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Bow ties: vestigial elitism or mark of a tranquil mind?

In the workaday world of office clothing for white-collar drones-into which many of you will presently matriculate-most men dress like Dilbert, not Donald Trump. Women have cornered the market on bright colors and scintillating variations, for which they pay the penalty of polyester in summer and high heels at any time; in men's dress there is little room for personal statement and less for anything you'd call flair. A man's place is simply to hover in the background, smiling innocuously without clashing, one hand tucked comfortably in his trousers pocket counting quarters.

But there is that little matter of neckwear. If ever there were a wedge in business dress into which personality might slip, it's the tie.

Why? Because ties are useless, arguably the most useless habiliment since the fedora; consequently they open themselves to partake of the truly beautiful. Ties are the equivalent of what in another culture would be an ostrich headdress.

King of Ties is the bow. The annals of costumery boast no alternative better suited to the well-caparisoned male who wishes to assert himself gently yet irresistibly. The culmination of two millennia of fashion experimentation among men, bow ties speak to the enlightened both of a spiritual need for symmetry and order, and of a practical desire to keep clothing out of our soup.

It is also very difficult to get them caught in a copy machine and strangle yourself to death, whereas every year thousands of office workers foolish enough to wear long ties perish under tragically identical conditions.

At an interview, bow ties are as unforgettable as a coffee stain on your shirtfront, as sophisticated as a BMW but much, much cheaper. Dashing without being arrogant, they bespeak amiability, collegiality, the warmth of the good old boy who can't remember your name but is sure he remembers your daddy.

Mind you, you'll have to learn to tie them. Nobody wears those frippery clip-ons after the age of eight, although I've seen grown men cry who almost missed their wedding because they couldn't tie a freestyle bow.

"Freestyle"-it has a noble ring, doesn't it? The word evokes our democratic spirit, stirs the manly roots of valor, tells us of a warrior who has skirted both Byronic excess and Philistinism to find a separate peace. A man's man, the wearer of a freestyle tie is fashionable without being effete, marching to a different drummer.

Not everyone likes bow ties, of course, because not everyone is willing to invest two years of fruitless endeavor before being able to tie one. It's a matter of concentration, focus, meditation and dumb luck.

Really, the method is simple: over, in, over; form half a bow with two fingers, using the other three to tug while jamming the second half-bow with the right thumb, all the while throttling yourself with the other fingers of the right hand; take a leap of faith and then tidy everything at the end. I can hardly be more clear than that.

Admittedly, it may be difficult to extricate your index finger from the knot once you've finished. Whoso would wear bow ties must live life with what the Spanish call "aficion"-passion, elan, depth. It means taking risks, seizing the brass ring, and avoiding woven silk, which gets nubbly where it rubs under your chin.

Oh yes, we men have our little vanities. When I order a new bow tie, I savor it for weeks, counting the hours before I permit myself to wear it in public, murmuring after Emily Dickinson, "Come slowly, Eden! Lips unused to thee bashful sip thy jessamine..."

One examines it every evening and parades it before the mirror until finally there comes that special day when you know you'll be meeting with a customer who is ready to rip your throat out. But who could savage a guy standing there grinning in a new royal blue shantung silk bow? It would be like hitting a kid with glasses.

So perhaps they are functional, in the end, as well as beautiful.

All I know is, bow ties are not just for senators anymore. You spot them on vacationing pediatricians, union-busting grocers, lawyers who advertise on TV and even academics. So you can keep your 56-inch regimentals, your silver bolos, your silk cravats. Give me the butterfly.

Paul Baerman, Fuqua '90, is a University employee.


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