Vintage Evening Neckwear
What may appear to be bow
Regency era evening wear were actually large neckcloths
elaborately wrapped around a tall shirt collar and finished in a
small bow. By the 1860s
the fashion for high collars had subsided and with it the neckcloths,
leaving behind narrow flat bows which were the original bow ties.
Regency evening wear circa 1807.
||Early formal bow tie, 1873.
||Full-dress American bow tie circa1900 (source)
In the early and mid
Victorian era either black or white neckwear was allowable with
evening dress. By the
time of the dinner jacket’s arrival in the 1890s only white was considered
acceptable with tailcoats. Said the American
etiquette manual Correct
Dress in 1887: ““The proper tie for a Full Dress Suit is a
straight band of white lawn 5/8 to 3/4 inches wide, tied by the
wearer in a square bow with short ends.
Made-up ties are not to be used.
Satin and silk ties are not now considered good form with
The “lawn” referred to is a
lightweight, semi-transparent woven fabric.
Other acceptable fabrics were cambric (a weave similar to
lawn and also known as
batiste) and piqué. “Linen” was also often listed in period
guides and presumably referred to linen in its standard weave as
lawn and cambric were often made of linen as well.
For the dinner jacket any of
these formal white ties were acceptable or a gentleman could opt for a
black bow tie of “silk or satin”, the latter being an artificial and
glossier version of the former.
The ends of the bow tie band
were at first straight then pointed ends became a fashionable
alternative by the turn of the century. At this time they were tied loosely so that the knot
(sometimes known as a barrel
knot) was often as wide as the bows.
Self-tie bow ties of this of this
usually fixed size while pre-tieds were adjustable.
During the Edwardian era
full-dress bows made of piqué began to match shirts made of the same
material. White bows ceased to be correct with the informal dinner jacket
and from then on only black was acceptable.
1907 black "batwing" tie from Army & Navy Stores
1907 black "thistle" tie from the same English
department store chain.
||A range of full-dress styles offered in
1907 by Army & Navy. Click for details.
Around this time a new style of bow tie appeared on the scene
featuring ends in the shape of a
thistle. When the
center knot was drawn tight on this model the resulting bow took on somewhat of a
butterfly shape, giving rise to the the tie's interchangeable names
Concurrently, the older
straight band style became known as
These would remain the basic shapes throughout the remainder of
the century although the their individual popularity and proportions would
vary dramatically with each swing of fashion’s pendulum.
A new style popular in Oxford in 1925 featured egg
shaped centers instead of the usual circular shape.
Illustration of a one-ended bow tie from an
etiquette manual's tying instructions. Click
to see the complete instructions.
||1931 ad promoting the lower cost of adjustable
ties versus sized ties. (This UK company is still in
1932 ad for "dinner tie
and shirt" styles.
1937 "Windsor tie" named after Duke of Windsor
||1948 colored bow tie for warm-weather
During the 1920s the
butterfly shape became more common and, thanks to larger wings and
unlined material that allowed for a tighter knot, more pronounced.
Because the ends had be wide enough cover the ends of the
wing collars with which it was worn different custom sizes would be
required to correspond with different custom collars. Conversely, the straight- and
pointed-end versions of the batwing (the former sometimes known as a
club) were intended to be
worn with any size collar.
In England one-ended (aka single-ended) versions of the butterfly gained in popularity.
Although described as “tricky” they had the advantage of
allowing an even smaller knot.
By the next decade the novelty was also catching on in
In the 1930s the “semi-butterfly” – a more moderate form of the
thistle – was the most favored style.
Menswear magazines and etiquette manuals repeatedly reminded
men that the tie should be worn outside the collar’s wings and that
they should not extend past the end of the wings.
For the full-dress bow tie, cambric had fallen out of vogue and the
tie was therefore either linen or piqué
cotton to match the shirt’s
fabric. By the 1940s
piqué was standard and the shirt and waistcoat often matched.
1950s ribbon tie.
||1980s miniature batwing.
With the tuxedo the
extremely narrow ribbon
bow tie was a fashion-forward alternative in the 1930s and again in
the Jet Age of the 1950s when the streamlined batwing had become the norm with a
modern turndown collar.
Then the fashion pendulum swung again with the arrival of the
Peacock Revolution’s “neo-Edwardian” vogue in the late 1960s which
revived the butterfly shape and expanded it to massive portions
(oblivious to the fact that the true Edwardian bow tie had been a
tiny affair). It
remained in its comically oversized state through the seventies to harmonize with the disco era’s exaggerated lapels, trouser
bottoms and ruffled shirt fronts.
Then back swung the pendulum and in came the New Wave
batwings so narrow that their bow was not much wider than their band.
These iconic eighties bow ties were often colored to match
the cummerbund and were almost always paired with the period’s ubiquitous
wing collar shirt.
The extreme shifts in
fashion finally settled in the 1990s and bow ties returned to
moderate proportion, semi-butterfly shape and black color.
However, by this point they were being increasingly
challenged as de facto black-tie neckwear by the tie-less
Nehru collar shirt at first then by the black silk long tie.
Details from a circa1960 tuxedo manufacturer postcard
promoting "Paris Match: a complete formalwear
||V-shaped continental tie circa
In America in the late 1950s
the traditional boxy and bulky cuts of
English suits gave way to the slimmer and more youthful Italian cut which
became known as the Continental Look.
To complement this new streamlined style of tuxedo,
formalwear manufacturers introduced the continental tie, a wide
strip of black silk or satin that crossed over at the throat where it was
held together by a snap or decorative pin.
The 1963 edition of Amy Vanderbilt’s etiquette book advised
that it could be worn with the ends down or tucked under the collar,
adding that it was “Rather ‘Western’ looking, but attractive on some
men”. A V-shaped version that
attached like a ladies' choker appeared in the mid sixties.
The fad died off by the late
sixties although these ties are still available from some
western-themed and specialty retailers today.