The much-maligned bow tie is finally getting some praise


"The only proper accessories for a man who wears bow ties are a big red nose and a beanie."

Well, don't tell that to dedicated bow tie wearers.

"For business wear, bow ties give off several negative effects," said John T. Molloy, author of "Dress for Success" and guru of Wall Street executives, in a telephone interview from his New Jersey office. "You will not be taken seriously when wearing one. People don't trust a man in a bow. The only people who should wear them are outside commentators on society -- like clowns and reporters."

Sacramento, Calif.-based lobbyist Tom Burns, 38, begs to differ. Making bows his signature in a business in which, he says, "you need to stand out," has paid off.

"I was given my first bow in 1984," he said. "I realized immediately that people noticed me because of the bow tie, and ever since that day, I have never worn anything but. Now, I'm not sure I could tie a straight tie."

Despite Mr. Burns' enthusiasm, Mr. Molloy is partly right: There is something different about men who wear bow ties.

Steven Benson, a partner in Irwin Clothing Co. of Sacramento, said: "There's always been a connotation of eccentricity associated with wearing a bow tie. In a business situation, when it is worn consistently, it becomes part of a man's identity. But worn infrequently, it catches people off guard. They don't know what to expect."

He sees bow ties as a form of protest. "For the upper-middle class, wearing bows is a safe rebellion," he said.

In unofficial corporate dress codes, he said, bow ties create problems. They convey the message that 'I'm not one of you. I stand out. I'm not going to obey the rules exactly. I'm a hippie who doesn't have the nerve to let his hair grow.' "

"Wearing a bow isn't a casual look," Mr. Benson said. "But men who wear them are thought to be happy and full of personality."

Audrey Talbott, owner of Talbott Ties in Carmel, Calif., agrees.

"It takes a special man to wear a bow," she said. "He needs a lot of confidence because people are going to notice him. I like a man in a bow."

Bob Cook, news director at Channel 40 in Sacramento, is another bow man.

"Bow ties are the latest trend," Mr. Cook said. "Actually, I've been trying, but failing, to make them a trend for two years now."

Mr. Cook made the switch from straight ties to bows at the recommendation of a friend.

"I have a high-position friend at CBS who occasionally reviews my commentaries for me. Two years ago he said I needed a change in order to show the viewer that I didn't take myself too seriously. He recommended three options: bow ties, sweaters, or vests with an open-collar shirt. Sweaters were out of the question in Sacramento in the summer so I switched to bows.

"I will tell you that since I have worn bows, my identification in this market is way up. Sometimes when I go out to speak at groups, the audience will all wear bows in my honor, and I'm really flattered. Now I find that wearing bows is easier and they look so good when untied -- like a nightclub entertainer," Mr. Cook said. "When I made the switch," he added, "I got rid of all my straight ties."

According to Mr. Molloy, switching to bows was successful for Mr. Cook because he fits into the small category of men who need to step back from the fold.

"That's a reporter's job -- standing apart from society and making observations," he said.

"It works for news people," Mr. Molloy said, "but it is a disadvantage in a large corporation. In a corporate setting you need to have troops to lead."

American men began wearing bow ties as we know them today 1902. At that time, the shield bow was quite popular. It was a pre-tied style that clipped at the back of a stiff collar. You could find them in the Sears catalog.

Around that time, Americans began wearing the string tie -- not exactly a bow, but it quickly became an accepted fashion item of the day.

In the 1970s and '80s the bow suffered severely. Only comics and clowns and a few brave men wore them.

By the end of the '80s, bows were changing their image. It helped that famous people such as Illinois Sen. Paul Simon, talk-show host Larry King, Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson, actors John Houseman and Carroll O'Connor had been seen wearing bows.

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