Update: Columbia did indeed break the bow-tie tying world record.
First things first: Why the hell is Free Times writing about bow ties?
We’re glad you asked.
It all started as kind of an in-house joke. We heard that a contest was coming up at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center on Feb. 9 to break the world record for the most number of bow ties tied simultaneously. (In case you’re counting, the current world record is 417 bow ties in five minutes.)
How ridiculous, we thought. Not ridiculous because we doubted Columbia’s ability to pull off such a feat, but ridiculous because the effort itself puts such a spotlight on Columbia’s archaic fashion sense — the prevalence of bow ties, seemingly the domain of provincial Southern attorneys, New England professors and, uh, followers of the Nation of Islam.
But a funny thing happened on our way to laughing at this event: We realized that the joke was on us.
You see, Free Times is not known for its fashion coverage. Hard-hitting politics? Cutting-edge arts and music? Yes, these are the realms in which we feel comfortable. But fashion? Just take one look at our edit staff taking its daily stroll down to Drip on Main, and you know we’re not exactly paragons of style.
And unbeknownst to us, a trend had been taking hold over the past few years that catapulted bow ties from wedding-day anomaly and quirky regional anachronism to serious fashion status. You can see it all over the place in the wider culture: Dr. Who helped the trend along with hipsters back in 2010 when the fifth series of the BBC show launched, while mainstream movie star Leonardo DiCaprio kicked things up a notch in the 2013 film version of The Great Gatsby. Meanwhile, the past few years have seen bow ties move from preppy conservative geeks like Tucker Carlson to full-fledged pop stars like Jay Z, Justin Timberlake and Rihanna.
But couldn’t all this just be a fad? After all, there’s a difference between a fad and a trend.
“Fads are pet rocks,” says Dave Mutter, co-CEO of Beau Ties Ltd., based in Vermont. “Trends are cell phone usage.”
And, according to Mutter, the rise of bow ties definitely falls into the latter category.
“It was not manufactured in Hollywood,” Mutter says of the trend in bow ties. “It was young people in towns all over the country who led it before you saw it in The Great Gatsby. When you go to a law firm in Chicago and half of them are wearing bow ties, that’s when you know you have a trend.”
Mutter should know. His company — the largest domestic manufacturer of bow ties — has been in the business for more than 20 years. He’s seen a long, slow rise in interest in bow ties — and, more recently, double-digit sales increases.
When the company started out in 1993, it was to fill a need among older men who wanted bow ties but couldn’t find them. Founder Bill Kennerson had a penchant for the ties, but had a hard time finding quality options. What started out in his house has grown into a 50,000-tie annual business, each one of them hand-sewn.
What’s happened since the company was founded, though, is that the pockets of bow-tie enthusiasm have expanded both geographically and in terms of age.
“What we saw about 10 years ago is that young people were adopting bow ties,” Mutter says. “You had the bookends: Men who had worn them for a long time, and then young people. Now it’s filled in with the everyday user: That’s when you jump from being a fad to being a trend. You see more people embracing it who are not part of a fashion movement.”
So, there you have it: Like it or not, bow ties are big.
If you’re down with this trend, then by all means get yourself to the Convention Center on Feb. 9 to help Columbia break a world record. And if you’re not, be sure to check out our sidebar, “Why Bow Ties Suck” (below).
We asked you what you think about bow ties. Here are the results of our admittedly non-scientific poll of 174 readers.
Awesome: 47 percent
Antiquated: 30 percent
Somewhere in between: 19 percent
Not sure: 4 percent
Clearly not everyone is on board with the bow tie trend. Here are some thoughts generated by staffers here at Free Times.
• They’re infantilizing. Grown men in bow ties look like young boys — all that’s missing is the knickers.
• Like the ridiculous getups favored by Chinese mandarins and Persian satraps of yesteryear, bow ties broadcast deference to tradition and a man’s preoccupation with his social standing.
• It’s fitting that bow ties are so often embraced by academics: They serve as a signifier of tenure — a middle finger from atop the ivory tower, where one cannot be punished for his opinions.
• Like fedoras, bow ties are meant to call attention to themselves as a fashion choice. And that’s seldom a good thing.
• Bow ties are generally favored by fops and dandies. For every Winston Churchill, there’s at least a dozen Tucker Carlsons, one worthy per passel of pretenders.
Let us know what you think: Email email@example.com.