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The Wild History Of Bow Ties

April 30, 2018

The Wild History Of Bow Ties

Dr. Who Matt Smith in a bow tie

 “Bow ties are cool.”

- Matt “The Doctor” Smith.

That devil may care attitude, footnoted by fortitude, stoicism, and the whimsical almost rebellious attitude of the BBC protagonist, not only cemented Matt Smith’s tenure as Dr. Who but also was in hindsight the natural course for the bow ties’ modern explosion. But before we go too deep on Dr. Who fashion, let’s mothball the whole quasi geeky verbal orgasm for now and get our chrono- itinerary straight. The history of Bow Ties is a convoluted, tangled, cockeyed mess that actually started because of hygiene, way back in…

The Bloody Birth Of The Bow Tie- 1618 

bow tie duel

Bow tie pedigree is one of the revolutionaries, agitators and fierce rabble-rousers. Exemplary individuals that, no matter the field they played in, constantly rocked the boat and liked to tip the ideal archetype on its head.

The bow tie, closely associated - after the golden age of the screen - with scholars, nerds, and social conservatives, can trace its origins to the blood-soaked fields of the Thirty Years War. What was once a mark of a fastidious nature, and the embodiment of social awkwardness in Hollywood films, was, in reality, the proverbial sexual cat-nip to mark territories and seduce the opposite sex.  The neckwear and men’s apparel was first used by Croatian mercenaries and rampaging soldiers of fortunes. However, the progenitor of the modern bow tie was nothing more than a simple scarf used to hold together the opening of shirts and display gang colors.

The Croatian Cravat- 18th Century 

Like the proverbial Hell’s Angel motorcycle jacket or the rebellious socially conscious latin heartthrob’s floppy beret, the cravat (the etymological fountain of that very word springing forth from “Croat”) was quickly glued at the hips to the “bad boy” stereotype. Women started to faint and swoon, the media knocked-out daring pieces on fashionable romantic rogue adventurers, meek and sheltered men started to take notice of the exploits of these madcap pirates… commercialism perked up its ears, and crafty entrepreneurs started marketing the image to the masses; the centerpiece being the cravat. 

Croatian Rebel in a Cravat

The Croatian Aristocracy began introducing the cravat as a formal neckwear, and Parisians - key holders back in the mid 18th century of all that was “in” - not only approved it but shanghaied the latest look liaison. The whole fashion industry in France jumped on the bandwagon. At the onset of the 19th century, the French upper class was being peddled, at rather exorbitant prices, the now reconfigured cravat. The name being used for the fashion accessory? Bow Tie. 

From that point, the whole fandango sort of steamrolled. The knave, cutthroat, swashbuckling vision and original spirit of men’s apparel was slowly eroded. The bow tie was kidnapped and tied up in the cellar of the upper crust of society.


Duke of Windsor in a bow tie

The traditional necktie was a staple of the blue collar 9 to 5 worker while the vintage bow tie became a sticker for the upper echelons. Some of the famously dapper men that made the item their own include: The Duke Of Windsor, Aleister Crowley, Bill Masters, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Archibald Cox, Le Corbusier.

Le Corbusier and bow ties Aliester CrowleyAbe Lincoln in a bow tie

The Silver Screen Sachet- 20th Century

It was only in the dawning days of the Gatsby years that the bow tie managed to sneak into the red carpet and charm the likes of Humphrey Bogart. Fred Astaire and Charles “Charlie” Chaplin made the bow tie their go-to fixture, and Hollywood went bonkers for it.

Fred Astaire Humphrey BogartCharlie Chaplin, bow tie wearer

Since that rip-roaring moment of Los Angeles stardust, the bow tie started to cement its personality. It managed to congeal its dust kicker and take no prisoners. It was the “Viva la Resistance” chromosome with the champagne-swigging, chandelier swinging, “is that a Jaguar?” side of its bizarre DNA. Each strand perfectly mixing with the other in an inbred cocktail that would seize journalists, writers, comedians, statesmen, fashion designers, trendsetters, lawyers, activists, sports personalities and fictional characters by the brainpan.

The Dawn of The Doctor- 21st Century

Stephen Moffat

The upswing in the fashion baseball bat that is vintage bow ties started its rock and rolling spiral at the hands of the BBC. To be exact, under the savvy leadership skills of Stephen Moffat. The now ubiquitous man’s apparel had been, up until the early days of 2010, relegated to the backdrop; a piece of neck accessory starched, ironed and spruced up only for formal occasions. An item plucked from the shelves for the Oscars or the occasional wedding. 

Then, in 2009, David Tennant hit the right tones in his last swan song as the protagonist of Doctor Who and Matt Smith was cast to fill in his Converse heavy shoes. Like the previous Doctor - who sparked an international feeding frenzy for red Converse high tops - the British Time Lord flicked the switch on the modern love affair for the bow tie. Vintage bow tie sales skyrocketed weeks after Matt Smith’s breakout performance.

Matt Smith, wearing a bow tie

 In less than a month, sales jumped from 3% to 14%. Doctor Who mania swept out from a non-Hot Topic Whirlpool and the madness found its epicenter in England. Search Engine inquiries snowballed into the millions. “Where to buy bow ties in the U.S?” became a trend on a daily basis. 

Although few are aware of this trend, the Instagram model was kicked into the spotlight after a rather convoluted domino effect. The fickle fingernail that flung the first figure was none other than the British Science Fiction series, Doctor Who. 

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