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The Bowtie "Stigma"?

Discussion in 'Classic Menswear' started by JLibourel, May 20, 2009.

  1. JLibourel

    JLibourel Well-Known Member

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    A few days ago I re-read I'm Frank Hamer, the biography of the famous Texas Ranger best known for killing Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. In it there were a number of group photos of Texas Rangers from the 1920s and early 1930s. Interestingly enough, quite a few, maybe a third of them in each photo, were wearing bowties. Certainly, there aren't too many men more tough and macho than a Texas Ranger. As my old friend Bill Jordan (a very dangerous, formidable man in his own right) remarked to me in one of the last conversations I had with him, "They were fierce, those old Rangers. They were very jealous of their reputations."

    This leads me to wonder when exactly and why the bowtie began to acquire the negative imagery that surrounds it today--the mark of the nerd or dweeb, the otherworldly professor, the clown, the professional eccentric. Yeah, I know it is a perfectly legitimate piece of neckwear, I wear them occasionally, but I think we're all aware of this popular perception of them.

    Anybody got any ideas of how and when bowties began to fall from favor? One might correlate it with the decline of the three-piece suit, but that hardly seems like the whole story. Was there some defining character that made the bowtie seem ridiculous, sort of like what Thurston Howell III did to the ascot?
     
  2. dopey

    dopey Well-Known Member

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    Interesting question. I don't know the answer.
     
  3. Nexus6

    Nexus6 Well-Known Member

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    Cockfight attire?
    heh...I don't know either.
    [​IMG]
     
  4. Hard2Fit

    Hard2Fit Well-Known Member

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  5. lightsaber

    lightsaber Well-Known Member

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    Hard to say, isn't it. I've often thought it may have have had something to do with the conformity of the 50s/60s company man: that was the critical moment in America when suit and tie became strongly identified as merely a white-collar uniform - the time when it began to acquire a fixed cultural meaning as something worn by the average man only when not in his leisure hours. In that narrow-lapelled, skinny four-in-hand period of decline, the charm of a bow stood out against the anonymous, formulaic company man's 2 piece ensemble. Yet, I think it was still seen as much less eccentric in those days than it is now. Was there any defining character that dealt the blow to the bowtie? Maybe not - although Pee Wee Herman comes to mind. Be that as it may, the bow doesn't deserve such stigma- there should be more neckwear options for the well-dressed man than the ubiquitous four-in-hand.
     
  6. robin

    robin Well-Known Member

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    Cockfight attire?
    Cockfights were once a gentleman's game where you wore your best.
     
  7. deanayer

    deanayer Well-Known Member

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    two words - Orville Redenbocker
     
  8. Nexus6

    Nexus6 Well-Known Member

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    Cockfights were once a gentleman's game where you wore your best.

    Now that...is interesting.
    I do admit ignorance on both topics.
    I'll do some reading on it later.
    Apparently cock-fighting is still very popular in the Pacific Rim countries (ex. Philippines)
    Other than that, I have everything to learn.
    [​IMG]
    Just for the record...I like Bow-Ties.
    Aside from a black one for my tuxedo, I have only one other;
    a 30 year old tartan clip-on, only I don't remember which clan I represent while wearing it,
    if I ever wear it.
     
  9. JLibourel

    JLibourel Well-Known Member

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    Hard to say, isn't it. I've often thought it may have have had something to do with the conformity of the 50s/60s company man: that was the critical moment in America when suit and tie became strongly identified as merely a white-collar uniform - the time when it began to acquire a fixed cultural meaning as something worn by the average man only when not in his leisure hours. In that narrow-lapelled, skinny four-in-hand period of decline, the charm of a bow stood out against the anonymous, formulaic company man's 2 piece ensemble. Yet, I think it was still seen as much less eccentric in those days than it is now.

    Some thoughtful points here. What you say reminds me that back in the 1950s my father-in-law was called on the carpet for wearing a bowtie (as being too jaunty and sporty) and informed that employees of Jorgensen Steel were expected to wear four-in-hand neckties. (His boss, Earl Jorgensen later became a close part of Ronald Reagan's inner circle.)

    Kind of a chicken or the egg thing here: Did bowties become comedic because of Pee Wee, or did Pee Wee adopt the bowtie because they were already comedic. I am rather inclined to suspect the latter.

    I couldn't agree more, which is why I like ascots and to a lesser extent bowties. Otherwise one really just has the option of the four-in-hand or the open-collared shirt.
     
  10. Ahab

    Ahab Well-Known Member

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    I do not like bow ties in general. I associate them with slick door to door salesmen and the Nation of Islam.
     
  11. Mark from Plano

    Mark from Plano Well-Known Member

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    I like them and wear them occassionally, but honestly, not as much as I'd like principally because of the image you mention; maybe once or twice a year, not counting black tie.

    I have nothing intelligent to contribute on the question of when their image changed, just wanted to voice my support for the bow tie.
     
  12. LabelKing

    LabelKing Well-Known Member

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    Tom Mix in a bowtie:

    [​IMG]
     
  13. JLibourel

    JLibourel Well-Known Member

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    Cockfights were once a gentleman's game where you wore your best.

