In late 2007, I decided that I wanted to get my hands on a bow tie. Not the cheesy, pre-tied clip-on thing you’d get with a rental tux or a movie theater usher uniform, but an actual tie-it-yourself bow tie. I saw a gentleman wearing one at a conference and I thought it looked pretty sharp, so I started keeping an eye out for bow ties.
Here’s the thing: they are rare as hen’s teeth in brick and mortar stores. Oh, people still wear them, but apparently not in sufficient numbers for it to be worth stores to stock them. Gentleman’s Wearhouse had a very small selection the last time I was there, but two years ago I had to resort to Ebay to get my hands on my first self-tie, or “freestyle” bow tie.
I was hooked immediately. I’ve always hated four-in-hand ties, which never made any sense to me as a garment; all they do is flap around in the wind and fall into your soup. Neckwear in general is really sort of a stupid convention for which we have 17th century Croatian mercenaries to thank, but at least bow ties remain true to their functional origins. They stay out of your way, and they look dapper if you wear them with the right attitude (“I’m wearing this because I think it looks sharp,” not “Hey, look at me! I’m that bow tie guy!”)
Freestyle bow ties are readily available online. Beau Ties Ltd has many wonderful designs, and makes fine ties (I own one and lust after many more of their offerings) but they are pricey. There are several vendors on Etsy who make nice bow ties for a little bit less, but still, $25 for a garment I’m only going to wear a few times a year is not an expense I can easily justify. I’ve gotten compulsive about looking for bow ties in thrift stores as well, but in two years of searching I’ve only had one find.
I’d been meaning to get my wife to give me a sewing machine hands-on for years, and last weekend it finally happened. Yesterday I picked up some cotton fabric and fusible interfacing. I made a pattern from one of my favorite ties, and managed to make myself a passable bespoke bow tie; I don’t have any sliders yet, so it’s fixed-length for my 16.5”ish neck. For a grand total of about $3.75 in materials, with enough fabric left over to make several more ties and/or a matching pocket square. Clearly, I’m onto something. Granted, silk yardage will be more expensive, but if I turn this into a cottage industry perhaps I can at least fund my own habit… and with Spoonflower, the sky is the limit.
If you’re interesting in doing this sort of thing yourself, BurdaStyle has one of the better bow tie patterns and instruction sets I’ve found online.
I just made another tie using the BurdaStyle pattern above, and I found it to be very short even when adjusted to full length — 16.5” isn’t particularly huge for a neck size, is it? Your mileage may vary. Next time I’ll just use the longer half of the pattern for both pieces of the tie.
Update 2010-03-06 I had another go with the BurdaStyle pattern last night, using the longer half of the pattern for both pieces of the tie, and although this one fits me fine, there’s still not a lot of room left for adjustment. I’d add another few inches to the adjustable half if I were going to sell these.
Since getting my gourd banjo the other week, I’ve been exploring some old minstrel tunes, played in the so-called “stroke style.” The Banjo Factory’s scans of Briggs’ Banjo Instructor from 1855 are an amazing resource, and I’ve already plugged a few into Tabledit.
If you’re not familiar with the tune, here’s Tim Twiss’ fine rendition on YouTube: