Black tie events aside, wearing a bow tie is always a strange choice. That doesn't make it a bad chance or the wrong choice, but it does make it a choice worth considering – twice. There is no way – unless you happen to currently live in a fraternity house at a large southern university – to subtly wear a bow tie. Your neckwear will say something so you want to make sure it's on message.
"People wear bow ties to make a statement," says James Hill, Co-Owner of the High Cotton tie company. "There is a certain responsibility associated with wearing a bow tie, so I always tell folks to wear it well and behave like a gentleman."
Hill points out that bow ties can become a conversation piece or the center of attention, which makes choices about pattern and shape more important. "The bow tie you choose will end up saying a lot about your personality and your character," he explains. "Avoid novelties and stick to classic patterns such as ginghams, stripes, and plaids." This might sound like a conservative approach, but bow tie wearers have already crossed the style rubicon. Eccentricity is great, but eccentricity layered with eccentricity can be cloying.
Andy Stager, of The Cordial Churchman, a company that makes only bow ties, says that putting a bow on it makes a man part of a loosely-regulated fraternity. "Most people who rarely or never choose a bow tie say, 'I just don't think I'm the type of guy who can pull it off,'" he says. "The funny thing is, I've never heard anyone say – about a man with a bow tie on – 'Some people can pull it off, but he can't.'" The point is: The key to pulling off a bow tie is putting it on in the first place. Doing so "demonstrates a playful, defiant sort of confidence," says Stager.
That said, there are still dos and don'ts: loud shirts need quiet ties and visa versa; pocket squares are mandatory; beards need to be trimmed. "A bow tie alters an ensemble by making it say "I'm here," says Stager. "It seems to draw attention to the face." Stager also points out that, because bows are closely associated with the elderly and the academic, it helps considerable if you where them with more tightly fitted jacket. If you don't you risk appearing like you care more about tenure than the conversation around you. Stager recommends rocking a navy blazer, but spring suits work just as well.
"The goal," he says, "is to make it look effortless."
Here are five bow ties to try on this season:
-Armed Forces Foundation U.S Marines Tie: The subtle pattern looks good and the money goes to the Armed Forces Foundation. [$57; bowtiecause.com]
-High Cotton Royal Blue Gingham Tie: A simple take with a traditional profile and a classic American pattern. Where it with an oxford shirt and you're good to go. [$50; highcottonties.com]
-Alistair from Liberty of London: A beautiful arts and crafts-style patterned pastel tie perfect for weddings and summer events. [$49; thecordialchurchman.com]
-The Bear and Bull Tie: The perfect choice for not-so-serious traders and Wall Street types. [$15; thetiebar.com]
-Campbell of Cawdor Tartan Tie: An understated plaid worn by the men who actually ruled Macbeth's keep. [$48; bowtieclub.com]