Golden Years: Bow Tie Laugh Riot


An extraordinarily witty and cleverly packaged new book by James Gulliver Hancock succinctly titled “The Bow Tie Book” addresses the idiosyncratic cravat style alternately viewed as eccentric, erratic, professorial, bohemian and Churchillian.

The book is loaded with a compendium of bow tie history from many eras in an uproarious agenda. Social Primer K. Cooper Ray claims, “Whenever I wear one, women smile,” a view hardly shared several pages later with a sober shot of the Duke of Windsor arrogantly knotting a flawless bow. Right wing pundit Tucker Carlson’s appraisal, “When you wear a bow tie, you have to turn the
part of the brain that cares about other people’s perceptions.” His neuropsychological diagnosis occurred prior his au courant long-tie conversion.

Russell Smith, observed in The London Globe and Mail, is quoted saying “Bow ties are tricky: They carry strong connotations: conservative, newspaperman, high-school principal. They are instant signs of nerd in Hollywood movies. They look fastidious but not exactly sexy. I like them.”

Hancock, an internationally noted illustrator, supplies the effort with more than 100 color and black-and-white photographs of bow tie-wearing men, along with quotes from bow tie wearers, designers and admirers. It also features a removable “How To Tie a Bow Tie” cheat sheet for beginners.

I must admit to being disappointed the book failed to include Harvard professor, JFK advisor, and J. Press customer Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who famously quipped, “It is impossible, or at least, it requires more agility, to spill anything on a bow tie.” Another J. Squeeze standby, New Haven pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock, rationally favored them to protect spreading any germs that might attach themselves to a long tie.

My irrelevant complaint by no means diminishes the net worth of this great book for bow tie virgins or their hypersexual opposites. It is a worthy antidote to Windsor Knotters and the Every-Day-Is-Casual-Friday tieless. — RICHARD PRESS

79 Comments on "Golden Years: Bow Tie Laugh Riot"

  1. The cover appears to feature a pre-tied one.

  2. I won’t say I’ve never worn one. But I never wore one as an adult.

  3. Long live the right and proper bow tie!

  4. Bow ties were once favored by pediatricians not just to keep from spreading germs, but mainly because they are harder than long ties for little hands to grab. Also, if a little hand happened to grab a bow tie and pull, all that would happen is that the knot would come loose, as opposed to a long tie, which would turn into a noose.

    Bow ties were also favored by butchers (keeps out of the meat), ice cream vendors (keeps out of the ice cream), and architects (stays off the drafting table), amongst others.

  5. The Globe and Mail is from Toronto, not London. A great newspaper that has been around since 1844. Oy vey!

  6. Oops.

  7. James Redhouse | March 4, 2015 at 12:31 am |

    The New York Times’ Warren St. John put it best:
    “To its devotees the bow tie suggests iconoclasm of an Old World sort, a fusty adherence to a contrarian point of view. The bow tie hints at intellectualism, real or feigned, and sometimes suggests technical acumen, perhaps because it is so hard to tie. Bow ties are worn by magicians, country doctors, lawyers and professors and by people hoping to look like the above. But perhaps most of all, wearing a bow tie is a way of broadcasting an aggressive lack of concern for what other people think.”

    I would argue that the bow tie is the conservative gentleman’s only GTH item of apparel.

  8. This list of notable bow tie wearers might be of interest to the uninitiated:

  9. Vern Trotter | March 4, 2015 at 5:19 am |

    I believe it was in the eighties when the collar roll began to disappear from the Brooks OCBD that my use of the bow tie began to increase.

    In addition, it was safer when a gin mill argy-bargy descended further into mayhem!

  10. Philologue | March 4, 2015 at 6:28 am |

    @Vern Trotter

    Sometimes Brooks Brothers makes aesthetically appropriate decisions, as in the eighties.

    An OCBD looks ridiculous with a collar roll.

    When combined with a bow tie, it makes the bow tie look ridiculous.

    When worn with a straight collar or a “non-roll” OCBD, a bow tie is an unequalled touch of elegance.

  11. A blowhard right-wing colleague once told me he liked my bow ties because they were “conservative”. I corrected him and said that I liked and wore them because they were “old fashioned” (in the best way).

    Perhaps not unrelatedly, I enjoyed Tucker Carlson’s comment on perception, especially since his career seems to have exhibited an inverse-proportionality – having had a broader audience when he wore a bow tie, while currently wearing long ties and residing in the “where are they now?” file.