    Yes, Andrew Jackson was an avid cockfighter (although I gather the preferred terms today among practitioners of the sport are "cockers" and "cocking"). One could only imagine today the effects on a presidential candidate's chances were it discovered he had been a participant in the sport. Kind of odd the indignation cockfighting arouses among Anglo-Saxon-type Americans given the horrible way we treat chickens in the name of food production.
     
  14. LabelKing

    LabelKing Well-Known Member

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    Regarding cockfights, I am reminded of that rather surreal scene in the film, The Day of the Locust.
     
  15. JLibourel

    JLibourel Well-Known Member

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    Tom Mix in a bowtie:

    [​IMG]


    Coincidentally, I am working on a column that largely deals with Tom Mix at this moment. Of course, Tom Mix's heyday was the same era as that of the bowtie-wearing Texas Rangers I mentioned in my original post. Although Mix's apparel is foppish, he certainly has a virile, rugged countenance.
     
  16. LabelKing

    LabelKing Well-Known Member

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    Coincidentally, I am working on a column that largely deals with Tom Mix at this moment. Of course, Tom Mix's heyday was the same era as that of the bowtie-wearing Texas Rangers I mentioned in my original post. Although Mix's apparel is foppish, he certainly has a virile, rugged countenance.

    Incidentally, I believe Tom Mix started out as an actual cowboy. Apparently, he had a habit for fancy rig from his young days--one of my Western-wear books tells of Tom Mix embroidering clothing when he in his teens.

    One could make the argument that Mix's flamboyance is a natural extension of his virility. Certainly, history has shown that peacockery was always a very masculine impulse, and not at all feminine as contemporary politic has it.
     
  17. Ahab

    Ahab Well-Known Member

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    Coincidentally, I am working on a column that largely deals with Tom Mix at this moment. Of course, Tom Mix's heyday was the same era as that of the bowtie-wearing Texas Rangers I mentioned in my original post. Although Mix's apparel is foppish, he certainly has a virile, rugged countenance.
    I have nothing to back it up but I would assume a lawman would be more advised to wear a bow tie over most other ties because of the chance for physical confrontation. I believe many police wear clip on ties for this very reason. In the case where you were drawing a gun on duty or in a show a bow tie would never get in the way.
     
  18. DocHolliday

    DocHolliday Well-Known Member

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    Incidentally, I believe Tom Mix started out as an actual cowboy. Apparently, he had a habit for fancy rig from his young days--one of my Western-wear books tells of Tom Mix embroidering clothing when he in his teens.

    One could make the argument that Mix's flamboyance is a natural extension of his virility. Certainly, history has shown that peacockery was always a very masculine impulse, and not at all feminine as contemporary politic has it.


    Tom Mix became a good friend to Wyatt Earp late in Wyatt's life and served as a pallbearer at his funeral.
     
  19. JLibourel

    JLibourel Well-Known Member

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    Incidentally, I believe Tom Mix started out as an actual cowboy. Apparently, he had a habit for fancy rig from his young days--one of my Western-wear books tells of Tom Mix embroidering clothing when he in his teens.

    Mix was actually a Pennsylvanian. When he was 18, he joined the army at the outbreak of the Spanish-American war and remained in the army for four years. All his service was stateside. Although he rose rapidly in the ranks, he deserted in 1902 and drifted west. He was working as a bartender in Guthrie, Oklahoma, when made friends with the powerful Miller Brothers, who owned huge ranch in northern Oklahoma and went to work for them. Just about that time, the Miller Brothers were pioneering the practice of "dude ranching" and also were starting a wild west show. Old timers from the Miller 101 Ranch seemed to vary in their assessment of Mix. Some said he was not much of a cowboy and spent much of his time just looking good and shepherding the guests around, but others said he picked up cowboy skills quickly and became a good roper and rider. He was good enough to perform as a trick roper "Tom Mixco from Old Mexico" in the wild west show. Within a couple of years, the Millers got involved with pioneer movie-maker William Selig and he recruited Mix into the movie business. A lot of the other early cowboy stars--Ken Maynard, Hoot Gibson, Buck Jones and Yakima Canutt--got into the movies via their work in the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Real Wild West show. Tom Mix is an example of the fleetingness of fame--enormously popular in his day, but I wonder how many young people would have the slightest idea who he was today.

    One can't help wonder if Brummell, with his emphasis on "restraint," followed by the convention that male evening wear should exclusively be black and white to provide a backdrop for the ladies' gowns didn't have a lot to do with the decline of masculine peacockery. The replacement of the musket by the rifle as the principal weapon of war did much to stifle military peacockery and the coming of smokeless powder pretty much finished the job.
     
  20. Greggers

    Greggers Well-Known Member

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    Without real research, I can only throw out some half-assed psychological deconstructions, but here we go:

    1. Bows conjure associations with decoration, fun, and whimsy, are therefore interpreted as less serious and less worthy of immediate respect.

    2. Bows in general are often a female adornment, and perhaps the public consciousness associates them with a lack of masculinity. I know this flies in the face of the Rangers example, but perhaps the Rangers as a group established a set of norms that trumped this aspect.

    3. The bow of a bowtie is more ornate than a regular tie, more fussy-looking, and again, the popular consciousness interprets this as less manly and more nerdy.

    4. Seen as an anachronism, electing to wear a bowtie displays a foolish alienation with current norms.

    5. The sheer novelty of a bowtie ignites simple in-group/out-group prejudices.
     

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