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The Definitive Bow Tie Guide

For centuries now, people of fine taste have appreciated the nuanced art that is wearing a bow tie. If you seek to join the club, then you need not travel any further; you've come to the right place. This helpful guide will touch on everything there is to know about bow ties, including the different types and styles, how to tie one, when to wear one, and more.

Types of Bow Ties

There are three main types of bow ties to be aware of, and they are not all created equally. To the undiscerning eye, all three appear similar, but someone who knows what they're looking for will immediately be able to tell the difference between each type.

The Clip-On Bow Tie

The go-to bow tie for those that just can't be bothered, clip-on bow ties are bow ties that are already formed into a bow, cannot be untied and use a clip to attach to the shirt collar. This is the cheapest type of bow tie and should generally be avoided at all costs. Sure, for small children, a clip-on can work. Nobody expects a four-year-old to be able to tie his own bow tie, but a self-respecting adult should steer clear, or run the risk of making a poor impression.

The Pre-Tied Bow Tie

A step up from the clip-on is the pre-tied bow tie, which, as the name suggests, comes already tied but has an adjustable neck band. These are great training bow ties for those that love the style but have not yet mastered the art of tying their own. Some pre-tied bow ties look fantastic and can fool most people into thinking that the bow was tied by hand, but a true style aficionado will be able to spot the difference in no time.

Pre-Tied Bow Tie

The Self-Tied Bow Tie

This is it. The one. The classic, timeless, go-to bow-tie. A self-tied bow tie is just what it sounds like; it's a bow tie that has been tied entirely by hand, much like a typical tie is tied by hand each time it's worn. There is definitely an art to tying a bow tie, and that will be covered later in this guide, but for now, just know that any person who truly deserves to wear a bow tie can tie it themselves.

Self-Tie Bow Tie

 If you're still on the fence about which type of bow tie is right for you, be sure to check out this article, which breaks the choice down in even more detail.

The Different Styles of Bow Ties

Bow ties come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Generally, the shape of a bow tie comes down to personal preference, but there are some instances when a particular style will be more fashion-forward than another. The following are the most common styles of bow tie.

Types of Bow Tie

  • The ‘butterfly’ bow tie – standard, neat and sophisticated.
  • The 'diamond and ‘diamond point’ bow ties – ultra sophisticated and oozing charm.
  • The narrow ‘batwing’, a.k.a the ‘straight’ bow tie – modern, unique and fun.
  • The rather unusual and striking 'wings' bow tie - simply unique.

To have a look at these styles, and others, in more detail, take a look at our guide.

When to Wear a Bow Tie

When worn tactfully, a bow tie can be pulled off at any time, even in casual situations, but traditionally bow ties are employed during formal occasions or to dress up a semi-formal outfit with a little something special. Now, white-tie and black-tie events always require a bow tie. Weddings and red-carpet events, though not always requiring one, are nonetheless great opportunities to show off your bow tie. That being said, wearing a bow tie just because you feel like it is always an excellent reason. Be sure to check out this handy guide if you're unsure whether or not a bow tie is appropriate for a specific occasion.

How to Tie a Bow Tie 

There’s definitely a magic formula for tying a bow tie and it takes some practice. But if you follow the steps carefully, you’ll be a pro in no time, and once you learn how to do it, it's like riding a bicycle; you'll never forget.

 Many ‘how to tie a bow tie’ guides miss out or gloss over one very a crucial step in the tying process. So, if you’ve been beating yourself up because you just can’t get it, it’s almost certainly not your fault. Try our step-by-step ‘How to Tie a Bow Tie’ guide which we absolutely guarantee will get you tying your bow tie like an expert in no time.

The History of Bow Ties 

Bow ties have a long and storied history dating back to the 17th century. Both bow ties and traditional neckties originate from a piece of neckwear known as a Cravat, which was popular during that era. The first modern bow ties appeared around the 1830s and became popularized by the end of the 1860's thanks to the inclusion of them in the wardrobes of prominent men, such as Abraham Lincoln. These days, bow ties are most commonly worn by people with a sense of classic, timeless style, who aren't afraid to stray from the pack and play by their own rules.

Famous Bow Tie Wearers 

The list of distinguished gentlemen (and ladies) known to have appreciated a fine bow tie is long, reading like a who's who of high society through the ages. These are just a few of the people who have contributed to the popularity of the bow tie:

  • Winston Churchill
  • Gore Vidal
  • Charlie Chaplin
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Fred Astaire
  • Albert Einstein
  • Sigmund Freud
  • Humphrey Bogart
  • Frank Sinatra
  • Thomas Edison
  • Princess Diana

Those who dare to be bold and pay homage to the timeless bow tie are indeed in good company!

What to wear with a Bow Tie

Traditional wisdom has it that bow ties should only be worn with tuxedos. That said, it's the 21st Century and therefore pretty much anything goes! Bow ties look great with most suits, so long as there is a nice complementary jacket. Make sure to select a width and shape of bow tie that matches the width of the lapel. Remember, larger ties require wider lapels to look their very best. Bow ties also look great with more casual shirts and waistcoats, as well as with a shirt/jumper combo. Basically, if you’re wearing a shirt, you can wear a bow tie, but do give some thought to colour and pattern combinations.

How to Style a Bow Tie

The main trick when it comes to styling a bow tie is to make sure that the tie’s pattern and material compliment the shirt, jacket or jumper that you’re wearing. Some standard fabrics used for bow ties include cotton, seersucker, linen, silk, and tweed. You might want to steer clear of combining a highly patterned shirt with an equally patterned bow tie. If the shirt is very fancy, wear a plain bow tie in a complementary colour or visa-versa. You’ve got a lot of combinations to consider, but like anything else, a little thought and some time spent trying out different styles and fabrics, and you'll end up with the perfect look – be that formal, sedate, quirky or downright wild!

Best Professions for Bow Ties 

Any academic career, or profession that necessitates formal attire more than once in a blue moon, will be a great candidate for a bow tie. Professors, Lawyers, Doctors, Politicians, these sorts of jobs involve, at least occasionally, formal dinners and the like, so having a few choice bow ties in your wardrobe will serve you well in such lines of work.

How to Coordinate a Bow Tie with Other Accessories 

The bow tie will naturally be the star of the show in a formal outfit, but the devil is in the detail when it comes to fine style. A matching, or contrasting, pocket square, watch, cufflinks, shirt buttons, or a nice pen are the supporting cast and crew that bring the whole ensemble together and can elevate a person’s style, image, and reputation when well coordinated.

Best Shirt Collars for Wearing with a Bow Tie

Most, but not all, shirts will work well with a bow tie. Here is a list of some great choices when it comes to selecting the perfect shirt for your new bow tie.

  • Button-Down shirt
  • Windsor collared shirt
  • Cutaway collared shirt
  • Spread collared shirt

Conclusion

After 400 years of fashion trends coming and going, only the very best have withstood the test of time. Bow ties are not for everyone. It takes a certain type of person, an uncompromising, bold personality with discerning taste and sophisticated style, the kind of person who respects and appreciates tradition, even when blazing a trail of their own.