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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 October 2018

From cowboy staple to high-fashion favourite: the evolution of the bolo tie

The bolo tie is a thin, distinctive cord of braided leather worn around the neck, and often decorated with a shiny silver ornament or pretty piece of turquoise

PM3BNT Pulp Fiction John Travolta 1994. Alamy Stock Photo
PM3BNT Pulp Fiction John Travolta 1994. Alamy Stock Photo

Johnny Depp is a big fan, as was a young Clint Eastwood, and John Travolta famously wore one in the film Pulp Fiction. Chances are, if you have ever watched an American Western, you will already be familiar with the bolo tie, a thin, distinctive cord of braided leather worn around the neck, and often decorated with a shiny silver ornament or pretty piece of turquoise.

SANTA FE, NM - AUGUST 23, 2014: A man visiting the annual Santa Fe Indian Market wears an elaborate Native American bolo tie made from turquoise and coral. The annual Indian Market features Native American artists from tribes and pueblos throughout the United States. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
SANTA FE, NM - AUGUST 23, 2014: A man visiting the annual Santa Fe Indian Market wears an elaborate Native American bolo tie made from turquoise and coral. The annual Indian Market features Native American artists from tribes and pueblos throughout the United States. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

Although its ends are tipped in silver, this accessory is associated with an outdoorsy lifestyle and has been a sartorial choice for cowboys for the past century. The name bolo is thought to come from the Argentinian word boleadora, meaning lariat or the rope used to lasso lifestock.

MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 14: A model walks the runway at the Dsquared2 show during Milan Men's Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2018/19 on January 14, 2018 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Venturelli/WireImage/Getty Images)
MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 14: A model walks the runway at the Dsquared2 show during Milan Men's Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2018/19 on January 14, 2018 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Venturelli/WireImage/Getty Images)

The idea of using a simple sliding toggle to secure a neck scarf while horse riding is believed to have been in existence since the early 1900s. Although ornate bolos have been made by the Hopi and Navajo communities since the 1930s, it was during the 1950s that their popularity mushroomed. This was, ironically, fuelled by a nationwide boom in business that saw many men don severe-cut suits. Bolos became widely available in 1956, as men in some parts of the United States looked for a relaxed style of dressing that reflected their non-city lifestyle.

Teddy boys at a rock 'n' roll revival show, staged at Wembley. (Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Teddy boys at a rock 'n' roll revival show, staged at Wembley. (Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

In the Midwest, the bolo quickly became a staple, partly as a pushback against the formal dress codes of the East Coast and partly linked to a huge leap in television ownership. This meant that an increasing number of people were exposed to an endless stream of nostalgic cowboy shows, such as Gunsmoke (1955), The Rifleman (1958) and Bonanza (1959), which were all set in America’s Wild West. Referencing a time that was still within living memory, the cowboy style of dressing proved to resonate so deeply that in 1971, Arizona made the bolo tie the state’s official necktie, followed by New Mexico in 1987 and Texas in 2007.

Not long after the bolo become popular in America, it travelled to England, where it was adopted by Teddy Boys, who renamed it the bootlace tie and wore it with drape suits, crepe-soled shoes and quiff hairstyles. The 1980s saw another boom, when men in South Korea and Japan clamoured to get hold of silver designs by the Hopi, Navajo and Pueblo tribes.

A collection of vintage bolo ties arranged neatly in a row on a white background.
A collection of vintage bolo ties arranged neatly in a row on a white background.

Europe, meanwhile, was experiencing a rockabilly revival, which saw a new generation embracing the fashions of the 1950s. At the same time, the bolo started appearing around the necks of the so-called New Romantics, which explains why, when Live Aid took place in 1985, U2 singer Bono was wearing one, to complement his bouffant hairstyle. Back in the US, the bolo was undergoing a renaissance and was being worn by the likes of Bruce Springsteen and science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov.

More recently, the accessory has undergone yet another transformation, most notably when Olivier Rousteing elevated it to high fashion by sending it down the Balmain spring/summer 2018 runway. Ornately engraved with shiny discs pushed up high into the shirt collars, each was priced at US$550 (Dh2,020) and all promptly sold out.

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 06: A model walks the runway at the Carlos Campos fashion show during New York Fashion Week Mens' at Skylight Modern on February 6, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 06: A model walks the runway at the Carlos Campos fashion show during New York Fashion Week Mens' at Skylight Modern on February 6, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

Given that today a bolo tie can be worn as comfortably with a tuxedo as with a denim shirt, and as high and tight or loosely slung and relaxed as one likes, there is little reason not to try one out. With modern styles featuring everything from simply turned wood to a silver dollar coin, the time has come to embrace your inner cowboy.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 26: Singer Bruno Mars appears onstage during the 56th GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on January 26, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/WireImage/ Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 26: Singer Bruno Mars appears onstage during the 56th GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on January 26, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/WireImage/ Getty Images)

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