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Symbolism of the bowtie from the 18th to the 21st century

Updated: Jan 11, 2022

Bowties have been a part of formal wear for a very long time, and men from all over the world enjoy wearing it. But when did we start wearing bowties, why did we do so, and what does it symbolize to wear a bow tie nowadays? What did people think about bow ties in the past? Let’s find out!

What is the origin of bowtie

It might surprise you, but the first bowties were actually worn by Croatian mercenaries during the 30-year war throughout the 17th century. Of course, they were not looking the way they are today. Instead, the original bowties were actually a scarf that mercenaries wore around the neck. It had a practical function, which in their case was to hold together the shirt opening at that time. However, the first bowtie that looks similar to the one we know today was created during the 1830s.

The French saw Croatian mercenaries wearing these rather primitive bowties, and they adapted them to their own society and routine. The French bowties were named cravat and they were mostly worn by the upper class.

Another person that influenced people to wear a bowtie was George Bryan Brummel. Better known as Beau Brummel, he was a middleclass dandy that wanted to look like he would pertain to the upperclass. He started wearing bowties during various occasions like weddings and royal events. It didn’t take long and the Prince Regent actually noticed him and enjoyed his unique, rather eccentric sense of fashion. Brummel was a major influence for people in the UK, since he showed them that you can still have a great etiquette without actually spending a lot of money on fashion.

It’s important to note that in 1886, Pierre Lorillard V was the one that invented the tuxedo as a tailcoat alternative. This is when bowties became very popular especially in France, because a lot of people wore black bowties with the new tuxedo. In fact, tuxedos became the standard for many formal events. It’s important to note that they became less popular in the business world, at least for a while.

Late 1800s and early 1900s

During this time, the bowtie became pretty much synonymous with doctors, academics and surgeons in particular. Aside from showing that you had a lot of class and plenty of knowledge, the bowtie was also very practical. It was really easy to use, and you didn’t have to remove it every time. This was a great choice especially for surgeons, which were taking care of people all the time.

The academics considered it to be more hygienic too, since the bowtie was kept high, away from any bodily fluids or anything else that would make the bowtie dirty in the first place. Aside from that, we had the socio-economic aspects as well. Bowties were seen as a democratic, dapper option. Which is why a lot of people considered it as the

When the 1920s came, the dapper dandies came back in fashion. It was less about practicality and more about the style. Which is why a lot of men started to use bowtie with vibrant colors and loud patterns. Colors like red, purple and yellow were incredibly important, and they managed to show off very distinct mechanics and ideas. In fact, in 1929 a lot of men at the Oscars wore black and white bowties. So not only was this popular for middleclass people, but even movie stars started wearing them as well.

It’s important to note Winston Churchill as a great example for bowtie wearers. He was the prime minister of Britain from 1940 to 1945, and he is known for wearing an iconic polka dot bowtie with navy blue and white. A lot of people believe that him wearing a bowtie was the thing that inspired the Blenheim bowtie mass production during the early 40s.

1950s and beyond

During the 1950s, people were looking to express themselves more and more. The war ended just a few years before, so a lot of citizens had disposable income. This is when lots of innovation started in the clothing world, yet bowties were mostly used in the case of work uniforms. However, they were still very popular between professors and doctors.

When the 60s arrived, the fitted suits and slim ties became extremely popular. During this time, bowties were not as popular as they once were. In fact, most of them were still used at weddings. The skinny diamond tip bowties and the straight edge batwing bowties were extremely common and appealing during that time.

The 70s saw the popularity of cravats and kipper ties grow considerably. When it comes to bowties, the snapper butterfly bowties were extremely popular. However, people also liked wearing bowties more specifically for things like wedding attire or anything similar.

Moving onwards to the early 2000s, and bowties were mostly used by those that wanted a gimmicky, hipster look. Most people that wore bowties combined them with things like skinny jeans, checkered shirts and many others. They were not that popular, however things have changed if we look at how bowties are seen now.

Bowties are more common now in the 2020s because they are a great accessory and you can easily express yourself the way you want. A lot of celebrities wear them, such as Tom Daley, Ellen Page, Beyonce, Idris Elba and many others. You have clip on bowties, pre-tied bowties as well as self-tie bowties too.

Bowtie stereotypes and symbols throughout the years

It’s important to note that for bowtie devotees, this suggests something like Old World iconoclasm. Some even see it as a way to show that you have a contrarian point of view. In the early days, the bowtie was hinting at intellectualism and even some technical acumen. The reason for that is because it was hard to tie one, and you couldn’t do it from the first try.

Another thing to keep in mind is that bowties were also worn by magicians, lawyers, professors and many other intelligent people. In fact, they were associated with specific professionals, like attorneys, teachers, politicians, finance receipt collectors and even architects. It was a clear indication that only intelligent people should wear them, although during the 18th and especially 19th century, things changed quite a bit.

Bowties became a lot more common and they were a symbol of expression. While clowns used an oversized bowtie for a comedic effect, classical musicians were a lot more focused to use a white or black bowtie. It was a symbol of knowledge and power for them. So yes, there were different meanings for bowties depending on where and how it was used.

It’s important to note that during the 1900s and more specifically towards the end of the century, more and more women started to wear bowtie. That’s especially true for the 1980s, when women in the corporate world wore conservative, fully tailored suits and bowties. These bowties were a bit different, slightly larger, and more focused on making a statement. However, they still retained similar patterns, colors and materials when compared to men’s bowties.

At this time, bowties are making a comeback because you can wear them in social venues or any type of formal occasions. It’s even a part of the mess dress uniforms, as many of them include a bowtie. Some people even wear it if they go out or for a less than formal dinner. So yes, right now it’s more common than ever to wear a bowtie and express yourself and your ideas in a creative manner.

What do people think when you wear a bowtie

The main symbol of a bowtie is that you’re a creative, crafty and intelligent person. Depending on the color scheme, you can either be seen as bold (if you have multicolor bowties) or a refined, classy person if you stick to a white or black bowtie. The way you pair it with your suit does speak volumes, so it’s definitely something important to take into consideration.

In addition, wearing a bowtie shows that the person is confident in their own power and beliefs. It also brings in a sense of thoughtfulness and power. Gentlemen that wear bowties show they are committed to being unique, different and creating their own style. That also shows they are not afraid of judgment, but they focus a lot on their own agenda and ideas.

The Take so far

It’s safe to say that wearing a bowtie has always shown a sense of class and intelligence. While things changed over the years, it’s important to note that many fashion-conscious individuals still wear bowties. In fact, bowties are making a comeback.

You can find bowtie in all shapes and sizes, so it’s very easy to express your ideas and beliefs, while also pushing your style to the next level. For centuries, bowties were a sign of etiquette, and while they can be used for comedic purposes at times, they usually show high class, professionalism and intelligence. Post covid, many are looking forward to style awakening and bowties can be a great style choice for any man at any occassion and it’s definitely something every man should try out right away.

By tekena fiberesima

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