The bow tie’s role in the court of public opinion

The bow tie’s role in the court of public opinion

Q. I was watching George Kent testify and, avoiding politics, I did think his look seemed intelligent and trustworthy. I may have a date in court coming up myself and wondered what bowties say about a man?

A. I was delighted to read your question; there for all to see was displayed my belief that our clothes send non-verbal, clear-cut messages to the world. For years I have been saying that what we wear is an easy, straightforward way to project an image, to set ourselves apart from the crowd, and to make a distinct statement.

When Mr. Kent wore a bowtie during his recent testimony, it instantly became apparent that he was different from everyone else in the room. His individualist look immediately separated him from the others wearing their long, four-in-hand type ties. This was no accident. It was clearly a decision on his part, a planned effort to have an “outside the Beltway” look. It is one that evokes a professorial, reliable, and, yes, as you state, trustworthy and intelligent image.

Certainly, bowties are associated with a certain type. They may sometimes project a few other images: Ivy League, Southern gentleman, Matlock, maybe even nerd. What they don’t ever bring to mind is a mobster/gangster type or other unsavory image. Before he even opened his mouth, he had captured the attention of his audience and led them to think of him positively as a serious, honest person of integrity. So, if you will be testifying in court, and if you would be comfortable with that sort of statement, it might indeed be a wise choice that could put you ahead in the game.

Not only was wearing a bowtie a thought-out decision on Mr. Kent’s part, but so, too, was the specific bowtie that he chose. In a room filled with Republican’s wearing variations on red ties and Democrats wearing ties in every shade of blue, Mr. Kent selected a small pattern that combined yellow and blue in such a way that the eye perceived it as a pale yellow tie. I was particularly taken to see that the tie had a very slight lean to it, emphasizing that it was hand-tied. And, to further emphasize the beloved teacher image, he wore a vest, completing his matched three-piece-suit, Old School look. The only items missing from this professorial picture were elbow patches and a pipe.

Given my mention of “professorial,” you might wonder whether a conservative three-piece suit with a bowtie is an inappropriate pairing. That seemed fine to me. What he did wear, that we see all too often, was a patterned tie and matching pocket square. Although these are frequently sold as a pair, it is my opinion that they should never be worn together . . . too unsophisticated and little boy matchy-matchy. The only exception is solid black or solid white in formal wear. For those of you wearing a tartan bowtie for an upcoming holiday festivity, I still would avoid exactly matching the two items. A color-coordinated solid works well with the plaid. Bowties have nearly as many design options as traditional long ties: from solid silks and cottons, through repp stripes, to bright patterns such as Mr. Kent’s or whimsical musical notes designs, etc.

Wearing a bowtie, whether on trial, at a party, or in your day-to-day professional look is just one of several ways a man can express his personal style with his clothes to give information about himself. Among the possible methods to express your individualism during your upcoming day in court as well as during your daily activities, you may want to consider adopting one, or two, of the following alternatives.

  • Although everyone around you wears button-down collar shirts, yours may have beautifully-ironed point collars.
  • You may collect antique cuff links and wear them in your French-cuffed shirts.
  • Personalize your wardrobe with color, emphasizing one or two shades in which you look your best and often get compliments.
  • Your quiet point of distinction may come from owning, in addition to suits, a few subtly patterned sport coats, such as a herringbone, a small check, and/or a windowpane.
  • Regularly wear the finest shoes you can afford. They will be made of the most supple leather, several cuts above the footwear of your colleagues. (Will they know? Maybe not, but you will.)
  • Become a regular client of the best hair stylist in town. Women are still in their teens when they realize they are not at their best unless their hair is exactly right. Too many men never learn this lesson, and give themselves a handicap.

Any of these is the sort of touch that still leaves you well within the confines of codes for conventional dressing. Not one of these says, “He’s trying too hard; he looks like a fashion plate.”

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