  12. Paul,

    Tucker’s career is much larger today, than his crossfire days.

  13. “An OCBD looks ridiculous with a collar roll.” Philo gets it. Brooks Brothers collars should never roll. They should, as HTJ says, looks brooksey. The whole collar roll obsession – where did this BS come from? Never was around in the 80s or 90s. More chumpspeak from #menswear savants…

  14. All the real savants — the septuagenarians — that I’ve spoken to while working on this site have all mentioned it and that there was a clear manufacturing change at some point.

    But you’re right that it can be obsessive for some.

  15. The only thing a bow tie does is let the rest of the room know you’re a douche. The only time they’re appropriate is in your collegiate years, black or white tie, or for themed events (namely the annual dinner dance) at the YC or CC. Wear a bow tie to work and expect to be taken as serious as the jerk kid who just watch Wall ST and came into his internship with a slick back and Gekko on.

  16. Any bit of cloth that can cause such wailing and gnashing of teeth is damn fine in my book!

  17. Charlottesville | March 4, 2015 at 12:42 pm |

    D.P.S.IV — Perhaps you accurately summarize the general view in N.Y. investment banking (I am guessing that may be your area, based on references in your comment), but I do not believe that this is true everywhere. Nerdy, I suppose, if you believe Hollywood stereotypes, and some may think it indicates a conservative GOPer, contra the late Democratic Senators Moynihan and Simon. But jerks? Not in my circle. Maybe it is geographic; bow ties are fairly common in Washington, DC and in much of the South, particularly in the legal profession. But then again, I see plenty of them when I am in Manhattan, and my stock broker also wears one, and he is neither a conservative nor a nerd, nor, for that matter, a jerk. Or, perhaps it has to do with age. On a guy in his 20s, I suppose wearing a bow tie may look affected, like smoking a pipe (neither of which would bother me). I first wore one in my 20s once a week or so. Now, 30 years out of law school, while I generally wear a four-in-hand, a bow tie makes a nice change of pace. Alas, my wife, like you, remains unconvinced of the bow tie’s merits, and so I wear them only occasionally out of deference to her delicate feelings.

  18. Philly Trad | March 4, 2015 at 12:57 pm |


    Do ı correctly assume that you were a fraternity member when you were in college?

  19. Straight Arrow | March 4, 2015 at 1:04 pm |

    I’d certainly rather associate with the gents on that list of notable bow tie wearers than with investment bankers.

  20. @Ethan: all I know is, I used to see Tucker in his bow tie in the next booth over at the Mayflower, smoking (if that gives you a time-frame) and generally playing the role; today I only see him in his long tie, [deservedly] embarrassed to be on television with the indignant shouters on ‘Fox & Friends’.

  21. My favorite bow tie anecdote is the experiment that John Molloy conducted for his book, Dress for Success. He accosted men on the street and asked them about their neckwear. Bow tie wearers were significantly more hostile to Molloy’s questioning than necktie wearers were – which supported his observation that bow tie wearers are generally (and justifiably) perceived as aloof.

  22. Womder what % of Heyday era college guys wore bowties and Barbour jackets? And Bean Boots, for that matter. Ivy Style articles and comments have been inclusive since the beginning, but sometimes it’s good to remember that Barbours, bowties, and Gucci bit loafers were few and far between on campuses 50 years ago.

  23. Christian | March 4, 2015 at 4:04 pm |

    Yes, though to clarify this site has never been only about campus dress 50 years ago.

  24. Here I am, smoking my pipe while wearing my Barbour jacket, Gucci bit loafers (after changing out of my Bean Boots), and bow tie, only to be told that my outfit is non-canonical? Next thing you know, someone will complain about the collars on Brook Brothers Oxford cloth button down shirts.


  25. D.P.S.IV writes that if you wear a bowtie to work, you won’t be taken seriously. Of course, this depends on where you work. There are still a few professions – and places – where a suit and tie is required (federal courthouses, the halls of Congress, certain embassies, etc.). If you work in one of these professions or in one of these places, a bowtie is hardly out of place, and you are hardly a jerk.

  26. Christian | March 4, 2015 at 5:37 pm |


    Don’t blame the author, there’s only a 1% chance he had anything to do with the cover. I’m sure his illustrations inside don’t look like that.

