Recently I attended the Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, sponsored by EY, at Toronto’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The dress code for the soirée was black tie. The entrepreneurs disembarked from town cars and taxis under the hotel’s glittering lights, well dressed for the occasion: women in nylons and dresses teetered on high heels, and the men wore black tuxedos.
The men looked good, with one glaring problem: they wore pre-tied bow ties. I guess you can rent such a bowtie, or buy it: a bowtie that is permanently tied in place and comes with a band that you clip around under your collar. Come on, guys. Really?
A pre-tied bow tie is the equivalent of the clip-on tie. I wore a clip-on tie in Grade 2. You might remember them: it’s a permanently tied knot attached to a piece of plastic that clips on your shirt collar. It’s passable for Grade 2 but decidedly not cool for an adult. Pre-knotted bowties are small, always boring and black, and glaringly obvious. Wear a pre-tied bowtie, and you might as well raise your hand and ask permission to go to the bathroom.
Real men tie their own bow ties.
It’s never too late to learn to tie a bowtie. I was 30 when I learned. I lived in New York at the time. My girlfriend and I had been invited a wedding at a Catholic church in Manhattan. I bought a classic tux at a vintage store and found a tailor to take it in, and I bought a bowtie.
I went home and tried a few times to tie it. I failed horribly. I had no idea where to turn. So I went to Sak’s Fifth Avenue (the flagship store, on Fifth Avenue). I couldn’t afford anything in the place, and I was fairly intimidated by all the guys walking around in Paul Smith suits and Vuarnet sunglasses. I snuck up to a counter in the menswear and explained my predicament. A gentleman in a black suit wordlessly handed me a slip of paper a bit bigger than a business card. The paper contained four line drawings, and no words, which illustrated how to tie a bowtie. I took that home, and after a few tries in the mirror, I got it.
Even still, when it came to my own wedding, I choked at the mirror, trying to tie my bowtie. My palms sweating, my head light, I tied and untied, knotted and failed before I finally got it. Later on, after the ceremony, my new wife asked, “What happened?”
“I couldn’t tie my bow tie,” I said.
“People thought you’d gotten cold feet and weren’t coming,” she said. “But I knew you’d come because you spent so much money on this wedding.”
Since then, I have begun to acquire bowties. I have become known for them, and so people give them to me. My cousin came to visit from London and brought me a pink bow tie from Thomas Pink. My sister-in-law had a job at Ralph Lauren in New York and, one Christmas sent me seven bowties. (No, they are not pre-tied!)
Recently I have begun to teach journalism at Ryerson University. I wear a bowtie to class. The last class featured a quiz show, where the five sections of students faced off. One of my students suggested that our students all wearing bowties to the competition. I brought in my collection, and I taught my students all to tie bow ties. It was probably the most useful skill they learned from me.