What is a Bow Tie?

Sheri Cyprus

A bow tie is a type of men's necktie that isn't worn lengthwise, but rather fits in a bow shape across the front of the neck. These ties are strips of fabric that are tied into bows with a center knot and two triangular or rectangular ends. Pre-tied bow ties are sold already tied, but a traditional bow tie is purchased as a length of fabric that the wearer ties to form a bow in front of his shirt.

A tuxedo with a bow tie.
A tuxedo with a bow tie.

Black silk bow ties are worn with the black formal men's evening suit known as a tuxedo, or tux for short. Tuxedos are traditionally worn with a white shirt and a black bow tie. Many formal invitations specify the dress is "black tie" and this means a black bow tie. Modern style often permits other colors of ties, but black is still the most common. At weddings, the groomsmen's ties may be in the wedding accent color.

Traditional bow ties must be tied by the wearer.
Traditional bow ties must be tied by the wearer.

Bow ties are available in many types of fabrics and a wide range of colors from brights and pastels to neutrals. These less formal versions may be in wool plaid or vivid designs or patterns such as polka dots. They are often considered a little eccentric or light-hearted and are usually worn with a shirt and sweater or shirt and vest combination rather than with a suit.

A western style of bow tie has rectangular ends plus two lengths of fabric hanging down from the center knot. Bow ties that tie to form triangular ends are known as a thistle style, while those that create more rectangular ends are of the bat wing bow tie style. Bat wing ties may be almost boat paddle-like in shape. These ties may be designed to have straight, slightly flared or very flared ends. Some ties have diamond-shaped, pointed ends.

Some men prefer a bow tie to a long necktie as there's less of a chance of spilling food on it or getting it caught in machinery. Pre-tied bow ties may have a band that fits around the collar of a shirt or may be designed to clip on to the front of dress shirts. Clip-on ties for infants, boys and men are available in many different colors and patterns.

Bow ties are available in many types of fabrics and a wide range of colors.
Bow ties are available in many types of fabrics and a wide range of colors.

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Discussion Comments


@aplenty- An ascot is another clothing accessory that is regaining popularity. Ascots are a sort of neck scarf and can be categorized with jabots and cravats in the neck wear category.

Essentially, an ascot is a short, wide tie, almost a scarf, folded over itself under the chin. It is often worn with a three-piece suit, most seen in the United Kingdom. Women can also wear ascots, which are more like scarves crossed over the chest.

In the 1960s it was popular to wear the ascot or jabot either with a jacket or without. The style was called the Mod 60s, and was a sophisticated, European look. You might have found the style on Ivy league campuses across the United States and Europe.

I think that an ascot, jabot, or cravat, would be the perfect accessory for a British themed party. Think Austin Powers with a poufy sleeve shirt and a lacy jabot or ascot.


@Amphibious54- A bow tie is a unique accessory because it can be the most formal piece to an outfit, or it can add a playful sense of style to an outfit. A white bow tie can be worn at the most formal of events during warm weather or outdoor events. You can wear a colored bow tie to a semi-formal event with a dinner jacket or sport coat. You can even wear bow ties in plaid prints with a pair of slacks and a sport shirt, or a light colored suit.

When to wear a bow tie really depends on the event, and how you feel about bow ties. A bow tie would work well at a formal wedding, but remember that you do not want to dress better than the groom or groomsmen.


What is the difference between a men's bow tie and an ascot? Where can I buy bow ties and ascots? I am going to a British themed costume party and I need to know where I can find these items.


When is it appropriate to wear a bow tie? I have a formal wedding to go to in a couple of months, and I am trying to decide if I should wear a bow tie, a tie, or nothing at all. I am not one of the groomsmen, just a guest, but I am a close friend of the bride and groom.

If a bow tie is appropriate, what color should I wear? Should I wear a black, white, or color bow tie? The wedding is in a church in New England during the beginning of fall foliage. I have only been to a couple of weddings so I would appreciate any advice. Thank you.


I have been a groomsman in a couple of weddings and have never known how to tie a bow tie. Regardless of all of the helpful hints, I just can't do it!

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