This fanciful example of sartorial flippery has been sported by men through the ages
Deconstructing the bow tie
Men have being tying fabric around their necks since the pharoahs ruled ancient Egypt – and even members of Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s terracotta army wore a bow of cloth over their armour. During the Thirty Years’ War in Europe (1618 to 1848), Croatian soldiers held their shirt necks closed with a knotted piece of fabric. Dubbed a cravat (from the French word for Croat), this was quickly adopted by the French aristocracy. By the 18th century, a flourish of silk around the neck was a required part of every gentleman’s attire.
The working classes opted for a more durable version made from a combination of horsehair and wood. In England, the 1800s saw the arrival of George Bryan “Beau” Brummell, a fashion-forward member of royal circles who re-established the bow-tied cravat as the very height of sophistication. Since then, the cravat’s evolution has followed two distinct paths. On one hand, it was condensed into the narrow wedge of silk that we now call a tie. On the other, it became increasingly theatrical, and was crafted from stiffer satin to better hold the crisp folds of the bow shape we are familiar with today.
In 1886, Pierre Lorillard teamed a bow tie with a new suit he had designed to attend the Tuxedo Club, giving the world ‘black tie’. In the 1930s, Fred Astaire seldom danced without one. Groucho Marx was a fan, and Marlene Dietrich famously wore one in the film Morocco, as did Mary Poppins. More recently, designer Alber Elbaz has adopted one as his sartorial signature, breaking with formal tradition and wearing a bow tie every day.
Now almost exclusively reserved for formal attire, a black bow tie has been worn by famous men from James Bond to Jay Z, and is often spotted on the red carpet. They can be tricky to master, but we recommend that every man has at least one tucked away for those extra special occasions.