Tips for wearing a bolo tie

Q. How do I wear a bolo tie? Does it go all the way up, tight like a necktie with the top shirt- button fastened? Or do I leave the top button open and slide it down a bit? Also, is a diamond thing-a-ma-jig too flashy? Should it just be something silver or bone?

A. Well, bolo ties or string ties, are not appropriate everywhere, but there certainly are parts of the Southwest and South through Arkansas, where a man looks entirely appropriate wearing one. And they’re growing more common throughout the country. They do not go well with a dressy suit, but on occasions where one would wear one, it is certainly more formal than a polo or T-shirt.

To begin with, I imagine what you’re referring to as a “thing-a-ma-jig” is the slide. This is the feature that closes the “strings.” A bolo tie is somewhere between a necktie and a necklace. It’s made of a piece of cord or braided leather which is cinched with a decorative clasp, the slide. The ends of the bolo tie are usually capped with metal tips called aiguillettes. The three parts – the cord, the slide, and the aiguillettes – can all display the manufacturer’s creativity and artistry, but the slide gets the most attention. It is the focal point of a bolo tie – as you suggest with the idea of a jeweled slide.

While bolos can be made of a variety of metals and gems, slide designs most often include sterling silver, turquoise, and etched patterns on the metal. Traditionally, they are made of these. Your choice of a diamond (or diamond-like) slide is questionable for a few reasons.

Bolo ties are rather casual dress items and, therefore, do not really pair well with any clear, glittery stones, let alone with one as formal/elegant as a diamond. If a bolo is going to include any sort of gem, it would be in better taste to choose opaque, rather than clear, stones, such as onyx (black), lapis lazuli (blue), or tiger eye (orangey-gold). Another reason not to choose a diamond slide is that sophisticated, well-dressed men traditionally avoid clear, glittery gems anywhere in their attire from rings to tie clasps and cufflinks.

In terms of how they should be worn . . . Bolo ties are generally paired with collared shirts, just as with traditional neckties. The clasp is usually worn covering the shirt’s top collar button, where a necktie would normally be knotted, with the main loop hidden under the collar and the loose ends of the cord hanging down in front of the chest. Or, for a different effect, it can be worn lower, not snug against the collar, very much like a necklace. While both options are considered acceptable, I believe the one with the slide up close to the shirt’s buttoned collar is the preferred look. You can wear a bolo with any style of shirt or jacket from casual to somewhat dressy. Try a few different types to find which style you like best.

New bolo ties are available in many contemporary stores as well as online. Some are custom-made, while others are mass-produced and much more affordable. You can find vintage bolos in secondhand stores, on eBay, and at flea markets. Costs range widely, from very inexpensive to thousands of dollars, depending on the item’s age, condition, craftsmanship, and materials.

Bolos can be dressed up to make them appropriate for more formal occasions, especially in communities where they are commonly worn. In rural areas of the western US, men often wear bolo ties with suits and cowboy hats to dressy events. But if your social circle does not consider bolos to be a basic clothing item, I urge you to avoid combining too many Western flourishes: wearing a Western-style shirt, a cowboy hat, Western boots, a large silver belt buckle, along with a bolo tie can end up looking like an over-the-top costume. That said, with a nice slide, a good shirt, and less flashy accessories, bolos can definitely be a nice, fun addition to your medium dressy Friday-work or night-out choices.                                                                

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