Classic Black-Tie Neckwear
The formal bow tie is not
just black tie’s namesake but also its pièce de résistance as it
embodies the formality and elegance of the entire tuxedo ensemble.
When a tuxedo-clad gentleman enters a room, it is the black bow
shape framed against a crisp, white shirt that immediately sets his
attire apart from a simple dark suit. In the dinner suit’s heyday
formal bow ties were available in an almost infinite variety of
shapes and sizes. Today the ready-to-wear options are much
more limited and many of the classic variations will necessitate the
services of a custom tailor or manufacturer.
Self-Tie versus Pre-Tied
The choice of bowtie model
separates the men from the boys – and the gentlemen from the
waiters. Wearing a pre-tied bow tie to a formal function is the
sartorial equivalent of using training wheels at the Tour de France.
The decision to avoid
self-tie models is invariably based on ignorance rather than
experience as most men have no idea that the process is virtually
identical to tying a simple shoelace bow. Anxiety over a
flawed result may also be a contributing factor. However, the fact is that
a slightly asymmetrical hand-tied bow adds a unique flair to each man’s
ensemble much like the natural irregularities of a real flower
trumps the contrived perfection of an artificial boutonniere.
Fixed Size versus Adjustable
Adjustable models are the
norm nowadays but sized ties are preferable. The primary
advantage of a fixed length tie is that the width of the finished
bow will be directly proportioned to a specific neck size as opposed
to the one-size-fits-all bow which is expected to accommodate necks
ranging from fourteen to eighteen inches in circumference. And because the fitted models are made from a single piece of
material, their exposed bands forego the excess fabric
and unsightly clasps characteristic of the adjustable
versions – a particularly important factor for gentlemen with a
preference for wing collar shirts. Fortunately, an adjustable
model can be converted to a fixed size with a quick trip to the
The following are the most common styles of
(classic "straight-end" or "club")
butterfly or batwing design can have
pointed ends for a unique and classic effect.
The shape is a
matter of personal preference although the pointed-end designs
coordinate nicely with the angularity of peaked lapel jackets and wing-collar shirts. The dotted lines shown on
the patterns indicate where the tie blades (ends) are folded to
create the bow shape. In the case of pointed ties, the two
points are achieved when the pointed tip of one blade extends beyond
the square fold of the overlapping blade. (See
Tying a Bow Tie for complete details regarding the tying
While its shape may be open
to interpretation, the tie’s size must follow certain guidelines to
ensure a handsome proportion. Originally the rule of thumb was
that the outer edges of the bow never extended beyond the edges of
the collar. However, since wing collars are now much smaller
than they were, it is safer to use Alan Flusser’s rule that the
finished bow should fall somewhere between the width of the wearer’s
face and the outer edges of his eyes.
In terms of tie width (i.e.
the vertical measurement of the tie blades), these tend to vary by bow
style as well as by current fashions. The sizes used in the
chart above are a good starting point but by no means absolute.
In general, wider ties work well with higher collars as they prevent
the bow from becoming insignificant in comparison.
The term “black tie” says it
all. When it comes to neckwear for classic tuxedos, the only
allowable color other than ebony is midnight blue – and that’s
solely because it is considered blacker than black. (Ironically, a midnight blue suit calls for a black bow tie.)
Any other hue runs the risk of branding you as a 1980s prom
date or wedding usher.
The texture of the bow is
governed by the lapel facing of the dinner jacket. A satin
lapel calls for a satin bow tie while grosgrain facings require a
ribbed or textured finish such as barathea or faille.
(Technically, grosgrain and faille are different ribbed fabrics but
in reality the terms are often used interchangeably.) Like the jacket
lapels, a quality bow tie will always be constructed of pure silk.
When worn with wing collars,
bow ties are placed in front of the wings. This positioning is
not only proper etiquette but also a practical choice as the
collar’s wings will help to keep the bow in place by pressing it