Hi Simon,

I hope you don’t mind me seeking your counsel on the matter of bow ties. Previously, I have been somewhat dismissive of them and, indeed, those that wear them, perhaps. But for whatever reason, this is no longer the case.

I’m not sure if I’m getting this entirely right, but since the autumn (when I bought a couple from the excellent and helpful Peckham Rye on Newburgh St) I’ve enjoyed wearing a bow tie in the day.

The ‘look’ (in my 41 y-o mind, at least) is kind of a preppy-style – say, a bespoke brown herringbone sports jacket, sky-blue bow-tie with a small spot, white tab-collar shirt, fine wool knitwear (Italian-manufactured sleeveless cardigan), grey flannels and an ox-blood oxford.  

I’m planning on increasing the number of days on which I will wear a ‘b-t’ this summer (especially at summer racing festivals – Newmarket’s July Festival, Glorious Goodwood) and therefore want to check a couple of details.

What is the best collar (tab or spread or other) for a bow tie? Are there any faux-pas or pitfalls that one should be conscious of?

Thank you for your anticipated help with this matter – and congratulations on your excellent blog.

Best wishes for 2013,

Anthony R

Hi Anthony,

Thanks for your question, and I applaud your bolder wearing of a bow tie. Rather like a good hat, or braces, it is something that immediately sets the wearer apart and takes courage to wear. I don’t wear a bow very often, and I never wear braces, but I know it takes time to reach the conclusion that any item is not for you, and most that dismiss them do so out of fear.

From a style point of view, the key is to recognise that the bow tie has associations of fustiness (at least among most here in the UK) and to balance that with youthful touches elsewhere. Bright colours dotted around the outfit, for example, can suggest the Ivy swagger you are looking for. This is particularly important when worn with items like a brown herringbone jacket and cardigan.

On the casual side, I have a cashmere navy bow that I like to wear with an Oxford shirt, my Full Count jeans and suede shoes. A silk bow can also work well with V-neck knitwear, the texture of the wool providing a nice contrast in the same way as a tweed jacket. Also, given that most V-necks these days are cut very high, they look much better with a bow than a regular tie.

Which moves us on to practical points. The amount of shirting below the bow should be minimised, whether with knitwear, a waistcoat or a high-buttoning jacket. Double breasteds also work well for that reason. And keep any jacket closed when standing.

As to shirt collar, the thing to remember is balance. Both extreme cutaways and long points can look unbalanced. The best is a mid-cutaway that frames the bow without too much point below. Keep the size of the collar and the bow in equilibrium, adjusting the former depending on how you like to wear the latter. I also don’t mind button downs with bows, as they fit well into that preppy vibe you are looking to channel.

I hope that’s helpful. Good luck.


Images courtesy of New York shop Ernest Alexander (top) and Le Noued Papillon (centre)