Endangered Species: The Bow-Tie Wearing Professor

hanauer crest

Content Warning: politics, poetry, bowties

Everyone should have a bowtie-wearing professor. This figure is deep in our collective unconscious. Looking at old photographs or watching old movies, you’re likely to encounter this wise and genial figure complete with tweed jacket, pipe, and floppy hat. Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones comes to mind, as well as his father, played by Sean Connery.

Surrounded on all sides by strip malls and highways, my California state college nevertheless had one bowtied professor. I was already wearing ties to class (and oddly enough, not the only English major to do so), and so was eager to sign up for a class by the bowtie guy, John Brugaletta (Ph.D., University of Missouri). I enrolled in his course on Shakespeare, and while we chatted a few times we didn’t strike up any great student-teacher bond, despite our mutual allegiance to neckwear.

He’s retired now, and you don’t find many bowtied professors these days. And that probably has something to do with politics. There’s a new book out called “Passing On The Right: Conservative Professors In The Progressive University.” The “passing” in the title refers to the kind of passing for white that light-skinned blacks used to do during segregation, or passing for straight that many gays felt forced to do. Currently, conservative academics feel more marginalized than communists, and believe they have to hide in the closet.

And apparently the most surefire way to de-closet yourself is to come leaping out wearing a bowtie. In a piece by The Atlantic called “Do American Universities Discriminate Against Conservatives?” the serious and lengthy interview with the new book’s authors ends with this amusing exchange:

Green: Is it true that any professor who walks into a classroom wearing a bowtie is, in fact, a conservative?

Shields: Absolutely. No question. They just scream conservative. You can’t find liberals who wear ties anymore, much less bowties. Conservatives tend to dress up a little bit—they’re more formal. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a liberal professor in a bowtie. Have you, Josh?

Dunn: Not that I can recall.

The book’a cover doesn’t feature a bowtie (the one above, incidentally, is by longtime Ivy Style sponsor R. Hanauer at BowTies.com). However,  it does feature some items you probably have in your very own closet — whether you’re in there with them or not:

passing right

While searching (and failing) to find a picture of my bowtied professor, I found one of his poems. He has published several volumes of verse and was the editor for many years of a renowned poetry journal. Never knew his politics, and it certainly didn’t matter when it came to the study of Shakespeare. Below is one of his poems, fittingly called “Pindaric Ode On Politics.”

Note that it rhymes, which is something you’d probably expect from a poet who wears bowties. — CC

Pindaric Ode On Politics
By John J. Brugaletta


What drives them to impetuosity,
to overthrow of custom, history,
tradition’s dignity, the charm of use?
Why all this spreading of the term “abuse”?

There is no evolution eons long.
We must have human thoughts the length of song,
or better yet, the size of one quick cry
before the Reaper enters and we die.

We were allotted lordship, so to reign
That some must lead while subjects bear the pain.
The two are separate and always were,
one of them purebred and the other cur.

What though starvation not infect the best?
We bear the burden of the golden crest.


The question now arises, “Who is best?”
Is it who likes to pose with hand in vest?
What use is liking, though it custom be?
And what of those judged best by history?

A few were lionized for killing foes,
but most esteem the ones who always chose
to share their coat or water with the child
who shivered or was thirsty. They were mild

with harshness, empathized with those in pain
and were not always prepossessed with gain.
They treasured life, down to the ant or fly
and did not ask what benefit or why.

We live not all alone; we are a clan,
a varied family with servant man.


A nation so immense will soon divide,
unless an iron fist is posed to strike
the recusant or rebel, either side.
But who is harmed if two don’t think alike?

A certain reticence will cool both brows
and couch all differences in tender terms.
Let not the bumpkin in us mire in sloughs
the equines or the doughty pachyderms.

24 Comments on "Endangered Species: The Bow-Tie Wearing Professor"

  1. I tend to lean left of center, and although I have not taught in a number of years, I wear bow ties. I know several acquaintances who are liberal professors who wear bow ties all the time. I will agree that Conservative professors are an endangered species and I find that trend disturbing. College is about being taught not what to think but how to think.

  2. I’m left of communist, studying to be a professor, and wear bow ties often. I don’t think this has much to do with politics, rather a generational shift wherein articles of clothing associated with professors emeriti are not viewed as legitimate fashion choices. Most are not willing to dress like a walking stereotype of an English professor circa 1962.

  3. Marc Chevalier | May 5, 2016 at 7:01 pm |

    I agree with you, Anon.

  4. Just curious, what’s left of communist?

    Also, may I wear your bowties? I feel I have a right to them.

  5. Marc Chevalier | May 5, 2016 at 7:09 pm |

    Anarchist, Christian.

  6. Rem acu tetigisti Marc. I had an anarchist as a political science professor in the mid 80″s. Though he wore tweed suits and bow ties, his views toward politics was something Marx and Engels would have approved. I credit him, along with what I realized would have been crippling college debt, and the fact that I find it difficult to suffer fools very willingly, with my leaving college early. I recall receiving a C in his class. The Reagan pins may have had something to do with my grade.

    I paid my college debts in two years and became fairly successful. Thank you communism.


