The Velvet Bow Tie

(Noeud Papillon)

I’m a big fan of the black velvet bow tie that’s become a popular alternative on the red carpet as of late.  Its pitch-black appearance and prominent placement under the face add a dramatic punctuation to Black Tie without degrading the outfit’s refined minimalism.   It’s this adroit balance of flair and understatement that makes it one of the few successful innovations since evening wear’s golden age in the 1930s.

That wasn’t necessarily the case when the novelty first appeared in the early 1970s because back then bow ties were ridiculously oversized.  They emerged as part of a period vogue for stylistic excess that ended in the mid ‘70s with the return of social and sartorial conservatism.  When Brad Pitt revived the trend at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival the tie’s proportions were much more civilized and it was the only variation in an otherwise quintessential Black Tie kit (courtesy of Tom Ford).  The following year there were enough red-carpet spottings to inspire an Urban Gentleman post on the topic and celebrities have continued to adopt the trend up to present day, one of the most recent examples being Judd Apatow at the 2012 Golden Globes.

For maximum impact the tie should be constructed of quality silk or cotton (cheap versions don’t have the same rich, lustrous appearance) and have its band hidden by a turndown collar so that only the bow is exposed.

“GQ” Man of the Year Ryan Kwanten at a 2011 Oscars after-party (Just Jared)


  1. Dan

    Can a velvet bow tie be worn year-round? Velvet seems like it would be more appropriate for cooler weather. Can it be worn with both silk and grosgrain lapels? On a related note, what are the best stores to view a variety of self-tie black bow tie options to purchase? Many department stores I’ve been to, as well as Brooks Bros, seem to only offer one size. Thanks

    1. Peter Marshall

      The heavy texture of velvet would indeed seem to harmonize best with cooler weather. It can be worn with either type of lapel facing because it’s an alternative to the usual matching bow tie. As for retailers of self-tie formal bow ties, are you looking for one that offers a variety of models or a variety of fixed sizes? If it’s a variety of models you’re looking for try the suggested retailers in the Buying Guide portion of my The Black Tie Guide (

  2. Murat Bilsel (@mbilsel08)

    I haven’t seen sized (non-adjustable) bow ties outside the high end stores in Savile Row. At least one Savile Row retailer sells them online as well (I think plugging its name is inappropriate, although it is listed on the retailers section of the black tie guide).

    Fortunately, most (if not all) tailors are capable of converting an adjustable bow tie into a sized one. All it takes is cutting at the right places and some stitching.

  3. Hal

    Have you tried Ede & Ravenscroft?

    They do sized bow ties online (they aren’t on Saville Row so I guess there must be a couple of places that do them).

  4. The Shadow

    Clermont Direct has a sized bow tie in black silk barathea, and the model is not as long and thin as the modern butterfly, and yet not quite as substantial as the classic butterfly.

    i have one, and it looks exquisite with all of my dinner suits (which are all grosgrain).

  5. Nicholas

    This is a ‘Dicky’ bow tie from Le Noeud Papillon .

    1. Peter Marshall

      (Nicholas is referring to the model of the bow tie shown at the top of the page.)

  6. Faux Brummell

    Would it be inappropriate to wear a velvet bow tie together with a velvet dinner jacket? I assume so, but thought I’d ask just in case. Thanks.

    1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

      It would be unorthodox but not necessarily inappropriate.


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