How to Rock a Bow Tie and a Mo: Q&A with Dan

We’re standing side by side facing the mirror as he expertly gives me a tutorial on how to tie a bow tie. The ties are soft woollen ones and very malleable. Nevertheless, I fear that I’m destroying mine with my torturous manipulation of the fabric. In the end, I do manage to tie something around my neck that is recognizably a bow. But if there was such a thing as the Bow Tie Police, it certainly wouldn’t pass inspection. This stuff ain’t easy; the world of bow ties is for the dedicated! Enter my friend, Dan…

Dan and I with our bow ties that we tied ourselves

Dan and I with our bow ties that we tied ourselves

I don’t think I noticed the exact moment when Dan became a dandy, but he can now usually be relied upon to show up wearing an actual “outfit,” one that almost always includes a bow tie. So few men put any thought into what they wear these days that Dan’s efforts are not just rare, but admirable as well. He’s been known to sport the casual short sleeved shirt with bow tie and jeans look for a summer brunch, and he’s been spotted at parties in the most stylish of suits. Aside from being sartorially dedicated, Dan, along with his lovely lass, are two of the most genuine and delightful folks I’ve met since moving to Ottawa 6 years ago. So I thought I’d sit down with Dan and poke at his intricate brain. The results are below for entertainment and learning purposes. (Note that the interview was edited for length and flow.)

Bjütie: How many bow ties do you own?

Dan: 25, as of this morning.

B: And you have them colour arranged, I noticed.

D: This is true.

B: For which occasions do you wear bow ties? I’ve seen you with and without, but mostly with. And I noticed that you even have a casual look that you wear with bow ties, and you have your more formal looks. So explain this.

D: Because I’m mildly compulsive I’ve gotten into the habit of… one thing that I saw mentioned on the Internet that I’ve since adopted for myself called Bow Tie Thursdays, which is very very simple.

B: [laughs] Self explanatory.

D: Every Thursday, I wear a bow tie. And the other thing is that I do like to wear bow ties on the weekend because they’re a way of dressing up that, unlike… if you dress up on a weekend in a tie, it looks like you’re being formal, but if you dress up with a bow tie it remains on the “dressing up” part of it.

bow tie drawer

A hue for every mood

B: Often times, in a party, you’re the most put-together guy. How does that make you feel, to be the most spiffied up person?

D: I usually am pathetically overdressed for parties, partly because I get very cold and I like having a lot of layers and I also like pockets… Especially now that I have got this smart phone thing, I pretty much need a pocket right here to hold it. So there’s that. So that end of it coupled with the wanting to dress up and not necessarily wanting to appear entirely ostentatious leads one back again to the bow tie.

B: When did you start wearing them, do you remember your first bow tie?

D: It would have been about 3 years ago or so by now. Because I was living in the previous place in Ottawa [note to readers: this place was not-so-affectionately referred to by Dan and his girlfriend, Carolyn, as “the hovel”] and I just kind of decided – Hey, I should take up bow ties or, like, get a bow tie just as, you know, something different. And then I think Carolyn got me my first one. And then there was the horror of discovering that I just had no idea how to properly tie the fucking things. That was awkward for a bit, and then I both did and didn’t return to grappling with how to tie the damn things, especially in some kind of efficient and replicable fashion.

B: Did you look at YouTube videos? How did you...

D: There was one in particular that was useful. I think I just looked at a couple; it just got annoying after a while. But one was good and featured a guy who just stood there being a guy wearing a bow tie as it was being put on, and a sort of taylor type person who was this older Southern gentleman with a wonderful delivery… just very gentlemanly, but with an American twist which is a little bit exotic. He led one through it and made it seem all quite doable.

B: There’s that whole gentleman aspect to bow ties with the tuxedos and James Bond and that whole thing, but also hipsters have somewhat adopted the bow tie. How do you feel about hipsters stealing your look?

D: If they’re going to steal something, it might as well be good. But no, I see the hipster use of it in a sort of bohemian… my mental picture is a dude with a sweater and a bow tie riding a bicycle- Is that somewhere in the ball park of hipster caricature?

B: For sure [laughing].

D: That I see as a perfectly valid take up of the casual end of bow tie use.

