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Friday, July 06, 2007

Bow Ties

A female reader who prefers to remain unidentified sent me this e-mail:

I dare you to do a post on bow ties. I don't know much about male sartorial inclinations.  But what's up with the young men and bow ties?  Geoffrey Rapp, Michael Froomkin come to mind.  I'm sure there's more.  Is it for gravitas? 
You should do a post about tie choice for all you fellows out there (for the ladies, Miranda Fleischer did one on hair down vs. ponytails and there have been many posts about wardrobe choices for classrooms on Prawfs).  See if there's a two-tailed distribution for bow ties:  the very young and the very old, or the shooting-for-gravitas and the shooting-for-gravestones.

Hmm.  I do wear the occasional bow tie.  I think I own five (which includes the traditional black tie that goes with my tux).  I have the red bow tie, the yellow bow tie, the Wadham College bow tie my daughter brought back from Oxford for me (after her junior year abroad), and the pink Wake Forest Demon Deacon tie that I purchased as a prop for a contracts class.  I'm inclined to the bow tie on a special occasion, like a holiday party or a family event, but I don't think I have ever worn one in a professional context.

I don't know, dear friend, if it's shooting for gravitas in the young, and I sure as hell hope it's not shooting for gravestones in myself.  There is no question a bow tie is self-conscious, but sometimes it could be self-mockery.  "Shooting-for-gravitas" is the following:  braces, one of those blue shirts with the white collar, a red tie, and a collar pin.  Just screams "investment banker wannabe" particularly if the speech is peppered with phrases like "at the end of the day..." and "entre nous."

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw on July 6, 2007 at 07:13 AM in Culture | Permalink


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Tracked on Jul 6, 2007 9:56:22 AM


I am disgusted by men wearing bow ties with the exception of formal attire with a tux. Otherwise they look like Bozo the clown and I cannot bring myself to take them seriously.

Posted by: judy | Sep 17, 2007 12:25:47 PM

I wear one on Thursdays - I call them "Bow tie Thursdays". It's a nice change from the standard tie, it's unique, it's somewhat fashionable, and it's a nice intro to Friday (which our firm allows as casual). I also avoid clip-ons, which are cheating.

--Jonathan Watson

Posted by: Jonathan | Jul 31, 2007 10:45:40 AM

Geoff Rapp's office is next to mine, so believe me when I say, he has gravitas to spare.

Newprof: if by "advisable" you mean, "would amuse Joe Slater," than yes, it's advisable. YMMV if you are using another definition.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Jul 8, 2007 6:09:27 PM

There was that famous scene on Crossfire, where Jon Stewart mortally wounded the show, leading to its eventual cancellation by pointing out that it was theater. One of his comments was to Tucker Carlson "Look, you're a grown man and you're wearing a bow tie," that proves you aren't serious or some such.

Generally I think bow tie wearers come in two classes: 1. people trying to prove a point, to have a sartorial trademark, or to assert their old school conservative bona fides. 2. people who have to wear ties all the time and find bow ties to be a convenient alternative that you don't have to worry about landing in your soup.

The professor that Jim and I shared, Sandy D'Alemberte, is one of the least assuming people I've ever met, particularly for a former head of the ABA and a university. I suspect he wears bow ties because he can't stand ties but he comes from the generation where the concept of going tieless entirely occurs to one no more than going pantless does.

I personally cannot stand ties, but, while I enjoy evening wear and the black bow ties that go with it, don't see bow ties as a suitable alternative. And I live in Florida, so turtlenecks, which appear to have suffered a fashion beatdown regardless, are not much of an option.

Obama and the Tory leader in Britain have both made tieless outfits their trademarks and there is some speculation that if elected, Obama could do for the tie what Kennedy did for the hat.

I think the world would be a much more hilarious place if everyone wore cravats, personally.

Posted by: Bart Motes | Jul 8, 2007 11:37:54 AM

I plan to wear a bow tie when teaching. And a porkpie hat. And use a walking stick to point at the board. And periodically shout, "How ya like me NOW?"

Could more experienced profs give me some advice as to whether this is advisable?