  27. Christian,
    Huh? I find that hard to believe. 1% say on the cover of your book? Who negotiated his deal?!!

  28. Etymologue | March 5, 2015 at 12:29 am |

    There are pre-tied bow ties that actually deserve the name. They are easily identifiable by the crooked knot in the middle. Then, there are imitation bow ties in which the “knot” isn’t a knot at all, just a piece of smooth material stitched on at the back to squeeze the tie at the middle and keep it from coming apart. The “tie” on the cover has never been tied.

  29. @D.P.S.IV

    So, men who wear bow ties are “douches” in your humble opinion.
    What does one call men who use the word “douche”?
    Haven’t heard that one since I was in junior high.

  30. Ezra Cornell | March 5, 2015 at 1:36 am |

    I mentioned this on another blog, but a bow tie is the only tie you wear when people ask you if you really tied it yourself. Why — why?!?! — do some menswear shops even sell pre-tied bow ties? What adult would wear a pre-tied long tie and go out in public with it? If you don’t know how to tie it, learn, or just forgo the pleasure. Never, never, never wear a pre-tied bow tie! Your bow tie should look three dimensional and smart, not like your kid’s glue-craft project.

  31. @M Arthur

    It’s just my sense, especially after having provided the text for a book out later this month.

    Even in this case, where the author likely sold the project rather than being a gun-for-hire, I doubt his contract would have included cover approval. That is surely handled by the graphics department under the guidance of the business side of things.

  32. Charlottesville: I live and work in NY, in finance, so you’re right it is most likely geographical and by profession. Despite my location, I am a Republican, but I see what you’re saying in regards to that.
    @Philly Trad: Yes, you are spot on.
    @Austin: It must be geographical, I hardly venture to DC or the south east, so I’m not exposed to normal people who wear them, it may just be the people in NY (at least where I work) could turn coal into a diamond.
    @Alatis: You’re clever, I did not realize words had age restrictions on them now, I’ll be sure to make sure everyone at the bank knows to no longer use the word. I guess those silly IVY league courses didn’t teach us that.

  33. Re: the cover.

    I’m not in the publishing industry, but I do have a little knowledge of it. Authors have nothing to do with the cover selection. That is purely a marketing decision made to sell books. Authors oftentimes don’t even have the final say on the title.

  34. @Philo

    I’ll bet if I said that pants without pleats look ridiculous, you’d be calling me all sorts of names!

  35. … or even the first say on the title. Remember how “manton” of Style Forum famously/infamously wanted to call his book “The Dandy,” as it was based on Machiavelli’s “The Prince.” His publisher accepted the book but said no way on the title, and it was called “The Suit” instead, which rather diluted the machiavellian concept.

  36. Philologue | March 5, 2015 at 1:00 pm |


    No, sir, I only wear pants with pleats.

  37. Philologue | March 5, 2015 at 1:02 pm |


    I guessed that from the use of “douche”.

  38. Philly Trad | March 5, 2015 at 1:18 pm |


    So did I!

  39. Vern Trotter | March 5, 2015 at 3:12 pm |

    Late back to the dance here and note a couple of pejorative comments from subaltern types about the venerated BB OCBD collar roll. (Yes, once again.) Mr. Mercer was quick to sense the void and in 1982, started his wonderful company and is going strong today. I am one of his very satisfied customers.

    How one wears his tie and collar is, as we agree, one of individual style. A bow or a four- in- hand with a buttoned or unbuttoned collar OCBD button. A collar pin with either. An ascot. Hard as it be, let us try to not be too subjective about personal style of others. Bow tie wearers usually could care less.

    Lately I wear bows with Mercer’s straight point Tennis collar. I hope his firm is in business many future decades.

  40. @ Philologue

    Are you holding conversation with yourself?

    It is quite unbecoming.

  41. Re: AEV’s link to the author:

    An “artist” who cannot dress himself attractively is no artist at all. I’m sure he thinks himself fashionable, but he is in no way dressed well.

    Note to the pedants: this is not to say that an artist should wear a suit and tie when creating his art; for certain media, such an outfit would be foolish. However, when posing for a publicity shot, perhaps one should look one’s best.

