Sprezzatorture: The Untied Bow Tie

For decades clotheshorses have signaled their custom suits to the cognoscenti by leaving one button on their sleeves undone. This subtle practice eventually served as fodder for budding literary dandy Tom Wolfe in his 1965 essay “The Secret Vice.”

But today, thanks to the Internet, the style conscious are ceaselessly bombarded with photos of rakish gents — chiefly Italian — and their arsenal of sprezzatura parlor tricks. The result is an endless jousting contest as to who can be the most nonchalant. Soon buttondown collars were left unbuttoned, socks were forgone even in winter, and those eager to make their point with a bullhorn wore cardigans without a shirt.

Back in 2011, Ties.com pushed the trend of forced neglect via the untied bow tie “worn as a scarf,” writing:

Bow ties are a hot trend and now there’s a new way to wear them: open-faced. This style is worn more like a scarf and lends an air of elegance and class to your ensemble. John Legend is a big fan of the style, seen here sporting it at the Grammy Awards.

Anything you can think of doing style-wise — like wearing a collar pin with an unbuttoned buttondown — has probably already been done in a Ralph Lauren ad. To wit, the image at left. But this is a fashion advertisement: not reality, but simulated reality. In the ad’s unspoken narrative, the gent with the “open bow” no doubt untied his tie due to an unseasonably warm afternoon (as of this moment in New York City, incidentally, the Dow and the mercury have risen in tandem).

From our post on the yellow oxford, here’s Fred Astaire with unkempt tie during a furious skin-beating session:

But John Legend, on the other hand, apparently left his home not only without tying his tie, but without even the intention of eventually tying his tie at some later point, such as during the limo ride. This is unaffectedness at its most affected.

Sartorial nonchalance: Apply sparingly. — CC

24 Comments on "Sprezzatorture: The Untied Bow Tie"

  1. I always loved this look on Gene Hackman in David Mamet’s film Heist. Hackman is the quintessence of nonchalance in this role. Check out the (untied) bowtie with button-down blue oxford. I put a pic on my tumblr here: http://bit.ly/o05Xvs

  2. While I agree with your point I do have to add, John Legend is hands down cooler than all of us readers and or writers combined.
    What vocal artist today can even touch this guy?

  3. I embraced the bowtie when I was in law school–when the only place in the region where you could get one was from a small rack in the Brooks Brothers on in the Rookery Building. But I tend to overheat even when it’s 65 degrees, so my bowties were generally worn undone–the two sides of the tie worn at different lengths to at least appear that the tie had been tied at some point. My classmates thought it was OK. They called it the “post-prom” look.

  4. A loosened necktie is at least still knotted, and can be tightened in a second.

    A loosened bow tie is a strand of fabric dangling from a neck, akin to an unbuckled belt dangling from a waist.

    There’s a line between nonchalance and sloppiness, and a loosened bow tie is on the wrong side of it.

  5. “Sprezzatorture”—what an outstanding neologism!

    Fred Astaire had more style and class in his toejam than most people experience in their lifetimes.

    You are not Fred Astaire. You will look like a tool with an untied bow tie.

    In “Royal Wedding,” he started a practice session with a tied bow tie; when he called it quits at 2 or 3 in the morning, the tie was loose.

    In “Swing Time,” he wore a floppy bow tie with a tuxedo for a dance number; it was to compensate for the absence of tails. In either case, he had something that would rise up and fly when he spun, analogous to the way a woman’s dress rises and floats when she spins.

  6. A tie is meant to be worn as a tie. This means in place with a buttoned shirt collar, not necessarily tight, but properly worn. Not a rag around one’s neck. Fred and those boys in the ad might as well just put on dresses.

  7. Everyone knows that a tied bow tie ads the perfect amount of a swagger to a dapper outfit. Untied bow ties indicate exhaustion at the end of a long day, and someone who pretends that they don’t play by the rules. Check out http://www.knotbytiffa.com or http://www.knotbytiffa.wordpress.com for the perfect look, matched with a perfect tie, for the gentleman who isn’t afraid to look his best.

  8. P.S.: When I said “you,” I meant generic “you,” not any specific person.

    My apologies for any confusion.

    I disagree with you on Fred’s untied bow tie, Duke: he could pull it off. We can’t. It’s that simple.

  9. I was just discussing this horrible phenomena with a friend of none. If you are heading home from the party, at 3 am, feel free to undo it. Do not ever (ever!), wear it as a scarf. You just look like you are trying way to hard (which you are).

  10. “This is unaffectedness at its most affected.” Was what I thought reading the header line. The only time a Bow tie should be undone is in the moments prior to actually tying it, and removing it. A silly affectation to leave it undone..

  11. I find the redundant stripes relatively unoffensive, so I say the tie is worse. However, as I mentioned above, I would find the tie acceptable if it were *under* his collar…

  12. The problem with the stripes is that they’re all “matchy-matchy.” He’s trying too hard, and it shows. The bow tie-as-scarf only exacerbates his “see how hard I try to be nonchalantly unaffected!” look.

    This could be fixed by the following simple steps:

    Change the colors of two of the three striped items (recurring navy is OK).
    Tie the tie (under the collar, of course).
    Roll down the sleeves.
    Put on a jacket.

    Voila! Instant adult style!

