Fashion in the 21st century is brilliantly eclectic and diverse. There are few rules these days and expressing your personality through fashion is more celebrated than it’s possibly ever been. So, whilst I don’t believe anyone should tell you what to wear or when to wear it, I’ve come up with some useful tips for bow tie enthusiasts or anyone looking for inspiration or an excuse to wear a bow tie.
Probably the most obvious place to start is with black tie or red carpet events. Usually you’re required to wear a formal tuxedo, shirt and bow tie – often in a traditional black and white colour combination. In this case many people opt for a simple yet elegant black silk bow tie or a formal white cotton Marcella design. Some go for the pre-tied style, but the true classy gent will always pick a self-tie for such occasions. This gives you the option, later in the evening, of opening your shirt collar, undoing your bow tie and draping it around your neck, thus showing off your bow tie tying prowess! There are, of course, those who like to cheat the system and wear a pre-tied style for the main event then take it off and lay a self-tie around their neck – you can always tell though, there aren’t any creases in it!
The simple black silk bow tie is an excellent choice, but my advice would be to choose something with a little more personality. This might be achieved by selecting a bow tie in a different shape or by including a special addition to the fabric. For example, a black silk ‘bat’ or ‘winged’ bow tie would still create a sense of elegance but is much more unique – you’re less likely to see anyone else wearing one of those styles. Or you could go for a small adornment, such as a gold or silver stud in one corner of the bow. Wearing something like this demonstrates style and class with a hint of individuality. I’ve always admired people who like to look a little bit different!
Weddings are another obvious choice of event for donning a bow tie. What better excuse do you need than to wear a jolly bow tie on such a joyful occasion! Bow ties can be worn by anyone attending a wedding, whether you’re a guest or directly involved in the wedding party itself. In recent years it has become increasingly fashionable for grooms to wear a bow tie and many opt for a colour palate that matches with the theme of the wedding. Tweed bow ties are particularly popular at the moment along with pale blue shades and sage green. But to be honest, I’ve seen almost every colour bow tie under the sun worn at weddings over the last few years! So, the choice is really yours and the 'look' can be tailored to your personality or wedding theme.
At some weddings the groom chooses to wear a necktie which is complemented by his groomsmen who wear bow ties in a similar fabric. This can look incredibly smart and looks fantastic in the wedding album photos.
As a wedding guest you can really play around with your bow tie choice. I recommend a bow tie that has a nod towards the colour of another item that you’re wearing. For example, why not match your bow tie to your socks or if you’re attending with a partner, you could colour match with an item of their clothing or accessories.
Another very popular venue for wearing a bow tie – indeed it’s sometimes a requirement – is on a cruise ship. During a traditional cruise there are often formal dinners and dances where women are expected to don an evening gown and gents a formal suit or tuxedo. In days gone by this would have been a nightly occurrence. However, nowadays there seems to be more freedom on a cruise and people are often keen to experiment with the colour and style of their bow tie or show off with something more striking. Cruise-goers that I’ve spoken to have suggested there’s a quiet competition going on between guests for who wears the best bow tie! Therefore, I’d recommend you pick a really funky bow tie, perhaps with a bit of colour, or bling, or even one that matches your partner’s outfit or accessories.
Bow ties are also excellent practical accessories. Unlike a traditional necktie which notoriously gets in the way or dangles dangerously in precarious situations, the bow tie stays where it is, up close around your collar. This makes a bow tie the perfect addition to any suit or outfit worn by a doctor, surgeon, scientist, professor, lawyer etc.
I’ve spoken to a paediatric doctor who wears funky bow ties to bring a smile to the faces of his little patients. And of course, Bill Nye, the ‘Science Guy’, sports them all the time. An attorney customer of mine in the US regularly wears his bow ties in court. They are really versatile for a number of professions and it’s not just limited to the ones I’ve mentioned here.
Anyone who wears a suit to work can don a bow tie, be it a formal or informal suit. One of my teacher friends regularly wears a blue tweed suit with a variety of bow ties and pocket squares - the kids love him!
Re-creating your favourite fictional character can be a great reason to wear a bow tie. Since making the bow tie for the 13th Doctor Who, played by Jodie Whittaker and worn in the 12th series of the iconic British TV show, I’ve come to realise the incredible skill and dedication that cosplayers put into making their outfits, often with the goal of complete screen accuracy.
Cosplayers go to great lengths to purchase or create garments from their favourite TV shows or books and there are quite a few characters who require a bow tie. Doctor Who is perhaps the most obvious one, as a number of incarnations of the Doctor have worn a bow tie at one time or another. However, other characters known for wearing a bow tie include James Bond, Poirot, Willy Wonka and Newt Scamander, to name but a few.
I've heard many people ask when it is or isn't appropriate to wear a bow tie. My response would always be that, as long as the dress code doesn't forbid it, you can wear a bow tie. However, it's up to you to judge the situation for yourself. Bow ties often convey a sense of fun and so, at a funeral for instance, you may wish to avoid bright colours or fancy patterns. Having said that, the family of a well-loved local businessman who died a couple of years ago and who was known for his wonderful bow tie collection, requested that all mourners wear their most impressive bow ties to his funeral. It really only requires you to assess the situation and remember that a bow tie, depending on the style and pattern, can be equally as formal as a necktie.
Having said that, bow ties look amazing when worn as part of a more casual outfit. In the summer, a bow tie can look lovely with a light summer shirt and short sleeves. Likewise, if you select the correct fabric and pattern, a bow tie can complement a casual shirt and sweater perfectly. Wearing a bow tie with a shirt, rolled up sleeves and a waistcoat is most hipster! So, although bow ties make for excellent formal accessories, they really do work well as part of a more casual ensemble. Why don't you experiment with your own bow tie stye?
Now you know when to wear a bow tie, here's and article on different 'Types of Bow Tie Styles’ that'll give you an idea of the different shapes of bow ties available.
Other Bow Tie Resources
We’ve put together a collection of helpful guides to offer advice and suggestions for wearing a bow tie...
Our ‘How to Tie a Bow Tie’ guide provides step-by-step instructions to help you tie the perfect bow tie. Here you’ll find a really useful video and written instructions.
If you've ever wondered whether bow ties are better than neckties, have a read of our article. I might be a little bit biased!