When To Wear a Bow Tie vs Regular Tie

One of the little joys I felt after getting my feet a little damp in the world of menswear was wearing a bow tie on occasion. Bow ties definitely elicit different reactions than regular ties and I liked the variation a bow tie gave to different outfits.

I had learned how to tie a bow tie in the lead up to my wedding and, after that, I was eager to wear a bow tie whenever I could.

Even though I was new to menswear, though, I already had the notion that a bow tie wasn’t entirely interchangeable with a regular long tie in every situation. Menswear publications will tell you that there really isn’t any difference in the level of formality between a bow and a long tie (save for dress codes like black or white tie). This would lead you to believe that you could essentially wear a bow tie in any circumstance you would a long tie.

Technically, this is correct, but only if you ignore the modern connotations bow ties carry or the messages they, fortunately or unfortunately, send.

Gone are the days when bow ties and long ties were completely interchangeable. I mean, can you imagine a leading politician today wearing a bow tie a la Winston Churchill? I certainly can’t.

A good way to think about it is that even though a bow tie isn’t inherently more casual or formal than a regular tie, it is a bit more whimsical, for lack of a better term.

Feel free to wear a bow tie if you are ok standing out a little bit or if you’re ok with people not taking you super seriously.

Since bow ties aren’t nearly as common as regular ties these days, they are excellent for special or celebratory occasions.

A wedding is a great place to trot out a bow tie. As is a nice restaurant. Or the theater. Or a church event.

That all being said, you certainly CAN wear a bow tie to work. It just depends on the kind of work you do. Fields like the arts or academia are safe bets.

When wearing a bow tie to work, make sure you read the room. Remember that scene in The Wolf of Wall Street when Jonah Hill eats the fish of a young bow-tie-wearing broker? Make sure your choice to wear a bow tie doesn’t put you at odds with company culture, or, more importantly, the image you want to portray to your coworkers.

If you want to look like a hard-charging, cut-throat executive, don’t wear a bow tie.

If you work in a very conservative office, don’t wear a bow tie.

If you have an important presentation, don’t wear a bow tie.

If you have a high stakes client meeting, don’t wear a bow tie.

If you have an interview, don’t wear a bow tie.

It’s hard to be taken seriously while wearing a bow tie.

Also, and be honest with yourself, if you take yourself really seriously, don’t wear a bow tie. You can’t be brooding and standoffish in a bow tie. People will smile at you and want to engage in conversation.

These days, bow ties are fun, attention-grabbing, a little eccentric, and a little irreverent (depending on the situation).

Are you ok being described as any of these things? If so, then go right ahead and wear a bow tie.

That all being said, there are some style tips to keep in mind when you opt for a bow tie over a regular tie.

#1 – Tie it yourself.

This should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. Do not wear a pre-tied bow tie. Ever. You wouldn’t wear a clip-on tie, would you? Of course not. So why would you ever entertain the idea of wearing a pre-tied bow tie?

My sons wear pre-tied bow ties, but they can’t even tie their shoes yet. And if you wear a pre-tied bow tie, you will look like a child.

When you tie a bow tie yourself it is naturally asymmetrical. It also becomes a little askew as you move around, like when you turn your head and your chin bumps it. This usually makes the bow tie have a signature “messy” look which is rather charming. If you’re looking for absolute perfection than you are too fastidious to look stylish anyway and, at that point, you should just wear the pre-tied version and save yourself the aggravation.

It only take a few minutes to learn to tie a bow tie.

#2 – Don’t wear one all the time.

If you wear a bow tie all the time, you’ll be known as “The Bow Tie Guy”. Not a problem really, but do you really want to be defined by an article of clothes? If you’re wearing a bow tie all the time specifically to stand out, then your personality needs work. Your personality should be what stands out.

I love wearing bow ties, fedoras, and other somewhat anachronistic items of menswear as much as the next guy, but I understand when to wear them and when not to.

For example, if I am wearing a t-shirt and jeans, I won’t also wear a fedora. Not only because it wouldn’t make sense with the outfit and/or the weather, but because I don’t want to be known as “The Fedora Guy”.

It’s ok to have a signature look, but make sure you aren’t being so rigid that you MUST sport that look in every situation even if the circumstances call for something different.

As previously stated, if you wear a jacket and long tie to work, then maybe sport a bow tie for date night. Or the company party.

The key is to make a bow tie part of your rotation, not your calling card.

#3 – Make sure it’s the right size.

The width of a bow tie should be about the width of the outside corners of your eyes.

With that being said, it’s not a universal measurement. Some people have wider or narrower-set eyes than others. If you have eyes like Anya Taylor-Joy, you’ll probably need a wider bow tie than other people. Just make sure the bow tie isn’t too wide or too narrow, otherwise it will look comical.

Take a look in the mirror. Do you have a hunch your bow tie is too wide or too narrow? If so, then you’re probably right. Don’t overthink it.

#4 – Bow ties look best with a vest, cardigan, double-breasted jacket, or buttoned single-breasted jacket.

Since bow ties are small and sit up under the wearer’s face, a large expanse of shirt is left exposed. This is normally interrupted by a regular long tie.

This is why, I find, that bow ties tend to look best when worn with something else that covers that bit of shirt-front, be it a vest or waistcoat, a cardigan sweater, or a double-breasted jacket. You achieve the same effect by keeping your single-breasted jacket buttoned.

Now, this is, admittedly, getting into the weeds a bit with bow tie wearing. Really, you should just wear whatever you want and go on with your life. This isn’t the ONLY way to wear a bow tie, simply the way I feel they look the BEST when worn.

#5 – Actually TIE it!

Sometimes you will see Super Stylish Men leave their bow ties untied at festive events. They think this makes them look rakish and sexy. In reality, it looks like they don’t know how to tie the tie themselves.

Don’t leave your tie untied. It looks awfully affected.

Wearing a bow tie is a great way to have a little fun and add some versatility to your wardrobe. Just make sure you keep these tips in mind.

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