Sprezzatorture: The Untied Bow Tie

For decades clotheshorses have signalled 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.

Now, according to a recent press release from Ties.com, the newest trend in forced neglect is the untied bow tie “worn as a scarf.” Writes the company:

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 above. 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. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD

17 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. One small point: Socks were “forgone,” not “foregone.”

  11. Thanks. Fixed.

  12. “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..

  13. Christian | July 31, 2011 at 8:05 pm |

    Speaking of silly affectation:


    Vote on what’s worse, an untied bow tie over a buttoned-down buttondown, or triple rep stripes.

  14. 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…

  15. 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!

  16. 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.

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