It seems to me that every so often we should take a break from the ever-expanding public debt (which can never be repaid), the imposition of same-sex marriage by federal judges on states which don’t recognize these unions, the millions of folks who are troubled by the current health care disorder, and other such subjects.
Yep, I figure we should occasionally take time out and consider a topic that has no importance in the big scheme of things - or, for that matter, in the smallest scheme of things. My current nomination for such contemplation is the inexplicable bow tie. “Inexplicable” means baffling, puzzling, or incapable of being explained - so the objective of this little discussion is not an attempt to understand bow ties, only to shed a little light on the subject.
Just where and when bow ties came from is somewhat shrouded in history’s mysteries, but is thought by folks who study such stuff to have originated back in the 1600s when Croatian mercenaries fighting in the Prussian wars used a scarf around the neck to hold the opening of their shirts together.
For some inexplicable reason the notion of this piece of cloth tied around the neck became adopted (under the name “cravat”, derived from the French for “Croat”) by the upper classes in France. Since these folks were then the leaders in fashion, that, as they say, was that, as the fashion spread in the 1700-1800s. And so fashionable men began tying lengths of cloth tightly around their necks - apparently for no other reason than it’s what society expected. (Isn’t’t that about the same time men wore powdered wigs and silk stockings? Well, there’s no accounting for fashion.)
Now we run into a kinda “chicken and the egg” riddle because there is considerable uncertainty among scholars whether the “cravat” evolved into the necktie and then into the bow tie, or whether the cravat gave rise first to the bow tie, which in turn led to the necktie - or whether they emerged more or less separately.
But who cares? Today guys are stuck with useless bits of cloth fastened in a choke hold around their necks - whether neckties or bow ties.
Today’s bow ties come in two general types with some variety within each category. Most traditional bow ties are strips of cloth of a fixed length made for a specific size neck - between 14 and 20 inches just like a comparable shirt collar. Because they must be tied by the wearer by hand they are often known as a “self-tie,” or “tie-it-yourself” - in contrast to “pre-tied” ones. A “self-tie” type usually comes in two shapes; the “bat wing,” in which the ends are simply wider than the body, and “butterfly” where the ends are shaped like a butterfly wing.
Pre-tied or adjustable bow ties come in two general types: one uses a band which goes around the neck under the shirt collar and is fastened with a clasp or buckle; the second is a “clip-on” which is fastened to the shirt collar with clips. Fixed-length “tie-it-yourself” bow ties are preferred when worn with the most formal wing-collar shirts, so as not to expose the buckle or clasp of an adjustable bow tie.
Adjustable bow ties are the standard when the tie is to be worn with less formal lie-down collar shirts which obscure the neckband or clips. Bow ties may be made of any fabric with most being made from silk, polyester, cotton, or a mixture, but have also been made of other materials such as leather.
Of particular interest is the role of the “black” and “white” ties associated with the degree of formality of social functions. (Check the “white tie” and “black tie” dress on the “Downton Abbey” saga for examples.) White tie, also known as full dress or white tie and tails, is the most formal evening dress code in Western fashion.
Worn to ceremonial occasions such as state dinners, very formal balls and evening weddings, wearers are dressed in evening tailcoat, white bow tie, white waistcoat and starched wing collar shirt.
Unlike the white tie rigid requirements, black-tie ensembles can display more variation but still require wearing what is commonly known as a “tuxedo” - a somewhat more relaxed form of formal wear. OK, back to “inexplicable” . Just why any man would voluntarily wear a bow tie is a mystery.
One thing - didja ever notice that no matter how well a guy has fixed his tie, there’ll be a woman who has to “straighten” it - usually by making it tighter? You know, seeing a guy with a bow tie kinda reminds me of the way poodles are done up with ribbons tied in bows by their owners, usually female, to show how “cute” - and docile - they are. There may be a message there. At least that’s how it seems to me.
Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at email@example.com.