  13. I don’t think it’s actually possible to pull off unless the event you’re attending is over. For example, at a dance, if you haven’t even started dancing yet, then you’ll just look like you’re trying way too hard, because you are. There needs to be some amount of function to back up the form. After a full night of getting your groove on, having sweat through parts of your shirt and with hair sticking to your face–this is when you unbutton the top button and untie your bowtie.

  14. Andrew K. | June 24, 2020 at 9:07 pm |

    When a guy starts undoing himself before the event is over, he does not look cool. He just looks like he doesn’t have a good tailor.

  15. Anonymous | June 24, 2020 at 9:41 pm |

    Andrew K- you are right. This is all an attempt to be cool. A turd on an iceberg is cool,too, but not necessarily a good thing.

  16. Charlottesville | June 24, 2020 at 9:42 pm |

    Very true, Andrew. Fred looks wonderful, as he nearly always does, but he is not at a party. Today I wore a BB #1 stripe bow tie, and after seeing Fred above (in “Daddy Long Legs” if I am correct), have untied it at home after dinner, letting it fall loose as shown. I wish I could play the drums, but the piano is handy if the mood strikes. However, none of that means very much, which relieves a great deal of pressure.

    Affectation is never as unaffected as one would hope, and yet we all do it, or at least are tempted, whether in nonchalantly name-dropping the A-lister we saw at a party or (much more likely in my case), wearing a pair of GTH pants to a church picnic (not that I have done it, but I did once wear linen pants, seersucker jacket, Madras tie, white bucks and a Panama hat; got some nice complements too from a couple of sweet, elderly ladies who called me “young man,” which says more about their age than mine). Nothing actually wrong with any of that, but being aware that one is being “different” and thinking the difference signifies anything of import is a sign of one’s own insecurities, and quite silly. All okay of course if one can laugh about it, but not if one is being pretentious. Smugness is never a good thing. It is part of being human, and theologians have described it as original sin or “Pride,” often wisely listed as the worst of the Seven Deadly Sins, because it is usually at the root of all the others.

    As I have gained a few years, I am at least a bit more aware of the silliness of it all, as well as more comfortable being myself, which if one is relatively healthy, should include laughing at oneself from time to time. One should should be comfortable in one’s clothes, and generally in one’s life, doing what one likes, but still drawing up short of the point where strangers are pointing at you, poking each other in the ribs and saying, “Hey, get a load of that guy.” So far I have avoided that fate, so far as I know, but I hope I would laugh if it ever happens.

    Here endeth the lesson. Sorry to run on. Good night all, and I hope you have a pleasant sleep.

  17. elder prep | June 24, 2020 at 9:42 pm |

    I have always found the untied bow tie a sloppy affectation, intentional or otherwise. Attending many Italo-German family weddings in the New York City metro area over the last four decades, it was my heavily inebriated uncles who, around 1 in the morning, had this look and I knew they needed a designated driver to get them back to New Jersey.

  18. The first guys to do the un-tie are usually the ones who didn’t want to get “all dressed up” to start with…and probably call everyone “bro”.

  19. Hardbopper | June 25, 2020 at 7:48 am |

    I would untie my bow tie for the drive home after gigs. But no one saw it, so it never happened. Right?

  20. Daniel Ippolito | June 25, 2020 at 9:28 am |

    I find sprezzatura to be a combination of hypocrisy and outright deception – trying oh so very hard to look like one isn’t trying. It is also an insult to good tailoring.

  21. I actually didn’t wear bow ties regularly until age 60. I’d wear one occasionally as a young guy, very rarely, though. Too fopish for a young man. Old men can wear just about anything, and get compliments. I think family would be upset if I didn’t wear one with my blazer or coat.

    I wear bows to all family functions, where the t shirt is the preferred attire for men, as well as women. Sad how most people dress today.

    I’d never wear an untied bow tie, or any untied tie, BUT, it would be refreshing to see a man wearing a collared shirt, even if the tie is untied.


  22. Andrew K. | June 25, 2020 at 4:59 pm |

    @Charlottesville you hit the nail on the head! Agree that most if not all of us have been guilty of an affectation at one time or another, and also agree that it is a matter of not taking yourself too seriously. If you have the reputation of dressing conservatively, you can occasionally wear something outlandish and be in on the joke, that is self-mocking rather than self-important.

    Fred Aistaire is always cool, and Hackman is a classic. But aside from that, the untied bowtie is particularly offensive because it is usually feigned nonchalance, but also because the wearer is (not so subtly) signaling that he is so sophisticated that he knows how to tie a bowtie.

  23. Charlottesville | June 26, 2020 at 11:55 am |

    Thanks, Andrew. Undone surgeon’s cuffs on a suit or sport coat hit me the same way. Some of my clothes have working sleeve buttons, but leaving them undone seems showy and pointless and therefor in poor taste.

    For me, a seersucker suit, a bow tie, a fedora, a Panama hat, a pinned club collar, cream linen pants or white bucks are all well within my comfort zone, at least when worn in an appropriate venue (no hats indoors, no white bucks at the office, etc.). But for someone else, the same things might feel phony. I would not be comfortable wearing my bowler or boater, except when feeling whimsical and in company who would understand the joke. However, for someone else, the same headgear might feel perfectly normal, and for all I know, white bucks may be standard in summer law offices and courtrooms further south. Everyone needs to figure out what works and what doesn’t according to his own temperament and surroundings

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