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The Ties That Bind
Authenticity is inextricable from trustworthiness
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“One can be a brother only in something. Where there is no tie that binds men, men are not united but merely lined up.” — Antoine de Saint Exupéry
When you wear a bow tie — even once — you have a huge problem.
You’re instantly branded as “the bow tie guy.”
It happened to me. It stuck when Eloqua (since acquired by Oracle) included me in an e-book of thought leaders and accompanied it with this as my avatar:
So, I embraced it. And when I hung out my shingle after leaving corporate life, I incorporated it into my logo.
The bow tie is so inextricably linked with me, that if I show up at events with a necktie, people wonder if I’m having an episode. I can share photos from summer vacations or working from home and, only to be greeted with comments like “Where’s your bow tie?”
Ah, yes. Very observant of you. That’s almost as original as “Is it hot enough for you?” during a heat wave.
The price of authenticity, I suppose.
Then there are the would-be style kings — the sartorial security force, the garment guerrillas, the vestment vigilantes — who solely exist online to tell you you’re doing it wrong.
Like Officer Joe Internet of the Fashion Police, who recently told me in no uncertain terms:
“Bow ties are only to be worn with tuxedos, and even then are to be a single solid color.”
Not satisfied with doling out a didactic dress code dictum, he insisted on showing his work:
“My brother wears them, too, but he’s been working at private high schools for years now and so perpetuates the sartorial stereotypes that go with it such as polka dots.”
Oh, well that makes all the difference then. Your brother is clearly a danger to sartorial society. We all know that polka dots aren’t worn on any other type of clothing.
But even so-called experts in the field give questionable advice.
In 1975, John Molloy told people how to Dress for Success in a book that kicked off the power-dressing movement. He updated it in 1988 as New Dress for Success, but to give you an idea of what it contained, here’s a piece from the New York Times Magazine from 2006:
“John T. Molloy’s perennially popular self-help manual New Dress for Success also tells racial minorities to cover. Molloy advises African-Americans to avoid “Afro hairstyles” and to wear “conservative pinstripe suits, preferably with vests, accompanied by all the establishment symbols, including the Ivy League tie.” He urges Latinos to “avoid pencil-line mustaches,” “any hair tonic that tends to give a greasy or shiny look to the hair,” “any articles of clothing that have Hispanic associations” and “anything that is very sharp or precise.””
Okay, first of all: yikes.
But as you read Molloy’s work, it’s clear that he’s all about conformity. Instructing you on how to assemble the universal and uninspiring uniform of a successful person.
And if you dare to swerve from Molloy’s pinstriped guardrails of fashion, you’ll cause a three-piece pileup on the power suit highway.
This (ahem) expert even goes so far as to weigh in on bow ties, suggesting that men who wear bow ties are “distrusted by almost everyone.”
Like Officer Joe’s statement, that’s a sweeping generalization.
Granted, Tucker Carlson used to wear bow ties (bow ties that were so tiny I’d wager he got them as a child and never bought new ones), but there are plenty of other examples of trustworthy men who donned bow ties. Among them:
Bill Nye the Science Guy
Irving R. Levine
Yes, I left Pee-Wee Herman off the list. Would you have trusted him more if he wore a necktie? Me neither.
Perhaps Mr. Molloy feels that Winston Churchill could have gained the trust of Britons by donning a four-in-hand tie instead of his signature polka-dotted bow. He managed to pull it off anyway — even while regularly wearing jumpsuits!
Trustworthiness and authenticity have nothing to do with our choice of neckwear.
We trust people because of how they act and what they do, particularly when it matches with what they say.
If someone chooses to express himself differently by wearing a bow tie, it has no bearing on his character.
What a Bow Tie Reveals
It does, however, mean that he’ll ruin fewer ties with spilled soup. And it’s much more economical to wash a shirt than to replace a tie.
Charles Osgood summed it up best:
For those who have lusted to be honored and trusted,
A bow tie, I say, doesn’t hurt.
For it isn’t your tie most people will eye —
It’s the soupstain there on your shirt.
In my view, the only way a bow tie interferes with trust is if you’re wearing a pre-tied version.
Then I’ll judge the hell out of you.
“Style is the image of character.” — Edward Gibbon, c. 1789
The Crusades (1095–1291) were one of the earliest disruptions in the medieval world’s codes of appearance. When Crusaders returned home, they brought with them styles that disrupted the fashion hierarchy in Europe. (Lapham’s Quarterly)
Everyone Wants to Know
Aside from “Is it real?” The question I get most frequently is, “How do you tie a bow tie?” My answer is brief and direct: “It’s just like tying a shoe.” And then I look at their shoes and they’re invariably wearing loafers. So here’s how you do it. (Bonus: it’s narrated by Matthew McConaughey.)
Fit to Be Tied
Abraham Lincoln’s bow tie was always crooked. But here’s the interesting part: it was also pre-tied. (National Museum of American History)
“As bad a dresser as I am, anything beats being judged by my character.” — David Sedaris, 1997
A Dressing Down
The United States Senate, the world’s greatest deliberative body®, has relaxed its notoriously conservative dress code. Everyone (including senators), seems to have an opinion on it, including Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), 70, who says she plans to wear a bikini on the Senate floor. I’m concerned. (CBS News)
Style to Die For
Dress Like an Oxymoron
The world is moving at the speed of White Claw and mochaccino, but you still enjoy a fine martini or a negroni. Hip-hop and rap may move your feet, but you feel classic jazz and blues in your very soul. You can rock a fedora or a cocktail dress as well as a hoodie or yoga pants. You’re a freak in the sheets and a gentleman (or lady) in the streets. You’re Classy AF.
“Fashion, n. A despot whom the wise ridicule and obey.” — Ambrose Bierce, 1911
Jeeves and the Tie That Binds is the penultimate novel featuring P.G. Wodehouse’s characters Jeeves and Bertie Wooster. It concerns the club book of The Junior Ganymede Club (Jeeves’ club), which was written “solely to acquaint those who are contemplating taking new posts with the foibles of prospective employers. This being so, there is no need for the record contained in the eighteen pages in which you figure. For I may hope, may I not, sir, that you will allow me to remain permanently in your service?” A tie that binds, indeed.
Intelligent conversation, life-improving insights, and actionable advice without the fluff and filler. It’s The Art of Manliness podcast. And despite its name, the content is about 80 percent gender-neutral.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the Internet.