How and When to Wear a Bow Tie

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How To Wear Bow Ties

luxry bow ties on display in storeWith the arrival of each spring in the 2010’s, the men’s fashion blogosphere has told us that it’s time to wear bow ties. We understand why: the sunshine makes most folks feel more celebratory, and lots of events like the Kentucky Derby that take place in spring encourage the wearing of bow ties. It’s important to know how and when to wear a bow tie.

At the shop, we love bow ties. We can custom-make them or sell them to you ready-to-wear, but when you’re with us at the shop, we educate you on bow tie basics that many fashion blogs ignore.

To that end, we’d like to provide a foundation of knowledge for you on the different styles of bow ties, and also some thoughts on wearing bow ties in general.

Self-Tie vs. Pre-Tied Bows

man tying a bow tieThere are some bowties on the market that you tie yourself, and there are others that you buy already tied. Is one better than the other?

Yes. Self-tie bow ties are strongly preferable to pre-tied ones. Why?

purple pretied bow tie on young man

A pre-tied bowtie (pictured above) looks amateur-ish.

If there’s one article of clothing that should concisely express the sentiment of sprezzatura, it’s a bow tie. They are supposed to look a little askew, a little imperfect. The only way to achieve this is to tie it yourself.  If you don’t know how, you can Google “how to tie a bowtie” and click on any video that comes up. If you’re open to a video tutorial, shoot us a note to get started.

Most bow ties have a hook that detaches and allows you to remove the knotted tie. While it’s worth noting that leaving ties tied indefinitely is bad for their lifespan, we have plenty of clients whose bowties we tie on their necks, and they just stay that way. Even this is advisable over wearing a pre-tied bow tie.

Pre-tied bow ties are simply too symmetrical, too perfect. They make the wearer look as if his head is gift-wrapped, and if you’re looking to impress those who know a good bow from a bad one, you’ll fall flat on your face with a pre-tied bow tie.

Three Main Bow Tie Styles

bow ties in different colors and shapesNot all bow ties are created equal, and there are three main silhouettes.

Butterfly or Thistle

A butterfly bow tie got its name because it resembles a monarch butterfly with its wings outstretched. A timeless silhouette, the key to success is ensuring that the overall proportion syncs with those of your face (more on that in the next section).

Diamond Tip

Gentleman Wearing a TuxedoThese bow ties have ends in the shape of diamonds; the finished product looks like a diamond on one side and a standard loop on the other. Another timeless classic, it’s a bit less common than the butterfly bow tie.


Also known as “straight” bow ties, batwings are more or less very small butterfly bowties, so small that it ends up looking like a straight line under the chin. While not widely popular today, vintage enthusiasts will love this bow tie style due to its 1960’s/mod/Sean Connery’s James Bond associations.

Proper Bow Tie Proportions

As with any article of clothing, it must complement your natural shape. Here are some quick, easy guidelines:

Bow ties should not be wider than the wearer’s face 

When you’ve tied your tie and look in the mirror, do the ends extend past your face? On the other hand, do they not reach the outer edges of your jaw? If the bowtie doesn’t end at about the same point your jaw does, untie and try again. Most bow ties are adjustable, so you can experiment with shortening or lengthening as needed. Once you have the exact size nailed down, you’re all set.

Overall size relative to your frame

The proportions of your bow tie must be in sync with those of your face (not to mention your frame). This is relevant particularly when talking about butterfly bow ties, where proportions vary widely.

A simple rule of thumb: if you’re of a larger build, large-scale bow ties will balance your frame. Smaller bow ties will accentuate your size, making you appear larger than you are.

Smaller men, on the other hand, can wear small-scale bow ties to great effect. Larger scale bow ties on smaller men overwhelm their smaller frames, making men of slight build appear smaller than they actually are.

Should I Wear A Bowtie? 

Short answer: an enthusiastic “maybe.” Fair or not, bow ties have a reputation as nerdy, professorial, and unserious. If you wear a bow tie in an inappropriate setting, this could come back to haunt you.

custom men's bow ties on display in storeThe old saying, “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should,” definitely applies to wearing bow ties. We’d like to expand on that and add, “If you can without negatively impacting the image and message you want to convey, then you should.” 

Are you going to a horse race? This is a great excuse to wear a bow tie because you will be in an environment where it’s expected. Are you going to a job interview at a consulting firm? Opt for a necktie instead, for the same reason.

Parting Thoughts

If it won’t do any damage to your image or your message, we encourage you to wear bow ties, especially in springtime. Their unseriousness can make outfits more fun, and there’s of course no substitute for a black satin bow tie for evening events.

Though currently working remotely, we are here to help, with bow ties or otherwise. Reach out to us at 215-253-5905 or send us an email at info@henrydavidsen.com

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