How to Tie a Bow Tie

Nothing separates the men from the boys – and the waiters – quite like a self-tied bow tie.  And the best part is that you already know how to do it because it is the same as tying your shoelaces.  By combining the best of many other how-to guides with a little-known haberdasher's trick that reduces the whole process to child's play, the instructions below provide everything you need to add the ultimate panache to your black-tie ensemble. 

Getting Started


If you have an adjustable model, insert the hook on one end of the strap into the slot on the other end corresponding with your neck size. 

If your shirt has a turndown collar, flip the collar up just as you would before tying a long necktie.

If your shirt has a bow tie loop (see Black Tie Shirts), remember to slip the tie through the loop before starting.


The Practice Technique

As mentioned, a bow tie is actually tied just like a shoelace (or gift bow) so the sooner you can visualize that concept the sooner you'll master the technique.  This sounds simple enough except that shoelaces are not tied under the chin; a knot easy enough for a child to tie becomes a very different endeavor when one is forced to execute it in a mirror.  To familiarize yourself with the process without having to rely on a reflection, tie the bow tie around your thigh instead of your neck because it has roughly the same circumference but is situated within your line of sight.  You can use the printed instructions below but rotate the illustrations upside down to better reflect how the process will feel when executed under the chin later on.

Before starting you may want to download and watch the video clip on the right to get an idea of how the individual steps come together to create the final product and to better visualize the more finicky of those steps.

The Standard Technique

The photographs below show what you will see in a mirror when you follow the instructions. Obviously, the instructions will also work if you consistently exchange “right” for “left” and vice versa.  (In fact, this is what the model did so that the photographs would appear properly oriented when viewed as mirror images.) 


To help keep the process from appearing more daunting than it is, the individual steps have been grouped into four key stages.  If you mess up a step, there's no need to start over from scratchjust return to the beginning of the corresponding stage.


Tie a knot to position the tie


1. Drape the tie around the neck with the left end about an inch and a half longer than the right. (One end has to be longer because it will be used to create the knot between the two wings.)
2. Cross the longer end over the shorter end.
3. Tie a simple knot by wrapping the longer end up behind the shorter end.  Flip the longer end over your shoulder to keep it out of the way for now.
Advanced Tip: tie this knot tightly (and keep it tight during the subsequent steps) in order for the finished bow to sit snugly against the throat.  Unlike a long tie, you can't slide a bow tie knot tighter to the neck after the fact.

 Form the front half of the bow

4. Fold the shorter end at the widest part of the curve (see "Special Considerations" below).  This will create the front wings of the bow.  (Make sure the fold is on the right side of your chest.)  
5. Hold the front in place by pinching the center of the wings together.  Pinch with your thumb and finger or your first two fingers (see right photo on right) depending on which you find more comfortable during the next couple of steps.

Form the back half of the bow and knot the bow (the tricky part)

6. While holding everything in position as close to your neck as possible, place the longer end of the tie over the front of the bow.  This longer end will form the knot between the two wings.

Note that as the longer end goes over top of the bow it also goes over top of the thumb or finger behind the bow, thereby forming the top of the loop that was begun in step 5 (see close-up of loop in right sidebar).

7. Use your right hand to shove the middle of the longer end through the loop behind the bow from your right-hand side.  Obviously you will need to retract the thumb or finger that is holding the loop open (see close-up on right).
Advanced Tip: As you create this second knot, try to place it directly over the simple knot you created in step 3 (which should still be tied snugly against your throat).

8. Once the longer end is pushed far enough through that it can be released it without falling back out (it will form a folded wing), simultaneously pull it and the folded wing on the right side of the front bow to tighten the knot. You have now created a bow (albeit a very lopsided one).

Advanced Tip: If the back part of the tie is rather skewed after being squeezed through the back loop (and it often is), twist it so it is parallel to the front part before you tighten the knot.

Finesse the assembled bow

9. To finesse the bow, hold the knot tight with one hand and use the other to adjust the wings so that they are all an equal length.

Note: If you are using an adjustable bow tie and the finished bow ends up with a bigger rear half than front half, or if the neck band fits too loosely, adjust the tie size up or down accordingly and try again.

Congratulations - you've graduated to the big leagues!


Special Considerations



Folding Points


Like a gift bow, a finished bow tie bow consists of two opposing loops and two opposing loose ends. Unlike a gift bow, a bow tie has to be folded over at a specific point when creating the loops in order to obtain the distinctive "wings".


A butterfly bow tie is folded over at the widest part of the curve.

The “bat wing” or “straight end” bow tie is folded over at the point just before it begins to taper. 

A pointed-end bow tie is folded at the same place as a butterfly or batwing bow tie.  When the two sets of wings are overlapped during the tying process, the points of the loose ends will stick out beyond the straight edges of the loops.  Because the two sets of wings need to align fairly precisely to create the proper effect, this style of tie will usually require more finessing than others.


Single-Ended Bow Ties


  Bow ties with only one shaped end allow for a tighter knot but are very rare these days.  As these illustrated instructions from a 1960s etiquette book show, the tying process ends after the knot is tied in step 7there is no need to manipulate the loose end to create a second folded wing.  (This separate diagram shows how to tuck away the loose end into the shirt collar.)  The end result is essentially just the front half of a regular bow.