How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Tie a Bow Tie

How Do You Even Tie a Bow Tie, Anyway?

When I wear a bow tie, the most common question I get is: “How do you even tie a bow tie?” The answer is sort of complicated, so here’s how that gets done.

The author, showing off his accomplishment.

A Brief History of My Bow Tie Fascination

I first became aware that the bow tie, that pinnacle of male neck wear, could still a viable fashion choice was in 1987. I was in college, and I went to see Senator Paul Simon at a rally during his bid for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination. Senator Simon, if you recall, was best-known for wearing bow ties and horn-rimmed glasses — and sharing the name of a certain musician.

But I also met a girl at the rally, fell in love for a little while (but it wasn’t the first time), forgot all about Paul Simon (like the rest of the country), and forgot all about bow ties.

Six years later …

I was in the midst of a year-long personal project where I wore a tie every day. Naturally, I went through a lot ties. Sure, I could have worn the same few ties over and over (like I do these days), but with so many vintage clothing stores out there, the variety route was more interesting. And because she loves a project, my then-future mother-in-law chipped in to help me out by regularly sending me trash bags jammed full of ties that she scrounged from various secret sources.

So, yeah, I had a lot of ties. A few of them just happened to be bow ties.

Years of Bow Tie Dabbling

Over the years, every so often I half-heartedly tried to wrangle myself into one of these strange-looking fashion accessories with little success. I poked around for a few lessons on how to tie a bow tie. I tried looking in new bookstores, used bookstores, and even, as it evolved, the Internet.

All the instructions I found seemed to go a little something like this:

  1. Drape the bow tie around your neck with one end slightly longer than the other.
  2. Tie an overhand knot.
  3. Fold one end of the tie over at the collar.
  4. Drop the other end over the first end.
  5. Loop it around the back.
  6. Tie the bow tie.

I always ended the process, more than a little frustrated, with a strangely knotted jumble of cloth at my neck. It seemed to me (and still does) that a little more description between steps five and six was called for.

Skipping Ahead: December 2010

My youngest daughter was sick, and I stayed home to take care of her. I was using the opportunity to do a little tidying up around the house when I tripped across my all-but-forgotten small stash of bow ties.

It had been years since I’d even thought about them. I quickly abandoned cleaning and fired up the computer. After all, here I was, living in the enlightened age of YouTube — certainly someone out there must have this wisdom and want to show off share it.

I found many videos that followed the previously mentioned 6-step formula, all lacking that essential detail. Most were presented with a certain showy smugness, daring the viewer to figure out what was going on. Even this one, featured on Lifehacker, kept the finishing process shrouded in mystery.

I was about to give up, then I clicked on this unassuming little number:

How to Tie a Bow Tie.

And there it was, the secret—right there at 1:50 (he even calls it the “the tricky part”). Five minutes later I was wearing my first self-tied bow tie.

So thanks to Ethan at Sherman Pickey (closed in 2016), I have joined a somewhat exclusive club.

I now wear a bow tie about once a week. The second most common question I get: “Is that a clip-on?” I love this question. It means my tie is tied so well and looks so good, a machine could have done it.

Now that’s satisfaction.