Are Bow Ties Appropriate for Business?

By Juanita Ecker

I was just reading the April issue of Lake Murray Magazine and saw this headline on the cover: “Tie one on for the Cup–an ode to the bow tie, an essential accessory for the Carolina Cup gentleman.”

“Men who wish to project a different, daring or distinguished style choose to tie up their fashionable loose ends in a handsome bow tie,” the article read, explaining that men can elevate their look from “done to dapper” by wearing a bow tie.

It seems that in the South, a bow tie paired with a suit is quite fashionable for formal social occasions. But as I read the article, I wondered about how the bow tie is received in the business arena? Is it outdated? Inappropriate? Or merely a striking personal style statement?

I get asked this question all the time in my dress seminars. “Can I wear a bow tie at the office and still be viewed as credible,” men ask. Being from the Northeast, I used to say, “Absolutely not!” However, now that I am living in the South, my view has changed.

Now, I have two major considerations with regards to this look. The first is, where does the client live? The bow tie is much more accepted in the South. When I am out to dinner at nice restaurants in Columbia, South Carolina, I see lots of businessmen wearing bow ties. Up north, and, indeed, most of the country, a bow tie is a rarity and therefore more likely to be seen as unconventional.

The second consideration is the client’s corporate culture. If he works in a creative environment, such as an advertising firm, fashion house, or magazine, a bow tie may be accepted, or even viewed as trendy. A strait-laced law firm, however, is less likely to be bowled over. Observe how your higher-ups dress—you should generally follow their lead. Are there any signs of personal expression? I know some businessmen who wear colorful ties, or bold striped socks with their expensive power suits just to add a touch of personality. If that’s the case in your office, a bow tie might be acceptable.

If you choose to wear a bow tie, know that it will brand you as somewhat eccentric. Just look at “Mad Men,” for example. The two characters who wear bow ties are Bert Cooper (who also walks around without shoes), and Harry Crane—arguably the more unusual, less ambitious men in the office. Compared to the sleek, traditional power ties worn by Don Draper and Roger Sterling, they look very quirky and perhaps less powerful.

The lesson: You may have to work harder to prove to others that you are a committed professional!

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  1. In the corporate environment, I believe the traditional tie is more “powerful” than a bow tie. There are certain environments where the bow tie would be more acceptable as “cool” or “creative”. I am not anti-bow tie, and I think that clothing stores such as Brooks Brothers has great selections, but I would encourage my clients to wear a bow tie with discretion. I agree, Juanita, when sporting a bow tie, you have to work much harder at being viewed as a serious professional.

  2. Peggy Parks says:

    I am an image and etiquette consultant in Atlanta and seldom see men wearing bow ties. What’s interesting about bow ties is that they can be both formal and fun.

    I’ve only seen professional men wear bow ties, such as attorneys and CPAs. Most of these men are middle-aged and have always worn bow ties. If you read GQ and other male fashionista magazines, you will see a lot of bow ties as well as very avant-guard suits and clothes. However, these clothes cannot be worn in a formal environment. It’s hard enough to make a man wear a tie these days, let alone a bow tie!
    Not everyone can wear a bow tie. You have to have the correct face shape. On the right guy, it looks great!

  3. Here in Melbourne Australia, a bow tie is often worn by the law fraternity. I on accasions wear a bow tie to which I receive compliments. I think the secret is that you tie the bow yourself, it can add flair to your overall look

  4. juanitaecker says:

    Stuart, thanks for sharing that. I am getting so many interesting comments from people all over the world. Like I said in the article, it depends on where you live and what you do for a living.

  5. Juanita, In Melbourne Australia, the bow tie is a favourite dress with the law fraternity. I occasionaly wear a bow tie in my classes, from whom I receive compliments. The secret to wearing a bowie is that it needs to be SELF TIED. In our society, it takes guts to wear a bow tie, but why look the same as the world?

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