, as well as dressed-down occasions.
Also, be mindful of the shirt and jacket you’re wearing, as well as the colors. Balance loud prints with plain or subdued patterns: You can choose to either wear a detailed bow tie against a plain shirt, or tone down an intricate pattern with a plain bow.
Always wear bow ties with a collared, button-down shirt.
Although this should usually go without saying, it’s best to establish this rule beforehand. Exposed bands never look good on a bow tie. A jacket—whether it's a dinner jacket, a blazer, or a sport coat—is appreciated but optional, but the accompanying shirt must always have a collar.
It’s OK if it’s a little imperfect.
The Italians have a word for this deliberate imperfection: sprezzatura, referring to a studied carelessness or nonchalance. Instead of striving for perfection, you aim toward a deliberate asymmetry. When tying your bow tie, note that the knot doesn’t have to be perfect. It should be a little to the side, and one side can be slightly bigger than the other.
Know which bow tie shapes are appropriate for each occasion.
Bow ties don’t come in a single size. Depending on the outfit and the occasion, there is a right bow tie to wear in terms of style and shape. Here are just some of the most common bow tie shapes:
The butterfly shape, also known as the thistle, is the most popular bow tie style. This classic shape goes best with formal occasions like your standard black-tie tux, but won’t be out of place for other events. Because of its versatility, it’s best to start with the butterfly bow tie if you’re beginning your collection.
Based on its name alone, it’s basically a larger version of the classic butterfly bow tie usually worn with dinner jackets, measuring about three inches in height. The big butterfly bow looks best on tall and larger men—it runs the risk of looking comical on those with smaller statures.
If you’ve seen a bow tie that’s straighter or slimmer than a butterfly bow tie, that’s the batwing. Regarded as a contemporary take on the butterfly shape, the batwing is typically seen on casual styles but has slowly made its way to black-tie occasions, as well. Batwing bow ties are usually less than two inches in width and provide a more streamlined look, hence its popularity with modern, trendy outfits.
Also regarded as one of the trendier styles, the diamond point bow tie is an asymmetrical take on the batwing, with tapered edges resembling the end of a diamond. The diamond looks best with prints and casual styles, like a rolled-up shirt with suspenders or with an everyday sport coat.
If the butterfly bow tie is regarded as a timeless and popular look, then the club round would be its opposite. Unlike the flat edges of the batwing, the club round bow tie has rounded ends, lending it a more whimsical look. The club round suits strictly casual dress codes, and can be the base of many playful patterns such as polka dots and bold stripes.