  7. Philip Mann | May 6, 2016 at 1:04 am |

    Dear Christian,

    I think the exclusive association of traditional clothing with “consevative politics” (Neo-liberalism being anything but hence the quotation marks) is something your web-site should disperse. The beauty of traditional clothing surely is that it can be a foil for any kind of individuality and mindset.



  8. Frederick Fortnum | May 6, 2016 at 1:54 am |

    Was Prof. Henry Walton Jones, Jr. of Marshall College a Conservative?


  9. Ezra Cornell | May 6, 2016 at 2:08 am |

    I agree with these posts so far. I’m a left-leaning professor who frequently wears bow ties and can’t get enough tweed in my wardrobe. No necessary correlation between attire and politics, and that’s the way it should be.

  10. An insight from Italy and France.
    I am a PhD candidate in law, I am taking my PhD in Pisa, where I graduated too. Pisa has an extremely strong University heritage, one among the strongest in whole Italy. Pisa tends to be quite left-wing, in a Catholic-leftish sort of way, even if some conservative professors can still be found.
    I have had a couple bow-tie-wearing professors, and while I surely classify one of them as conservative, two others are liberal.
    I’d say that, as far as Italy is concerned, the “conservative” way to dress for a law professor is suit, especially dark, and especially three-piece, and tie, while liberals tend to skip the tie, wear unconventional ones (bow ties or knit ties), prefer OCBDs to formal shirts and sport coats to suits. There are exceptions both ways.
    Bonus track: when I were in Paris as a visiting scholar, I met a professor who consistently wore bow ties, of the self tie kind. While I cannot guess at all about his political views, it’s worth admiring his style (and contribution to law study, for sure), and many bow-tied photos of him can be found on the web. His name is Christophe Jamin.
    Thank you for your time.

  11. I don’t know Christian, I sure feel like my conservative culture is being appropriated by these lefty bow tie enthusiasts. Can’t they see my culture isn’t a costume?

  12. I agree that the affiliations with political ideologies, movements, and/or philosophies is misguided. And misleading.

    I think plenty of men who opt for the sack suit/jacket and button down shirt in the 2016 are making a statement of sorts. Whether leftist or not, there’s a reactionary bent that inspires to rebel against the steady flow of fads and fashions.

    There’s a story somewhere about a young John O’ Hara choosing Brooks (especially the Norfolk jacket/suit) as an act of rebellion against “Hollywood” fashions.

    Whether George Will or Howard Dean, the sack suit remains a stiff middle finger (even if unintended) to “fashion houses,” “fashion weeks,” and designers galore.

  13. Former boss, upon seeing me in a bow tie for the first time: “I like it – very conservative!”
    Me: “Not conservative. Traditional.”

    He was of the ‘conservative’ stripe who, having been educated in various state colleges and graduate schools, and was at the time sending his children to public schools, took young associates (each of whom – including myself – had paid the freight at private institutions) to lunch every so often to lecture us on the dangers of “socialism”. The irony was, apparently, entirely lost on him.

  14. Some of those who keep up with current events might have noticed that the person running for President who is on the left end of the political spectrum is also the person who most often wears button-down shirts.

  15. What’s left of communist? Not much left at all except a sneering smugness, apparently

  16. @Philip

    I don’t follow you.

  17. I guess I’m taking the bait here by responding, but here goes:

    As just about every other poster has said so far, associating clothing with politics is pretty moronic.

    I have a closet full of sack jackets and buttondown OCBDs, and I’m a bleeding heart liberal atheist that supports Bernie Sanders and doesn’t eat meat.

  18. Perhaps it’s just in academia that the book authors felt a bowtie signals conservatism.

    I think outside of it, it can often signify quirky liberalism. I’m thinking of Bill Nye The Science Guy (who used to attend the same swing dance events as me in LA).

    And I just remembered my most archetypal professor: tweed, pipe, beard, glasses. Standard neckties, though. I think he taught Poli Sci 101 and described himself as “so far left you can’t even see me,” or some such.

    Someone should write a piece for us called “the radical traditionalist.”

  19. I’m sure Alger Hiss was a trad aficianado, as well, but I appreciate Christian’s point.

  20. Ivy Tyro | May 6, 2016 at 1:00 pm |

    I don’t know what this gentleman’s political leanings are, but I sure like his style!


  21. I am kind of an oddball here, I am a retired high school government/economics teacher who wore bow ties fairly often…In spite of the fact I voted GOP ( won’t this year, and won’t vote for Hillary, so may turn in a blank ballot)my entire life, I was viewed a liberal due to the tie….but then, I am in East Texas and anything not wearing blue jeans and boots is perceived as ” liberal.”

  22. @ Annon:”and I’m a bleeding heart liberal atheist that supports Bernie Sanders and doesn’t eat meat.”

    And how old are you?

  23. Bill Kennick, chairman of the Philosophy Dept at Amherst. Note that the caption reads, “A bow-tied William E. Kennick”. Note, too, the two-button coat sleeve and the pipe. I doubt anything he did was accidental. He owned the New England college professor look. https://www.amherst.edu/amherst-story/magazine/issues/2009summer/collegerow/kennick

    The creed on this site (or the “party line,” if you prefer) is that 1967 was the year after which nothing was ever the same. A decade later, Amherst faculty who predated the pivotal year were still wearing the coats and ties they’d always worn (the exact same ones, I imagine) and were still addressing their students (in class) as “mister”.

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