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.
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:
- Drape the bow tie around your neck with one end slightly longer than the other.
- Tie an overhand knot.
- Fold one end of the tie over at the collar.
- Drop the other end over the first end.
- Loop it around the back.
- 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:
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.