From Lincoln to Bond to Churchill—the bow tie has been the defining fashion accessory of some of history’s most badass men.

But in the world of bow ties, there is a fine line between dowdy and debonair.

Outside of black tie events, wearing a bow tie casually can be a daunting proposition for many men. Done right, on the other hand, bow ties can be simple accessories that take your wardrobe to a whole new level.

Here’s an easy guide on where to get a bow tie, how to tie one, and how to makes sure you look like a proper gentleman while wearing one. And no, pre-tied or clip ons are not an option.

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Where to get a bow tie

You can buy a bow tie just about anywhere that sells men’s formal wear. But after reading this guide, you’ll find that only a fraction of the bow ties out there are ones you’ll want to put around your neck. While there is no right or wrong place to get a good bow tie, there are a few places you can look that will increase your chances of landing on the right one.

In general, places like Top Man, Banana Republic, and J. Crew tend to have a decent selection of good-looking bow ties without having to spend hundreds.

Another good idea is to hit up your local vintage clothing shops. Sometimes, you can find some really interesting and unique bow ties, usually at unbeatable prices.

When to wear a bow tie 

Traditionally, men have work bow ties almost exclusively with tuxedos. But nowadays, they can be worn with almost any outfit involving a button-up shirt, as long as you have the right bow tie. In warmer weather, they can be a great addition to a short sleeve shirt.

Ultimately, the important thing isn’t when, but rather how you wear a bow tie. Knowing what you’re doing can make the bow tie a suitable accessory for nearly any occasion.

How to tie the thing

A lot of guys think of tying bow ties as a difficult task. But believe it or not, it’s a lot like tying you shoes. Here’s a handy video from Harry Rosen showing you the easiest way to tie that perfect bow.

 

Pulling off a bow tie

Consider the material

The texture and material of your bow tie are as important as colours and patters. The material of the bow tie will not only determine how it will look with the rest of your outfit, but also how knot will look and how the whole bow will sit.

Chances are most of the bow ties you see around you are of the silky, shiny variety, which, frankly, looks tacky and altogether outdated. For a more modern and sophisticated look, try bow ties crafted from more textural fabrics like suiting wools, flannels, hopsack, and even selvage denim. In warmer weather, look for ones made from seersucker, madras, and straight cotton.

Black is always in

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Have you ever seen James Bond wear a black tuxedo with cherry red bow tie? No, you haven’t and there’s good reason for it. I know we’ve been talking about how to get a modern look with a bow tie, but in the case of black tie events, the rule hasn’t changed. Do still avoid the shiny materials (grosgrain or wool tend to add nice texture), but as far as colour, black tux, black tie. End of story.

In this case, size matters

To properly pull off a bow tie, you’ll also want to consider the size and shape of the tie. (The length isn’t something you’ll have to worry about, as most bow ties are adjustable).

In general, bow ties come in three shapes—straight, hourglass, and pointed. These days, the most modern look can be had with a slim, straight bow tie. The minimalism of these bow ties makes them look subtle and inconspicuous, a natural part of your outfit that doesn’t draw attention to itself.

Hourglass bow ties tend to do the opposite. The hourglass shape usually works well if you’re wearing it with a tuxedo and wing-collar shirt. In more casual setting, it should be avoided unless you’re really going for the ‘Hey! Look at my bow tie!’ look (which, for many reasons, isn’t recommended).

Wear it like you mean it

The most important thing in pulling off a bow tie (or just about anything, for that matter), is wearing it with confidence. It’s already something you won’t see most guys wearing, so if you look like you’re unsure about your bow tie, chances are people will notice.

So, don’t worry and don’t keep fidgeting with the bow tie during the day. Just find the right one, match it to the right outfit, tie a bow you’re happy with and walk around like the handsome devil you are.