Bow Ties Turn Up on the Cool Crowd
It's just a slim slip of silk, yet it says so much.
After years under the chins of the pocket-protector crowd, the bow tie is cool. It now appears on "Gossip Girl" characters, fashion runways and sports stars -- as well as young hipsters.
Tie designer Alexander Olch provides step-by-step directions on achieving the perfect bow tie. Ray Smith reports.
Forgotten by fashion for years, a bow tie today is both nostalgic and new. Marcus Wainwright learned to tie one on from his "old man" as a well-bred British youngster. "It's one of those things you sort of yearn to go back to," says Mr. Wainwright, one half of the design duo behind trendy clothing maker Rag & Bone.
Last year, Rag & Bone created a few bow ties from unexpected fabrics such as wool suiting material. To Mr. Wainwright's surprise, they sold well and continue to do so.
Madras, seersucker, twill, matte and jacquard -- Brooks Brothers is stocking them all in growing numbers. Richard Cristodero, the company's neckwear buyer, brightens at the mention of bow ties, whose sales have been surging this spring. "Each week we have increases from last year," he says. Brooks Brothers stores around the country are asking for more, in bright colors and all shapes, including butterfly and pointy-tipped. What else is selling better this year than last? "Nothing," Mr. Cristodero replies.
The Churchill is the best-selling bow tie at Beau Ties Ltd. of Vermont.
"We have seen more bow ties appearing in ads for menswear than we have ever seen before," says Bill Kenerson, president of Beau Ties Ltd. of Vermont, which makes 50,000 bow ties a year, including custom versions, in Middlebury, Vt. His best-seller is the Churchill -- navy blue with white polka dots. For a store at the Capitol that caters to Congress, buyers have asked Mr. Kenerson to develop a bow tie made entirely in the U.S. There are few if any silkworms left in the U.S., so Mr. Kenerson is exploring nonsilk fabrics.
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Dual connotations of brains and daring may help explain the bow tie's return to grace now, when many people feel a need for intellect and courage. Though it's just a patch of fabric bobbling over the Adam's apple, the bow tie is oddly redolent of elevated thought and persnickety attention to detail, with a touch of making out after the prom. Like a seamed stocking, it is simultaneously fastidious and subversive. Wearers have a wild side, or want to seem like they do.
"It's for if you're feeling a little nerdy but in an intelligent way," says Kevin Arkadie, a style-conscious Los Angeles television producer and screenwriter.
A bow tie says a man has a sense of humor. Nowhere else can a man wear a bow, except tied around his neck -- just sufficiently off-kilter to establish its authenticity. (Note to the novice: Clip-ons and cheaters are too perfect and thus not cool.)
K. Cooper Ray
The bow tie's fashion moment is pleasing to longtime loyalists like Cooper Ray.
Like bitters in cocktails, bow ties are a particular taste that ebbs and flows. Though bow ties are believed to have predated long ties, fewer than 5% of men wear bow ties regularly, according to Mr. Kenerson.
Cardigans, V-necked sweaters and narrow ties are also suddenly popular these days. We're channeling Paul Newman at a moment when Rambo characters seem to lack the finesse needed to solve our modern challenges.
"The American collegiate look is hot right now," says Eric Jennings, men's fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue, which has also been selling more "geek chic" bow ties. He's working on a new line of Saks-brand bow ties for fall. They will be loud.
That's part of the point -- to be noticed. Bow ties aren't quiet. These days, it's attention-getters who are wearing them. Bow ties are worn on "Mad Men," a fashion-driven television show that may have influenced this trend. David Beckham has been snapped in a bow tie with a vest but no jacket -- formally informal. Increasingly, teens love them, too. Kevin Jonas, the eldest of the Jonas Brothers pop trio, wears bow ties with the top button of his casual shirt unbuttoned.
All this makes it a grand moment for longtime loyalists, who wore bow ties when they were down.
Younger fashion icons like the Jonas Brothers pop trio are adopting the look.
"I don't feel like the dork in a bow tie anymore," says Cooper Ray, whose red hair, glasses, and freckles once made him a bow-tied stereotype. As the founder of SocialPrimer.com, a masculine online cross between the Preppy Handbook and Emily Post, Mr. Ray recently threw a party in Los Angeles, bow tie required.
It should be noted that in social settings, a bow tie remains more likely to draw grins than swoons. "They really worked for Orville Redenbacher," says Jill Haney, an image consultant in Cincinnati whose clients include Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson. When it comes to business, she suggests that bow ties should remain the stuff of courtrooms and accounting wonks.
"I'd be the first to admit they're not the sexiest thing coming down the walk," Mr. Ray says. Yet, he says, ladies seem to find them charming.
"Whenever I wear one," he says, "women smile."
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