  42. Vern Trotter,
    A collar pin with a button down?

  43. M Arthur,

    Yes—if you’re Fred Astaire (and don’t button the buttons). Otherwise, no—you’ll look as stupid as every idiot who apes Gianni Agnelli by wearing his watch over his cuff.

  44. C.C. Collins | March 6, 2015 at 12:29 am |



    Using the word “douche”, thereby turning a blog into a bog is far more unbecoming than having a conversation with oneself, I daresay.

  45. @Henry

    “Tthis is not to say that an artist should wear a suit and tie when creating his art; for certain media, such an outfit would be foolish. However, when posing for a publicity shot, perhaps one should look one’s best.”

    That would be an interesting thing for a character to say in a novel about artists. I’m thinking something like Henri Murger’s “Scenes de la vie de boheme” from 1851.

  46. Mr. Hancock (the author), indeed, looks like the kind of guy who moves to Brooklyn from Los Angeles. I’d kill for his head of hair, though.

  47. Christian, am I Rodolfo, Marcello, Colline, Schaunard, or someone else?

  48. Christian | March 6, 2015 at 2:27 pm |

    You’d be inserted into the novel, and not one of the bohemian artists.

  49. Do I get to die of consumption, as so many Bohemians have?

  50. Rodolfo: We must live for our art, suffer for our art, and if necessary, die for our art!
    All: Hear, hear!
    Henri: And wear the proper clothes all the while!
    Marcello: What?
    Schaunard: In our penurious state?
    Colline: Madness!
    Rodolfo: Henri, what can you mean by this?
    Henri: The suffering artiste cannot be caught wearing the finery of the elite; he must always wear rags, but impeccably.
    Schaunard: We wear rags not because we are Bohemians, but because we have no money!
    Colline: Indeed!
    Henri: Yes, but we must wear them properly!
    Rodolfo: Can there be an improper way to wear what little we have?
    Henri: But of course! The writer and composer must never wear any but fingerless gloves, and must bear the stains of his trade on his sleeves. The painter, ah, the painter! Affording no smock, he shall have paint-splattered clothes, not by choice, but of necessity. And the sculptor shall be enrobed in the dust of his trade, which he tries, but fails, to beat out of his clothes with rough, calloused hands.
    Colline: Madness, I say, pure madness!
    Rodolfo: No! In order to dedicate our lives to our ideals, we must do as Henri suggests!
    Henri: (coughs violently, falls to the floor)
    Rodolfo: Henri!
    All: Henri!
    Marcello: (approaches Henri) He’s… dead.
    Rodolfo: Alas, poor Henri!
    Schaunard: Can I have his coat?

  51. Henry, you have made my evening. Bravo.

  52. Christian | March 6, 2015 at 9:14 pm |

    Henry you are now an artiste. Dress appropriately.

  53. Vern Trotter | March 7, 2015 at 1:19 am |

    This could be an adaption of RENT, Ivy Style!

  54. Vern Trotter | March 7, 2015 at 5:45 am |

    Embarrassed, adaption is not a word; adaptation was meant!

  55. Vern Trotter | March 7, 2015 at 7:08 am |


    Yes, Taki spends a lot of ink on his late friend, Agnelli. He claims the watch was worn on the outside of the cuff because the cuffs were too tight on his bespoke shirts. It also was faster to tell time. Gianni wore Brooks OCBDs with the collar point buttons unbuttoned and with the skinny end of his necktie longer than the fat end.

    A friend of mine also does this. Drives all winter with his convertible top down and other laddish behavior.

  56. @ Vern Trotter

    The musical “Rent” was based on Puccini’s “La Boheme,” which in turn was based on Murger’s novel.

  57. I should have noted further that the character of Henri in Henry’s adaptation clearly outdoes both Puccini and Rent.

  58. Let us not forget that La bohème was also adapted by Leoncavallo (of Pagliacci fame), but his version is almost never performed. I’ve heard parts of Leoncavallo’s version, and while it is OK in its own right, it lacks the joie de vivre of Puccini’s.

    And thank you, one and all, for the kind words.

  59. Charlottesville | March 9, 2015 at 12:20 pm |

    I am late to the party, but want to add my voice to the chorus. Vive Henri!

  60. Kenneth Bacon, R.I.P.

    Stubbornly maintained the sack suit-bowtie-round tortoise specs combo as the decades passed. Studious, staid, humanitarian. Frowner. And resident of Fishers Island.

