HISTORY & SPREZZATURA OF THE BOW TIE
One of fashion’s greatest paradoxes is that the bow tie, like its kissin’ cousin, the Ascot, should today be pop fashion’s signature for eccentrics, namby-pamby sissies and milquetoast wimps.
Ironic because each stands a Heraldic symbol to a mano-a-mano machismo.  Both bred from battle and born in antiquity.   Bow tie and Ascot — each Cravats, in one form or another – were once the iconic signature of warriors, paladins and mercenaries alike. The early rudiments of a uniform, their colors and patterns designed to instantly betray a foe and, at-the-blink-of-an-eye, distinguish an ally.
Still another contradiction, one that still further beguiles the bow tie’s now au contraire image, is that the modern necktie – what fashion cognoscentis call a four-in-hand tie to distinguish it from both bow and Ascot – owes its own birth to each.  Many fault John Mollyfor the bow tie’s fall from grace. For two generations, Molloy, America’s self-proclaimed fashion wonk, has admonished men against wearing bow ties, warning in his Dress For Success that “with a bow tie around your neck, you will not be considered responsible people. Nobody will entrust you with important business.”
While most neckwear mavens credit Molloy’s diss on bow ties for putting a near 50-year chill on bow tie popularity, Neil Boron, CEO of Carrot & Gibbs, America’s premier hand-maker of luxury bow ties, claims otherwise. Instead, says Boron, it’s more likely that “finding the patience to endure the painstaking frustration of learning how to tie a crisp, well manicured bow tie that proved more their downfall than did Molloy’s admonitions.”
The bow tie, like the Ascot, and hence, the Johnny-come-lately, four-in-hand tie, trace their ancestry to the early-1600s when Croatian mercenaries battled Germany on behalf of the French during The Thirty-Years-Wars, a struggle that laid-to-waste much of Europe in its 1618 to 1648 fury. Fierce warriors and combat-hardened paladins, the Croats had fought the Ottoman Empire for two centuries before, their fame as fearless war lions won at the battle of Szigetvar in 1566 when a rag-tag, die-hard contingent of 2,300 Croat warriors held off and fought to a stand-still, an Ottoman army of 100,000 for two months. Outnumbered 50-to-1, all, to a man, fought to their death. Then, France’s Cardinal Richelieu called it “the battle that saved civilization.”</br>
From the Ottoman Wars, the Croats had learned to tie their collars together with long flowing strips of brightly colored cloth, their ingenious signature designed to distinguish friend from foe, a savvy contrivance the French themselves adopted during the Thirty-Years War. The French soldiers called their collar festooned neckcloth, “Cravats,” then the French word for Croatians.</br>
By the mid-1600s, the battle-born Cravat had become the latest, fashion de jour sensation among French aristocrats. Mimicking their counterparts at the French court, the Cravat’s exploding popularity rocketed throughout Europe, becoming the continent’s chic-est, new fashion trend.
Following the famed style-meister’s death in 1840, George “Beau” Brummel’s life-long valet told it would take as long as seven hours for Brummel to dress in the inimitable style that won him legend as Regency England’s top fashion arbiter and trend setter. Brummel, further tattled his valet, would spend as much as two-hours “perfecting” his Cravat, alone.
The idea of Brummel “perfecting” his Cravat, however, has an entirely different meaning than its literal translation. Therein, the universal disdain for pre-tied bow ties among fashion connoisseurs and cognoscentis, alike: It looks too perfect.
The purpose of Brummel’s dress wasn’t to look perfect. Just the opposite. Like all dandies who would later follow Brummel, whether Oscar Wilde, Duke of Windsor, or Hollywood legends, Gary Cooper and Fred Astaire, the idea of “perfection” instead meant an unstudied look of devil-may-care imperfection.</br>
Cooper’s always askew pocket square, for instance, looked as if it were a last minute happenstance, grabbed from his drawer, then casually stuffed it in his breast pocket, willy nilly, as he headed for the front door. Like Brummel’s before, Cooper’s fashion fame was created via the unstudied, appearance of a casual, care-free indifference the Italians call “Sprezzatura.”
Therein the fashion purists’ disdain for the pre-tied pretender: They look too-perfect. Their perfection a betrayal that the wearer doesn’t have the fashion wherewithal to tie a bow tie. And in a nod to the idea of casually elegant imperfection, leave it just a little askew, a tribute to the dandy’s ideal of unstudied Sprezzatura.
Perhaps it’s the famed fashion scribe, Owen Edwards, who best described the connoisseur’s disdain for the strap on style in a Town & Country article. “Like virtue, the act of tying a bow tie is its own reward,” Edwards’ offers, then snipped that pre-tied versions “are to real bow ties what painting by numbers is to great art.””Succinctly put,” Edwards’ summarized, “a tie that has been tied by someone else is much like a head of hair that has been grown by someone else. It is an admission that one is not one’s own man.” by Carrot & Gibbs
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