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A regular tie is typically the default wedding day look for grooms and wedding guests alike, but in some instances, a bow tie might be the best option. Whether you're wearing a tuxedo or you're looking for a more unique accessory, a bow tie is generally a look to consider to get the perfect fit. However, if you've never purchased one before, there are definitely some things to know before you do.
Bow ties can be a great alternative to traditional ties, although they're not always the best option for every occasion. According to Chicago-based personal stylist Grant Alexander, these accessories are better suited for formal weddings, as bow ties can look a bit out of place when worn to a casual affair. That said, what you choose to wear is always a personal choice, and if a bow tie is more your style, lean into what you like.
For those interested in learning more, we put together a guide on everything you need to know about bow ties and their various styles. Whether you're shopping for an accessory for a black-tie wedding or on the hunt for something unique, we're confident there's a bow tie for your desired look.
Meet the Expert
- Grant Alexander is a Chicago-based personal stylist who helps people look and feel their best for any phase of life or event.
The Most Popular Types of Bow Ties
There are three main types of bow ties, and the one you select ultimately depends on whether or not you're able to tie one on your own. From ones that clip on to styles that require a little more expertise, read on to see which type works best for you.
Think of a clip-on bow tie as an accessory made for beginners. These specific pieces do not feature a strap around the neck and are created to solely clip on to a shirt collar. Specifically, two clips are typically hidden behind the knot of the bow, so that no one is able to see how you've secured your tie. "These are commonly found in children’s bow ties as they stay put, but aren’t offered in many styles and options," Alexander says. "This is less common than the standard pre-tied bow tie."
Pre-tied bow ties are slightly similar to clip-ons, but a little less juvenile and more suitable for an adult. With a pre-tied style, the bow is already knotted, sewn on, and attached to a neckband. "Pre-tied bow ties do save time and are a good option if no one can tie a self-tie bow tie, but they are easy to point out because the bows are symmetrical," Alexander notes. "This is what is included in 90 percent of tuxedo rentals."
As the name states, self-tie bow ties require the wearer to tie their own bow in their preferred shape. "Self-tie bow ties are the most elegant option of the three as there is an art to tying the bow tie, and it shows a little extra know-how in dress," Alexander shares. However, to wear this style, you need to learn how to tie this accessory or have someone tie it for you.
The Most Popular Bow Tie Shapes
At first glance, you may not realize that bow ties come in a few different shapes and styles, but once you get into the specifics, you'll realize that there are a variety of options to choose from.
- Butterfly: This is the most common shape and the easiest one to nail. "It's easy for beginners, always looks nice, and is suitable for every occasion," Alexander says, noting that it has a nice balanced shape and isn't too wide or narrow. If you want a go-to bow tie shape, this is it.
- Jumbo butterfly: As the name suggests, this is simply a larger version of the butterfly shape and a great option for taller people. As Alexander notes, this is more of a formal shape.
- Batwing: For a more casual event, opt for a batwing. "This is the smallest bow tie shape and the end is only a little larger than the knot," Alexander says. "It's a clean, symmetrical look."
- Diamond point: This shape is when the pointed ends stick out past the edge of the bow. "You can really showcase some personality with this shape as you can easily change how much further out [the tip of bow the extends] along with the width of your knot," Alexander shares. "This shape is a personal favorite as I think it’s flattering on most face and body types, and can showcase a little more personality."
- Rounded club: If you really want something unique, the rounded club is the way to go. It's not a shape that's regularly used and it can be hard to tie, but it is the most casual option. As Alexander notes, it's mostly found in cotton styles, prints, and heavier or textured fabrics.
What to Consider When Searching for a Bow Tie
Now that you know the fundamentals, if a bow tie seems up your alley, then it's time to invest in one. Whether you're shopping for a specific event, like your wedding, or simply looking for a versatile accessory, ahead, here's what you need to keep in mind.
Bow ties come in a variety of fabrics, and this makes a difference in the overall look and shape of the accessory. For instance, cotton is a popular material that is inexpensive, easy to find, casual, and durable. Silk bow ties, however, are a bit more formal, while velvet styles tend to be hard to tie.
Style and Skill
Do you want to put some effort into wearing your bow tie, or would you prefer it to be more simple? As already mentioned, self-tie requires a bit of work, but it is the most impressive option, and in most cases, it's not that hard to learn. "Learn how to tie it. I promise it’s not hard, it just takes a little practice," Alexander encourages wearers. "I think people get frustrated and give up because they’re trying to make it perfect—but a bow tie you tie yourself shouldn’t be perfect! The beauty of it is in the imperfection. You don’t want it to look perfectly symmetrical because then it would look pre-tied and lack personality."
If you're looking for something that will fit with most formal dress codes, Alexander suggests choosing a black silk, self-tie bow tie. But for more casual events, like a garden, beach, or cocktail wedding, you can lean into your personal style and be more adventurous. "You’ll see many more options for colors, prints, and textures in cotton, linen, wool, and blended fabrics," he says.
According to Alexander, the size of the bow tie should be based on the proportions of the wearer. "If you are small, buying a thick bow tie and doing the jumbo butterfly won’t be the most flattering option," he says. "Vice versa, if you’re larger or taller, and choose a thin and narrow bow tie and shape like the batwing, it can make your face look even larger or longer. Think balance!"
Ultimately, bow ties can be a great alternative to a regular tie, but they aren't for everyone. "From a simplicity standpoint, I recommend bow ties for formalwear and neckties for less formal events," Alexander says. In general, though, you can still wear a bow tie with a suit or to a casual event, it just isn't a conventional or traditional route to take.