[At this point we try to have a conversation about the history of bow ties but we realize that neither of us really knows much. As a librarian, I feel a deep sense of shame about not having done my research. But I’ve since checked with Tim Gunn’s Fashion Bible and Dan was quite right in thinking that the bow tie is a descendant of the cravat.]

B: When selecting a new bow tie, what qualities do you look for?

D: I think of where there are gaps in terms of ability to complement shirts that I have. I mean, everything looks good with a white shirt. Quite a lot will look good with a black shirt. And I have a number of earth tone things, so that’s a consideration. Yeah, you play around with that and you also have to balance against where you may have a surfeit or adequate representation of bow ties; I have quite a few in the pink through purple end of things so I hold off on that for the time being and flesh out some of the other [colours].

B: I noticed you don’t have any clip ons, they’re all actual ties that you have to tie.

D: Yeah, I have one elasticated monstrosity and I bought that by accident. I wanted to return it and was told I couldn’t. So I’ve worn it, like, once. It’s a beautiful tie, it’s just fake and it makes me sad. Oh, although my [work colleague] went to Vegas at one point and brought me back a clip-on bow tie, sort of an emergency bow tie in a case. That’s in my desk at work.

Boardwalk Empire's Chalky White played by Michael Kenneth Williams

Boardwalk Empire’s Chalky White played by Michael Kenneth Williams

B: I think we’ve established that you’re not a hipster; you don’t wear things ironically. I think you wear them because you actually like them.

D: I’m deadly serious in everything I do.

B: How would you describe your personal style?

D: Hmm… fairly traditional in terms of what I wear, but a bit more modern in the range of colours.

B: Do you have any bow tie heroes or people that you model yourself after?

D: Uh… Bill Nye?

B: The Science Guy? Nice.

D: Oh, and also in term of pop culture admirable uses of bow tie — I’ve now taken to [noticing] in a show or a film the time until the first one appears because the bow tie is often used to evoke a sort of scientific nerdishness and quasi-intellectualism that you don’t necessarily have to respect, but you can note. Obviously, Mad Men uses them a lot and there’s a surprising number in Watchmen. But Boardwalk Empire was the best at this. It’s a series set in prohibition era Atlantic City, NJ. And you’ve got actually 3 characters who wear bow ties and they each wear a different style. And it’s distinct, it’s wonderful. [Here we digress into a discussion about how the characters’ bow tie styles evoke where they’ve come from and their aspirations.]

B: Aside from bow ties, you’re very much into facial hair and playing with different sideburns and moustaches. And again, it’s not done in an ironic way. Is there an interplay between the bow ties and the facial hair?

D: Not as much. The facial hair is, well, I’ve always enjoyed having a sand box on the front of my head to experiment with. So I’ve done various things over the years and, because I’m very lazy, many of them have involved not shaving. I had great big fuck-off beards for a while… You know, I did a couple of degrees in religious studies; it seemed to fit. Then you shave and look “hireable.” But then getting involved with the Movember thing; I had to get rid of the beard the first time.

B: When was the first time?

D: I think this is my third year doing it. Starting from scratch with the sort of standard moustache across the front, not really handlebar but headed that way. Then, last year, I decided to grow what, to my mind, was the ugliest god-damned moustache I could think of and, to my surprise, people seemed to genuinely like it. I don’t know if that’s an ironic act, but it was certainly an unintended one. But then I decided sure, yeah, I’m going to go with this and worked my ridiculous spiky mutton chops into the mix. This one, this year, what I did was I let people put what moustache I would grow to the vote. I set up a ballot box [at work] and people could put in a vote for a dollar. It was mildly disappointing to get 8 votes and 5 dollars. But 3 of the votes that were received were for the biker option which means I get to grow basically the same thing again. I’m trying to do it much more vertical whereas the last one was more triangular/fluffy… I think the takeaway from this is that I’m grimly serious about even my playful uses of facial hair.

Dan gets his Movember on

Dan gets his Movember on

B: Can you tell me a bit more about Movember?

