Every “Real Man” Knows How To Tie A Bow Tie

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If you’re a guy of a certain age, (or maybe any age, I don’t know), you can’t say you’ve never fantasized the following: You’re sitting at a plush Baccarat table, debonairly dressed in a crisp tux, cradling a dry martini (shaken, not stirred) in one hand, fondling a couple of heavy chips in the other, while coyly catching the eye of a certain femme fatale.

If there’s one prop that defines this scene, the one thing your mind’s eye focuses on, it’s the bow tie.

You can’t wear a shiny tux without one. The bow tie tells the story – the whole story.

Here’s why.

When you think of tuxedos and bow ties, you usually think of events. These could be rituals (like weddings and swearing-in ceremonies), gala high society affairs (like annual balls and award ceremonies), or celebrity roasts (think Friars Club and Dean Martin).

What do these all have in common (besides the bow tie)? They imply a rarified refinement. An atmosphere that at once seems both within reach yet serenely unapproachable.

It’s real in the sense that The Great Gatsby is real. We can all visualize the Gatsby’s mansion in fictionalized West Egg because the gorgeous Gold Coast mansions along the Long Island shores of Great Neck really do exist. But, alas, Gatsby itself is nothing more than fiction.

So it is with the aura of the bow tie. Those brief moments when we wear them take us to the suave swanky casinos this side of our Fitzgeraldian paradise. We become not who we are, but who we imagine we can be.

Yes, a bow tie transforms us. But does it do so in the way we believe, or does it instead reveal an inner truth we’d rather not know.

I had my own personal Gatsby Era. It was, by coincidence, during my twenties. Now, don’t get me wrong. They weren’t quite roaring. They weren’t a time spent frivolously swimming in hedonistic wealth. I could never be that rich. But for a blue-collar boy raised beneath the shadows of Buffalo’s belching steel mills, it was rich enough.

It culminated in the final year of that decade when I found myself invited to the first inauguration of President George H. W. Bush. I’m not saying life peaked at that point. What I am saying is any thought of living in West Egg evaporated soon after. (Maybe because, weeks later, we started The Sentinel and my exemplar switched from Jay Gatsby to Perry White.)

This is not that story. This is the story before that story.

Inaugurations, like balls of the haut monde, generally require black ties of polite company. That means a tuxedo. That means a bow tie.

Now, let’s get one thing straight. I had worn tuxedos and bow ties before. We all rented an ensemble for my brother’s wedding. To make life easier for us boys, the outfit came with a clip-on bow tie. Fast. Easy. It had utilitarian efficiency written all over it.

That, in itself, is a phrase worth repeating: “Utilitarian efficiency.”

The phrase makes the statement the wearer wants to make. Groomsmen generally want to enjoy the party. They don’t let the trappings of fashion get in the way. Heck, that’s why the suit is rented in the first place.

And there’s nothing wrong with this view. After all, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Yet, no one ever accuses James Bond of being a dull boy. And he only dons the best Saville Row has to offer. Who else could get away with wearing formal attire under a scuba suit?

There is one thing that gives it away, though. It’s the bow tie.

To truly reflect “casual” while wearing black tie, one must arrive at that hour in the evening when things loosen up. That’s when you can tell the proper gentlemen from the pretenders.

A proper gentleman will untie his bow tie, leaving the two raw ends dangling beneath his (now unbuttoned) collar.

You can’t do that with a clip-on.

There remains, however, a more important thing about the bow tie. It is the tying of it.

It’s much harder to tie a bow tie compared to the more pervasive necktie. A necktie is forgiving, with the only immediate faux pas dealing with its length, not its knot.

With a bow tie, it’s all in the knot. A gaffe (induced no doubt due to the frustration of attempting to tie it) can leave you looking like a tramp or, worse, a clown.

For all this difficulty, though, there is this important difference between tying your own bow tie and sporting a clip-on: a clip-on is perfect. The art of tying your own bow tie lies not in its perfection, but its random imperfection.

And that is the statement you should desire to make. To so publicly admit your imperfection tells the world you are not Jay Gatsby. You are honest. To a fault.

Let me end by saying women can wear bow ties, too. In 1930, Marlene Dietrich opened the movie Morocco dressed in a full tuxedo – complete with a top hat and a bow tie. Playing the cabaret singer Amy Jolly, this outfit became her signature look.

(As an aside, the director picked this costume because it included trousers. He knew the audience came to see Dietrich’s legs, so he didn’t want to give away the store in the film’s first scene. Incidentally, this part earned Dietrich an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role.)

Dietrich’s popularity inspired fashionistas for decades (and continues to through this day).

Fashion designers may meld imperfection into their designs, but it’s never random. The imperfection must be consistent and purposeful.

But then, can it really considered to be an imperfection if it’s planned?

Men – “real men” – don’t eat quiche and don’t give a hoot for high fashion.

But they do know how to tie a bow tie.

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