Like the black sheep that it is, despite its sense of folly the bow tie also leaves the impression of being quite trustworthy. Many highly respected leaders, lawyers, politicians and broadcasters have donned them and some have even been branded by this signature piece. Winston Churchill was known for his signature blue and white polka-dot tie. Charles Osgood for his trademark tie worn during broadcasts. That sense of trust could stem from the idea that these men are brave enough to ‘go against fashion’ or because ‘they don’t care what people think’ we trust them to be more candid and honest.
Advertisers picked up on this trend and companies such as Chevrolet and Budweiser have included the bow tie in their corporate logos. They also reinforced this association of trustworthiness and honesty with their campaign slogans. In 1996 Chevrolet wanted its “blue bow tie to be among America’s top icons again”, so it created a series of “15 second spots featuring just the bow tie in unexpected places with the printed tag ‘Genuine Chevrolet’ and the narration ‘the cars Americans trust’” (Halliday). Budweiser also made this association with their ad campaign featuring just their red bow tie logo and the words ‘Budweiser, True’.
Though the bow tie has made a dramatic shift in the 20th century from a symbol of class distinction and distinguished conformity to a symbol of individualism and supposed trust, the bow tie has not waivered as the staple accessory of formal attire. There have been some recent adaptations, again brought on by Hollywood celebrities such as the black button cover or black bolo tie, but when alternates are chosen they are typically mocked by mainstream media. Black tie affair still means black bow tie by all accounts. The sophistication and style has been reinforced by celebrities in photos or films of formal dances, dinners and parties.
Representing all the glamour of classic Hollywood and associated with the debonair Humphrey Bogart and Frank Sinatra. It has such a long standing tradition and symbol of what it means to be a sophisticated and classy gentleman that even Playboy picked it up and incorporated it into their bunny logo . In fact, Playboy’s use of the bow tie has in many ways taken the symbol full circle – the fantasy and money associated with having women and the ‘finer things’ in life really brings us right back to the ideas of class distinction and giving men something to aspire too.
The bow tie has such an interesting history because essentially we aren’t sure what to think of it. Outside of its use as formal wear it doesn’t have a category or clear intention. Standing so far left of fashion it is one of those rare instances where those who chose to wear it really do demonstrate individuality and not out of a need for protest or desperation to be noticed. Finkelstein wrote, The basic irony of fashion is that it cannot succeed in marking the individual as truly different.
While fashions may be touted as a means to be distinguished, the pursuit of fashion is more effectively a means of being socially homogenized. The historic success of being fashionable has been to provide a sense of individualism within a shared code, since individuals can look acceptably distinctive only within a restricted aesthetic. When they purchase fashionable goods that will distinguish them, they do so only from a range of goods already understood to be valuable. Having this understanding of fashion it seems to follow that one purchasing or wearing something un-fashionable truly is expressing their individuality.
In the case of the bow tie it seems its wearers have less in common and that commonality derived by the observer has more to do with visual media’s attempt to categorize the wearer as something. Interestingly though, those known for donning the bow tie come from such a broad society base that stereotypes of general folly created by media characters do not really apply. However it may be that is exactly the point. When you can’t be categorized you will certainly stand out and in that case the bow tie, outside of the formal, acts merely as a signature piece with no real intention other than being noticed.
“To be fashionable involves having specific knowledge about the value of goods. It is not sufficient to desire goods because of their utility” (Finkelstein). Clearly using the bow tie for the sake of the utility of being noticed makes the item quite un-fashionable, but maybe it is the individual outside of the fashion world who truly understands the value of goods. The bow tie is the ‘black sheep’ of the Cravat family, the outsider of the fashion world and that is its value.
Visual media has changed its initial perceptions of being an item of social class distinction to that of a clown and yet despite its created perceptions those who choose to wear the bow tie outside of film and T. V. are highly regarded and trusted. Advertisers have picked up on this strange dichotomy and have even reinforced its credibility, but not to the approval of the fashion world. It is curious to think that the bow tie will ever become fashionable outside of its formal roots mainly because it has become something far more valuable than fashion.
Finkelstein, Joanne. “Chic Theory”. Australian Humanities Review. 07 March 2009. http://www.australianhumanitiesreview.org/archive/Issue-March-1997/