D: Yes, Movember started in Australia tenish years ago. A group of blokes down the pub basically decided to grow their moustaches to help raise money for prostate cancer. It worked well enough and then they did it the next year, and then the next. And then it started to grow quite a bit and spread to other countries. In the last few years, Canada, in particular, has been one of the major countries that has helped raise funds. So Canada has really stepped up and done quite well. Movember now has a few aspects that it supports, it has moved beyond just prostate cancer. They embrace more broadly issues of men’s health: so there’s prostate cancer needing research, testicular cancer because it’s a related one that’s hard to talk about, and then men’s mental health being the third broad arm. Their idea behind it is that getting a check-up, or self-checking, or reaching out for support can be very difficult topics to broach. And so, by growing silly moustaches and making the idea of Movember very much front in people’s minds, you can encourage people to either get [check-ups] or to at least talk about the need for them. [*To donate, check out Dan’s Mo Space through Movember Canada.]

B: I know some guys do Movember without the fund-raising. Do you feel that helps the cause at all? Is it all in good fun or do you think these guys need to step up?

D: Because I work for government, I’m trained to be of 2 minds about this immediately. On the one hand, it sure would be nice if they were going to become involved in Movember that they would also step up and pass around the hat. But, I think this is the weightier one for me — they’re helping raise visibility about it and, if they’re not fund raising, at least they can say something, I hope, semi-coherent about Movember and broadly what it supports. That could point people who are interested toward the necessary things anyway. I think, on balance, the greater visibility is useful.

B: A couple of last questions about bow ties… Do you have any advice for men who want to up their style game? A lot of women tend to be conscious of style, but for men it seems to be a bit more laissez-faire.

D: I think, yes, yes you should. And the number one thing you can stop doing, theoretical teenagers on my lawn, is stop popping your collars; it’s disgusting. Nobody needs to see that shit. It’s particularly bad when you do that with a dress shirt, as I’ve seen on occasion, because when the collar is left splayed in the while-you’re-tying-a-tie position, you can see the little nubs of the collar stays poking out and it looks even more sloppy and unprofessional. It’s like having random shoelace tips poking out of your jugular vein; it’s lame.
Becoming a slightly less of crochety character for a second… if thinking about getting bow ties in particular, first get a black one. You’re going to need that for the next wedding, funeral, or cool thing you go to. And, actually, when you’re buying your first one, make sure that, on the back, you can adjust the length of it to your collar size. Then, once of have one of these, further bow ties you pick out don’t necessarily have to have this, you can use it as kind of a baseline for comparison. But if you want to pick out more from there and spend less than a ton of money, strangely enough, Winners is a good option; they have, like, $15 bow ties. And what’s good about the Winners ones for beginners is that they’re very stiff and so they will hold their shape quite well. That can be good as you’re in the getting-the-hang-of-it stage.

Dan brought the class, mo' still intact, to my NYE party last year

Dan brought the class, mo’ still intact, to my NYE party last year

B: Do you ever buy vintage bow ties?

D: I do, yes. They can be fun. They seem shorter.

B: Because people were smaller, or they were worn tighter?

D: I think they were worn tighter. One old piece of fashion advice I read from someone who wrote about it 20 years ago after being 40 years in the business was that a bow tie’s width shouldn’t really be wider than your eyes; otherwise, you look like you’re wearing a ribbon around a present. But that seems to not be the case so much any more. And you also, with vintage bow ties, can perhaps find some other shapes. I mean, there’s a fairly strong consensus on the thistle bow tie in modern neck wear, but with the vintage ones you might find a sort of older matchstick type one, or one with a tighter spread. Although, these ones here [the wool earth-toned ones we’re both wearing] are much more diamond point and they were made by a company in Montreal called Dolbeau. They’re now just making ties and not bow ties at all, it makes me very sad.

B: Speaking of French, do you know the French word for bow tie?

D: It’s a noeud papillon, isn’t it?

B: Yeah, noeud papillon, like a butterfly knot. I find this very fanciful.

D: It is! In German, it’s a schleife. Basically a fly.

B: Ok, last question — Do you have a favourite bow tie?

D: In some ways, my favourite is one of the vintage ones I picked up. It’s a pure white one that is fairly short and quite rigorously starched so it holds a very strong shape. And I like to wear that with a dark purple shirt… really classes up the join like hell.

B: I bet.

D: M-hmm.

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