  61. Beg ‘pardon. Block Island.

  62. @S.E.

    Ken Bacon, may he rest in peace, always wore round wire frame glasses, rather than tortoise shell frames.

  63. right. knew that. should’ve clarified with tortoise-covered wire rims. for a while, at least.

  64. A.E.W. Mason | March 10, 2015 at 6:14 pm |

    I’d also cite Irving R. Levine. Always looked perfect. Thoughtful man.

  65. Keith McKee | March 16, 2016 at 4:48 pm |

    Russell Smith, who authored a very good book on menswear called Men’s Style, writes for the Globe and Mail. He is Canadian.

  66. The traditional GTH tie.

  67. Looking back on Paul’s observation about Tucker Carlson–oh how the tide has turned. With the help of Fox News he rises like a Phoenix from the mainstream media ashes.

  68. Caustic Man | October 26, 2017 at 8:44 am |

    Wow, a conversation about Tucker Carlson AND opera in one go. Well done, folks. That tears it, I’m wearing a bow tie to Walküre next month.

    Also, I have to say that it’s not surprising that the strongest cries against the bow tie are couched in language that worries about what others think. Bow tie wearers, I suppose, make others ignore them at their own peril.

  69. Charlottesville | October 26, 2017 at 10:33 am |

    Bow ties are worn fairly regularly around these parts, and I happen to be wearing a paisley silk bow from R.. Hanauer today with a not-very rolly BB OCBD and an old Brookstweed sport coat. I generally see one or two bow ties at church, and professional functions. UVA students can be seen wearing them with navy blazers when there is a reason for them to abandon T-shirts and athletic wear for a special occasion. For some reason, Thursday seems to have become bow tie day around my office, and a couple of the 20-30 somethings regularly join in. I suppose bow-tie-wearing is particularly prevalent in the south, but it is certainly not the exclusive province of old guys, Republicans, nerds and lawyers (although I arguably qualify for all four of these categories with Episcopalian thrown in for good measure). Actually, I have been wearing them since my early 20s when I acquired my first bow tie since childhood from The Men’s Shop, a long gone Ivy purist store in Staunton, Virginia. They are still pretty thick on the counters of local stores, although a lot are of the whimsical, neo-prep variety, which I assume is something of a fad. I hope to continue wearing a bow tie now and then, long after the fad passes.

  70. Caustic Man, may I suggest a tie with an equestrian theme?

  71. I love bow ties and have a few and wish I could wear them more often, if only to prove that I know how to tie them. But I have enough trouble getting people to take me seriously as it is. (Yes, I am proving Caustic Man right.)

  72. I started wearing them in the early 80s, just because I liked the look, and usually got compliments. A little kidding from those who just couldn’t envision anything but a necktie, and of course a few questions about what it “meant”.
    Always got a chuckle out of those articles that “taught” how to tie one (“practice on your thigh”), as I just tied it like I tied a shoelace. Occasionally I’d untie and retie on the spot to show someone that it wasn’t rocket surgery, and it would turn out just fine, no mirror needed.

    Buy it, tie it, and fly it, onward through the fog!

  73. Christian, good idea. Like people who went to school in Kentucky I do indeed have an equestrian themed tie.

  74. I’ve worn a bow tie to all family holiday dinners, for the past 3-4 years. Since I’m the only one attired in anything that could be considered dressy, the bow tie helps show my opinion of the slovenly males in attendance.

    My brother in law has remarked how he hates bow ties. Another good reason I wear one.

  75. You bow tie wearers, feast your eyes on this:

    That’s the former president of Ohio State, Gordon Gee. Also former highest-paid college president in the nation. He had a reputation for being a big spender.

  76. Tucker’s ties are always perfectly tied in the conservative four-in-hand knot. I think he looks better in ties than bow ties, wonder why he switched, though.

  77. GS
    My guess is consultants, same reason many politicians I have known relinquished the button down when reaching higher office, John Ashcroft and JFK comes to mind.

    I liked Tucker’s bow ties it was like a trademark. Also note that he doesn’t wear button downs anymore. Agreed he still looks good.

    I had my first communion wearing a bow tie, worn them occasionally ever since. Always when eating BBQ ribs, every Wednesday. 😉

  78. Mac, good point. However, his shirts are by Mercer and his ties are always traditional, stripes and whatnot, and I think he wears three button suits.

Comments are closed.