A Total Beginner’s Guide To Bow Ties

Baylea Jones

Image via Baylea Jones

My favorite letter is ‘B’. It’s the first letter of my name, my wife’s name, and the names of my favorite things: brunch, burgers, bourbon, books — and, naturally, bow ties. I wore my first bow tie to senior prom (see above), but didn’t really start cultivating my collection until two years later; as an androgynous woman who dresses on the more masculine side, I get a lot of odd looks in public, so I decided that if people were going to stare, I’d give them something to look at.

Bow ties make me feel confident, comfortable, and cool. If you’re ready to jump on the bow tie bandwagon, this guide will help you get started.

How to Tie a Bow Tie:


Bow ties come in three varieties: self-tie, pre-tied and clip-on. My deep dark secret is that I buy pre-tied bow ties. For me, they’re a better fit (traditional bow ties are usually too giant for my baby neck; I literally own a bow tie made for three-year-olds), easier to manage, usually cheaper, and look just as spiffy — but if you’re going to the Oscars, or if you just prefer a traditional self-tie bow tie, check out the nifty video above on how to tie it.

My feeling is, if you wear bow ties, you should know how to tie a bow tie — but you don’t have to wear self-tie bow ties all the time, or even ever. Then, when a guy at a party inevitably says, “Sweet bow tie! Did you tie it yourself?” You can say, “This one doesn’t tie, but if it did, I damn well would have tied it myself.” Just in case he’s a plant with a secret self-tie bow tie in his back pocket and he’s trying to test you. I mean, that’s just Butch Survival Skills 101.

Types of Bow Ties:

bow tie shapes

Image via Ties.com

This handy infographic says “Know your bow tie shapes,” but I didn’t know what any of these shapes were called before I wrote this article; take that as you will. I call them “regular shape in various sizes,” “pointy,” and “weird round thing,” but I guess if you wanted to be fancy, you could say “thistle,” and “batwing” sounds kind of cool.

Patterns and Colors and Textures, Oh My!

Bow ties

Image via Baylea Jones

Variety is key when building your badass bow tie collection. Find colors, patterns (polka dot, striped, gingham, plaid, floral, paisley, tartan) and textures (knit, silk, wood, wool, cotton, tweed, flannel) that suit the season and complement your personal style.

Wood is more casual and can be paired with jeans, while silk textures and solid patterns are more suited for formal occasions. Gingham and cotton are summer staples. Floral is fun for spring. Knit, wool, flannel, tweed and tartan are your fall/winter options.

Matching and coordinating can be a bit tricky at first. These are my general rules, not absolutes; don’t be afraid to get wacky.

1. Wear solid bow ties with patterned shirts and patterned bow ties with solid shirts.
2. If you want to experiment with patterns, mix shirt and bow tie patterns instead of matching them (i.e. a polka dot bow tie on a striped shirt, not a dotted bow tie on a dotted shirt).
3. Vary the textures between shirt and tie for a nice contrast (i.e. a wood bow tie on a denim shirt).
4. Wear dark colored bow ties on light colored shirts and vice-versa.
5. Shirt to bow tie colors should be complementary. You can match shirt and bow tie colors as long as they are different shades (i.e. a dark blue bow tie on a light blue shirt).
6. Depending on the look you are going for, bow ties can be worn with tucked or untucked shirts, jeans, slacks, suits, cardigans, blazers, vests, sweaters and suspenders. You can dress a bow tie up or down and make it look masculine, feminine or anywhere in between. It’s the Swiss Army knife of accessories.

Where to Buy:

Scour the internet/mall for bow ties that fit your style and budget, check out Etsy or thrift shops, or make your own. If you have a small neck like me, there’s no shame in expanding your search to the children’s section. I’ve listed some of my favorites above; let’s be bow tie buddies!

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Baylea Jones

Baylea Jones holds an MFA in fiction from Western New England University. She lives in Houston with her wife and enjoys bourbon, brunch, and bow ties. Check out her oft-neglected Instagram.

Baylea has written 2 articles for us.


  1. Thanks for the article! I found these absolutely exquisite glass pressed-flower bow ties – check them out on instagram (they have an etsy too):www.instagram.com/terezavarga/

    • Glass bow ties, I didn’t even think of that! These are beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  2. This is great! I’ve been on the bowtie bandwagon for a while now but would have loved a primer like this when I was picking out my first couple ties and learning to tie them (which I agree is really a must!). Your patterns and colors and textures style guide is everything I never knew I needed. On where to buy bow ties, I love The Tie Bar (www.thetiebar.com) – their supply of colors, textures, shapes, etc. is boundless and the Jesse Tyler Ferguson collection is pretty fantastic.

  3. Yay bow ties – this is great! When I wear a self-tie, I always black out at the last step and it somehow magically comes together. I honestly have no idea how it happens. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  4. Is there anything better than coming home from a long day surrounded by heteronormativity, refreshing your pinned Autostraddle tab, and finding a delightful how-to on bow-ties by a most eloquent and dapper butch?

  5. God, I want to jump on the bow tie bandwagon so badly – I have a ugly christmas sweaters bowtie hanging on my wall right now – but I can’t stand anything that tight around my neck, so I have to settle for cheating with safety pins, or wearing them loose around my neck or on my wrist. :(

    • It can get stuffy after a long day. Safety pins work great or you can try clip-on. Make sure you wear a shirt with a loose fitting collar so that when you button the top button, there is still room (two finger’s worth) to breathe!

  6. Go Baylea! So proud! Also… I never thought about these things so good on you.

  7. Urgent bow tie question: what about wearing bow ties with t-shirts? I really want to join Team Bow Tie, but I hate buttoning shirts up to the collar. Can I let the bow tie go it alone on my neck, choker style? (I mean, I know the answer to this should be “Follow your heart,” but fashion makes me nervous!)

    • You know the Nike slogan, “Just Do It”? Yeah, don’t do it. There are bowtie necklaces out there that have that femme cutesy “borrowed from the boys” style, but when you tie a bowtie around your bare neck (no necklace part) it will look awkward. Remember when folks (*cough* Avril Lavigne circa 2002) were wearing ties with t-shirts? Unless you’re going for a Chippendales Dancer look, I’d highly advise against wearing a bowtie sans collared shirt on a bare neck.

      If you like unbuttoning your top button, stick to regular ties and go for that casual, yet put together look.

    • Kayla has some good advice and suggestions. Another thing you can do is find a t-shirt with a bow tie printed on it. While it won’t give you the same dressed-up appearance as an actual bow tie, it works as a casual look.

  8. Wow, I did not know that men accessories can be so selective. I will take care of the latest fashion. This blog has really helped to know about latest men fashion. Thanks a lot!

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