Posted by: Newprof | Jul 7, 2007 10:18:15 PM

Bowties allow their wearer to make a fashion statement without having to break new ground or trying anything outre. Hence the bowtie skews conservative. There are plenty of right-leaning folks who want to make a fashion impression (by which I mean express their sense of their own distinctiveness through clothes choices), but conservatives tend to reject the forward-looking fashion trends that most people use to differentiate themselves sartorially. The bowtie (or the fedora, or the walking stick) allows the conservative who seeks to make a personal fashion statement to do so while also signaling allegiance with past forms instead of progressive ones. The bowtie is not exclusively conservative, though--Danny Meltzer occasionally rocked one in my crim class and pulled it off with the consummate smoothness that was his hallmark.

Posted by: Dave | Jul 7, 2007 5:13:56 PM

What about women wearing bowties? Or, women wearing ties?

Posted by: anonymous | Jul 7, 2007 9:25:02 AM

Bow ties are for law professors who want to become deans.

Posted by: Anthony D'Amato | Jul 7, 2007 4:30:20 AM

A bow tie is definitely not gravitas. It is a "hey look at me, I'm something special" outfit, which when worn by a professor or a wannabe prawf says "oh please, please take me seriously!!!" (because you otherwise wouldn't). Don't be "that bowtie guy." (Like Raj on the Apprentice.) It's not how you want to be known.

Posted by: Cravath | Jul 6, 2007 11:43:08 PM

Braces show up in Webster's Dictionary as a synonym for suspenders. I think of braces as nice suspenders that attach to your pants with buttons. I think of suspenders as things you attach with little metal clips.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Jul 6, 2007 4:11:50 PM

When you say "braces," do you mean suspenders? I've never heard of them referred to as "braces." It immediately conjured up this image of a professor with a mouth full of metal. Hardly gravitas.

Posted by: anon | Jul 6, 2007 1:19:33 PM

I can't remember where I heard this, but it's stuck with me: "The bow tie is the nose ring of the conservative."

Posted by: Carlton Larson | Jul 6, 2007 12:51:36 PM

I really like bow ties, and would like to wear one (if only out of affection for my judge, Richard Arnold, R.I.P.). But, when one's politics lean to the right, as I suppose mine do, it's simply too dangerous: Who wants to be, or even be perceived as, a Tucker-Carlson-wanna-be?

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Jul 6, 2007 12:32:18 PM

I suspect there's "gravitas" in a pejorative sense, as pretense and pomposity, by way of affectiing credibility, and then there's gravitas in the classical sense, having to do with a dignity and seriousness that naturally expresses itself in one's comportment at appropriate times and places. I take it that Jeff's anonymous reader was using "shooting-for-gravitas" in the former sense (in which case aiming for gravitas would be like affecting spontaneity or willing what cannot be willed).

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Jul 6, 2007 11:48:41 AM

I started wearing bow ties as a tribute to my former professor Sandy D'Alemberte. In fact, he has inspired many younger imitators to the bow tie. D'Alemberte, in his seventies, has the unique charm that enables him to quip, "I can't help it if most men are not comfortable enough with their sexuality to wear a bow tie," in no less than an endearing manner.

I am neither very young nor very old and it took some time before the self consciousness began to fade and there is still a glimmer yet. Nevertheless, I have grown so accustomed to them that when I occasionally wear a straight tie I find all the material hanging from my neck tremendously bothersome. I just hope I don't come off as a wannabe or gravitas seeker.

Posted by: Jim Green | Jul 6, 2007 11:26:25 AM

I've always fantasized about wearing a bow tie, but a lurking memory about having worn western-style bow ties as part of a Catholic school uniform in Irving, Texas in the 1960s, assures me it will never take expression. Social status, class affiliation, and life in a town where everyday is something greater than casual Fridays has meant I never wear a tie of any sort (I do have one crumpled up in the closet for emergencies(?), but haven't worn it for several decades).

Apologies to Brannon, and thus with all due respect, but I thought this picture with bow tie was in the gravitas mode (could be envy on my part, so take it for what it's worth): http://www.brannondenning.com/

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Jul 6, 2007 10:17:08 AM

Of particular note: The WSJ Law Blog Bow Tie Club.


Posted by: jack | Jul 6, 2007 9:57:08 AM

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