Take A Bow

The Amazing Tom sent me an article about Patrick McHenry and the history of bow ties in American politics. (Paywall alert.) It’s one of a number of articles about Mr. McHenry and his bow ties, almost all of which describe the bow tie as in one way or another bygone.

I really don’t understand why writers think like this. Ivy as a fashion has not only come back, it has surged back after the proclamation that it was dead. This getting it wrong thing is becoming cute. Remember when people said no one would dress for work anymore and then the Senate instituted a dress code?

I remember this study from Harvard where a criminologist student took data and created a causative link between pool deaths and the number of films Nicolas Cage is in. These are called spurious correlations. They are explained here. And they are really fun rabbit hole to go down if you have time. One such is the declaration that diet soda is bad for you (I am not saying it is or it isn’t) based on the correlation between drinkers of diet soda and health concerns. What that declaration does not take into account is the fact that diet soda is consumed by people trying to lose weight, and that overweight people have a multitude of health concerns anyway. And so forth.

You are gonna be tempted to write me: all I see are guys in tee shirts and jeans and flannels so that means Ivy is dead. I would urge you, and the writers of these articles, to consider please the cyclical nature of fashion. Fashion is an art form but it is also a sociological indicator. I grew up in Rhinebeck, NY in the 70’s. There, unless you were a lawyer or worked at IBM, you never wore a tie. And across the country, pants bottoms flared and shirts were unbuttoned. That didn’t mean that Ivy was dead (HELLO 80’s and 90’s!) it meant that where I was, at that time, there was less of it.

This is one of the reasons it is as important to look backwards as it is to look forwards. One cannot see cycles if one is only forward thinking. Is there something to this theory? Ivy hits its lane in the 50’s, then takes until the 80’s/90’s to come back full tilt, then kinda wanes then takes until the 2020’s to come back. Hold on, I will do the math… so every 30 or 40 years it booms and it remains constant for a percentage of the population in the interim.

Remember the Ivy Pie theory, first forwarded, well, I guess here. If 10 accountants out of 100 are wearing bowties, that’s 10%. Fast forward a bit. Now only 8 out of 100 are wearing bowties, but there are a gazillion more accountants. That doesn’t mean a decrease in accountants wearing bowties.

By the way you can get amazing bowties here. And should. They are a tremendous supporter of the site. We predicted the resurgence of Ivy and got that right, watch what happens with the bowtie.

19 Comments on "Take A Bow"

  1. Bow ties are the underdog: overlooked, ignored and underrated.

    As I wrote in my “Grandpacore” piece for this blog, a bow tie is an essential Grandpacore item for every man.

    Cardigans are also de rigeur for Grandpacore, and are coming back with a vengeance, especially among women:


  2. Charlottesville | October 10, 2023 at 3:29 pm |

    I earnestly hope that the Ivy cycle is due to return to the forefront, and with it the bow tie. About five years ago, there was a small but noticeable outbreak of bow tie wearing, even among 20- and 30-somethings, at least in some parts of the East Coast and South. Covid seemed to deal that a death blow, as indeed it did to most tie-wearing generally, but I have noticed a few more ties about recently. I now occasionally even see a bow tie locally, usually on an older guy at church, or on a stockbroker friend whom I sometimes meet for lunch, or in the mirror.

    I used to wear a bow at least once or twice a week. However, I must shamefacedly admit that I now probably only put one on once a month, even though I still wear a coat and tie nearly every day. This encouraging post reminds me that I need to do my part to encourage the bow tie resurgence.

  3. Interesting link on correlations, J.B. What we used to call connecting the dots.

    A brief image search reveals that Rep. McHenry wears, upon occasion, something other than the all too common ugly blue suit. Good for him!

    At one time I lived not too far from R. Hanker. I regret having not finding the time to drop in.

