No Need to Get Zany With That Bow Tie, Sir

Answers for modern men.
Jan. 15 2014 5:31 PM

Take a Bow!

The ins and outs of a gentleman’s bow-tie collection.

Please send your questions for publication to gentlemanscholarslate@gmail.com. (Questions may be edited, or not.)

Should some guys just not wear bow ties?

Troy Patterson.
Troy Patterson

Photo by Christina Paige

Thank you for your question.

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Please allow me to pop its hood and to take a look-see at the proposition therein: Some guys should wear bow ties. This statement has been true since the 1600s, when Croatian mercenaries, dressed to kill in their cravats, made a major impression in Paris. Lacking uniforms, these soldiers made like gangsters flashing bandanas; the ribbons communicated a shared identity in sticking out their necks.

Who should wear bow ties? Any fellow who dresses up for work, especially if his work involves building old-fashioneds or pumping gas or designing machines for living. Also, if the fellow is active in the Nation of Islam in the Deep South in the 1960s, he should wear a bow tie because the cops might try to hang him by the other kind. In choosing neckwear that they wouldn’t have to fuss with while piercing foes’ bellies with Schiavona swords, those old Croats were acting quite practically, as you can see. A bow tie stays out of the way. It takes a lot of passion and effort to spill your soup on one of these babies.

Passion and effort. Guys should bring a bit of the former to their bow-tie game, while recognizing that an excess of zeal would spoil the effect. A guy should not wear a bow tie if he is going to be painfully self-conscious about it. (One way to do this is to start wearing them young so that it becomes second nature. Another is to start wearing them when you are too old to care about those not disposed to love your persona.) Ideally, a set of firm convictions or semi-eccentric charms encode themselves in the bow, for as is written in a chapter of The Men's Fashion Reader titled "A Tale of Three Louis"—Kahn, Farrakhan, Bourbon—the bow tie "becomes a sign that there is an ineffable 'something more' to the wearer." The lovely geek and the affable rake, the skinny Hoboken crooner and the portly Alabama lawyer—all announce their standards by flying this flag. Excitement is implicit; there’s no need to get zany, for the man in the bow tie has already affixed to his person a punctuation mark exclamatory of dapper delight. He’s not wearing a tie; he’s wearing a tie!

Wearing a bow tie should not, however, require any strenuous effort. It’s precisely the same knot you use to tie your shoes. The Gentleman Scholar is disgusted to learn that “the pre-tied bow tie” is now considered respectable attire in venues not labeled Valet Parking. A guy should not wear a bow tie if he cannot tie it himself. However, if his mommy can help him, he may safely ignore this rule.

A guy should not wear a bow tie if it acts as an accent on his image as, say, an upper-class twit. Years ago, Tucker Carlson, the preppiest of all right-wing blowhards, wore bow ties exclusively. Then, renouncing them, he exhibited a scorn comparable to that of ex-smoker Michael Bloomberg seeing Marlboro Red. “People despise you when you wear a bow tie,” he has said. As usual and of course, he is wrong on this point: People despise Tucker Carlson because he is Tucker Carlson—a vantage from which he is uniquely positioned to render a relevant sociological insight:

“Was your behavior better when you were wearing a bow tie?” Fox News co-host Alisyn Camerota wondered.
“Oh, no,” Carlson admitted. “It was much filthier because, look, you’re wearing a bow tie, so nobody suspects it.”

* * *

My wife and I are longtime friends with a couple who’ve lately been having marital troubles. I reserve all judgment as to who is at fault, or more at fault, in their difficulties. However, the wife has taken to publicly bad-mouthing her husband—my friend—in an ugly manner. If another man talked about my friend that way, I would have no problem telling him what I thought of it. If my friend talked that way about his wife, I likewise would have little trouble telling him why I disapproved of that behavior. But somehow it just feels wrong to tell a woman I don't appreciate how she talks about her husband in public, even though it feels equally wrong to listen to someone bad-mouth my friend without sticking up for him. Is my hesitancy to call a woman out for her unseemly behavior an anachronism in our modern egalitarian era? Do I enlist my wife to speak on my behalf (which seems cowardly)? Do I just ignore it and hope someone else—maybe a woman—says something to her?

Thank you for your question.

A lady is well within her rights to complain about her husband and to fill her friends’ ears with pleas for advice, but when she descends to common trash talk, she asks to be treated as a common person, without an excess of deference. One fails to see how gender enters into it.

A first draft of an appropriate response might be, “Hey, Lucy, I’m sorry that you and Ricky are having a rough time, but you need to remember that I’m friends with the both of you. I’d prefer not to be exposed to this ugliness, especially right here at the Tropicana.”

Alternatively, and assuming that you and your wife are in agreement, you can ask her to do the dirty work of canceling the airing of dirty laundry and offering a shoulder to cry on. Say to her something like, “Ethel, would you take Lucy out to coffee and tell her she’s actin’ crazy?”

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

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