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What is a Bolo Tie?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 November 2016
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A bolo tie is a piece of neckwear made from a piece of cord or string, fastened at the throat with an ornamental clasp. Some people also call bolo ties “string ties” or “bootlace ties,” in a reference to the narrow width of the cord used to create them. The ties are particularly associated with the American Southwest, although they periodically pop up in fashions in other places as well. Many Western wear stores stock bolo ties, and they can also be ordered from companies which specialize in Western garb.

The first bolo ties appear to have emerged in the mid 1800s, among pioneers working in the West. Several historical examples dating back to the 1860s are on proud display in Southwestern states, and the history of the garment may be even older. In the late 1940s, the bolo tie became immensely popular, thanks to the efforts of an entrepreneur in Arizona who started marketing the ties.

Americans often associate the bolo tie with cowboys and Native Americans, although the ties are commonly worn by others in the West as well. Outside the United States, the bolo tie may appear in American-inspired fashion. In most cases, the bolo tie is not deemed appropriate formal wear, although this rule is sometimes relaxed in the West. This has sometimes been a cause of friction, with bolo tie proponents believing that the ties are perfectly appropriate for formal occasions.

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The string from which a bolo tie is made may be composed of braided leather, cotton, or Western grasses, in some cases. The ornamental clip often features a great deal of silver, a metal which is abundantly used in Southwestern jewelry. Often, a design is etched into the clasp of a bolo, or the bolo may be set with a stone. Cabochons of turquoise and tiger eye are common choices of decoration. The clasp may also be beaded, or made from a piece of tooled leather.

The clasp of a bolo tie is very easy to adjust, since it can simply be moved up and down the cord of the tie. Some wearers prefer to wear the clasp close to the neck for a snug fit, while others move it further down the chest for more comfort and informality. The tie is generally worn over a clean button shirt, and it may pair with an ornamental belt buckle on special occasions.

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