  4. I wear bow ties roughly 4 out of five days during the week. It’s almost become a trademark among my students.

  5. Every Tuesday is Bow Tie Tuesday, even when Tuesday is a Monday.

  6. One of the current standard bearers of Ivy style in broadcast journalism (and quite possibly in the Ivy Broadcasting Hall of Fame) is Bloomberg’s Tom Keene, co-host of the flagship Surveillance morning program, and he *always* wears a bow tie, even partly developing his on-screen persona around it (along with his self-deprecating humor and genuine respect for experience). There are a bunch of articles about his look (ex.: https://www.thetweedpig.com/2011/03/tom-keene-his-favourite-bow-tie-and.html), but he makes it work, and the way he wears them certainly fits into the timeless category of style. (He’s also something of a college hockey nut and a really good musician to boot.) I get it that popular culture too often associates bow ties today with either midcentury scientists with pocket protectors or Pee Wee Herman…but that’s also a popular culture obsessed with fashion, and the burn-it-all-down-every-six-months mentality that comes with it.

  7. Why would one declare Ivy “dead” based on popularity — that is, the number of men (or women) who are choosing it consistently as their go-to style? I’ll argue quality (of cloth and tailoring) over quantity.

    If Ivy is about numbers (popularity), then not only is it “dead” now, but it was “dead” back in the day. How many men were (could) opt for this style in, say, 1965? Two percent? Five percent? Old college yearbooks tell a story.

    Seems it is now what it always was: a fairly narrowly defined look that only a very few men (a.) could find, (b.) could afford, (c.) liked. I’ll venture a guess that throughout most of the country, Ivy never appeared on their radar, except for maybe a pair of Weejuns from the local shoe store, a pair or two of khakis, and maybe a button-down shirt. Maybe they heard about it (?), or caught a glimpse of Eastern Establishment types, whether JFK or Bobby, on the one television in the house.

    An additional thought is that for all the hoopla surrounding the Ivy-jazz connection, the historical record confirms it was a tiny blip — a fleeting moment. It was relinquished soon after it was discovered.

    If it remains cool, it’ll be on the terms our children and grandchildren establish and maintain, which are different (indeed) than the values and standards of my parents. The past few years I’ve seen more rustic Ivy on the campuses on “progressive” liberal-arts colleges than anywhere else. Because Ivy is small niche and small batch-ish, it kinda-sorta makes sense that you’d find more of it at Swarthmore than, say, Chapel Hill.

    If we look to middle-class suburbia or the new moneyed elites, then Ivy is “dead” indeed.

    • Couldn’t agree more, S.E. I think it’s always been a narrow genre. The main differentiator between the heyday and now is, of course, the internet, and the access to learn about and adopt the style by a much, much broader audience. How much broader? That’s hard to say. To co-opt one of John’s points, perhaps the consumer who has even a passing interest in Ivy is twice the size it was in the 1950s. So today, perhaps that means 4% of the male population thinks Ivy is cool, as opposed to 2% 70 years ago. It’s still a very small slice of the overall population.

      However, converting new Ivy-devotees via the internet has also led to a certain disconnect. What I mean by this is, there are men who now wear this look who only learned about it online (on balance, I think is a good thing). But, many live and work in places with no past association with Ivy, and so they appear incongruous. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, but it is an odd side effect of cultural dissemination occuring online.

  8. On Sept 28 I went to Yale’s Woolsey Hall for the opening night of the New Haven Symphony. I wore my usual J. Press navy blazer, OCBD, khakis, loafers and bow tie. The only other bow tie wearers were musicians and ushers. Only a couple of others even wearing a tie. I’m 68 and did get compliments from young and old. Maybe the example will rub off on others.

    • Jack, et al…

      It does not matter whether it is the act of wearing a bow tie (or a tie at all), no darts in a jacket, no shoulder pads in your jacket, 3/2 roll, polished shoes, proper fitting clothes, or to ‘pocket square’ or not, the style this site espouses and supports will go on so long as there are those who desire to have their sartorial choices be a significant defining element of their approach to life.

      When I swim, I wear a bathing suit – and since I am not a “swimmer” it is not a racing suit. When I am at the gym I wear shorts and a clean shirt. When I am painting, I wear something that will catch paint. When I am doing something professional, attending something for which I desire to show respect, or just running errands on a Saturday, I dress to show my level of intention and appreciation.

      Dressing for someone or something important will never go completely out of vogue, even though the trending sartorial styles do. Trad-Ivy had a time as the major trend during its heyday (as did parachute pants) and whether or not it becomes widely adopted once again may be irrelevant. We need to ask JPress and O’Connells if they sell more online merchandise or in-person merchandise. Our buying habits have evolved.

