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 Is it outdated?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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