      Wear the bow tie, pull it undone before you leave the event to show-off that it was not a clip on if you want – wear GTH pants on occasion, rather than every day as other choose to do. Wear a tie to church and go to church. Shine your shoes and avoid pleather. But most importantly, do not be dismayed by the choices of others in their style preference. Blending in and being boring was never really the goal.

  9. I haven’t worn a bow tie in a while (aside from black tie) but am still a big fan. Once I learned to tie them without looking in a mirror I amassed quite the collection of maybe 45-50 bow ties. Every Tuesday for about 5 years was ‘bow tie Tuesday’, I should try and bring that back.

  10. Otis Brewster Hogbottom III | October 12, 2023 at 10:09 am |

    The only “problem” I have with Mr. McHenry’s bow ties–and it’s really just a quibble–is that they are too-perfectly tied. They look like pre-tied bow ties. I trust they are not! Either way, good for him for keeping the bow tie dream alive.

    I always felt that, no matter how popular they are at a given time, bow ties always look a little bit out of fashion. Which, in turn, makes them timeless. I realized that’s kind of convoluted logic, but there it is.

  11. Coming late to the party as usual, but I too enjoy and wear a bow tie about once a week now. It never fails to elicit positive comments and is a neat way to shake up the more typical long necktie look among those of us who still wear ’em routinely. Well worth learning the counterintuitive tying method.

    Kind Regards,


  12. My son is a senior in high school in the Chicago suburbs. He is certainly not Ivy or preppy. I believe he has worn a bow tie to every school dance he’s been to and there’s been several. It certainly has surprised me.

  13. @John, I would take one exception to your proposed timeline of Ivy coming in and out of fashion (or on or off the radar, depending on how one wants to phrase it). I would argue that there was actually more of an Ivy renaissance circa 2008-2012 or so, than there was leading up to 2020 and the following period. My evidence for this? It’s mostly anecdotal, but I tended to see more people wearing Ivy clothing in cities like New York, DC, and Boston than I did before that period of time, and since, for that matter. I don’t think it accidental that this very site was founded by Christian in 2008. Along with a host of other blogs catering to a similar audience (Maxminimus, A Suitable Wardrobe, An Affordable Wardrobe, The Trad, Unabashedly Prep, and even Wasp 101), they ushered in a renewed interest in traditional dressing among mid-career Gen-Xers and young professional Millenials of the era. I would argue that the era cultimated (or ended) concomitantly with the Ivy-Style exhibit at the Museum at FIT in late-2012, and the closure of Ralph Lauren’s Rugby brand in early-2013. All the other blogs mentioned, above, dropped off posting significantly in 2013, and ceased posting almost entirely circa 2015 or so.

  14. Most people are hesitant to wear bow ties because they don’t want to come across as nerds or dandies. As is often the case with certain styles that bear the weight of strong associations (fedoras, seersucker, safari jackets, horse bit loafers, tartan plaid, etc etc) it’s important to style those garments or accessories in such a way that those old associations do not emerge. It is indeed difficult to wear a bow tie without coming across as pretentious, but it’s not impossible. Wear it occasionally, wear it to places and events where people will appreciate your stylistic choice, wear it with casual pants, instead of dress trousers, wear it with the most casual of your tailored jackets. Those are just a few recommendations. And what is perhaps most important — please make sure the bow tie is SMALL! The smaller – the better. Straight or diamond shape is almost always better than the butterfly shape. And most definitely stay away from all sorts of silly designs and bright colors. There is nothing “classic” about a bright pink bow tie with bunnies for Easter or red one with candy canes for Christmas. Pick the most conservative, restrained colors and patterns you can find and you’ll make the right choice.

  15. The real hero of dressing ivy and a powerful reason to tout it is its earth friendly nature. All natural fibers will biodegrade. Synthetics will not. Just because a shirt collar or trouser cuff is frayed is no reason to replace the article. Dry cleaning solvents are avoided by hand washing and using a clothes brush. Even using an iron can be avoided without causing scorn. Wrinkles are ok! Other benefits worthy of mention include the real comfort of well worn, slightly baggy clothes and, for many hallowed brands, dressing ivy supports American workers and UK shepherds and cottage industry knitters.

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