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When to Wear a Bow Tie

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When to Wear a Bow Tie

If you are among those distinguished gentlemen who wear a bow tie most every day, the question is not When to wear a bow tie? but rather, When not to wear a bow tie?

Both are good questions that warrant comprehensive answers. Read along to learn the ins and outs of where and when to wear a bow tie.

1. When the Dress Code Asks For It

Menswear has long celebrated the forever-dapper bow tie and several common dress codes call for them to be worn. The dress code, then, must be the first point of consideration when deciding whether to wear a bow tie to an event. 

If a host is deliberate in choosing to include a dress code on an invitation, then,  as a matter of decorum, it is to be obeyed. In some cases, the dress code is even enforced.

Don’t make an entrance for the wrong reason! Here are some dress codes to watch for that will indicate when to wear a bow tie: 

White Tie

Of all modern dress codes, White Tie is the most formal. A White Tie event calls for a white bow tie, worn with either a traditional tuxedo or a tuxedo with a tailcoat.

If you have formalwear that rarely sees the light of day, a White Tie affair is the time to pull it out of the closet and enjoy it! 

Man wearing a white bow tie and tuxedo tails

Black Tie

Less formal than White Tie, but still very spiffy, is Black Tie. A Black Tie occasion comes with specific expectations regarding dress - including a tuxedo and cummerbund - but presents more opportunity for personal expression. Note, bow ties for Black Tie are not limited only to black ties.

Semi-Formal Attire

Sometimes referred to as Business Attire or Cocktail Attire, Semi-Formal wear typically involves a bow tie. A suit - even a three-piece suit - is top choice for a Semi-Formal event; a tuxedo would be considered overdressed.

It should be stated that time of day isn’t necessarily a determinant in regard to the to wear or not to wear bow tie question. Evening events predictably see bow ties, but bow ties are certainly at home with many daytime events.  

2. When You're Invited To Weddings, Proms and Elegant Venues

Weddings, New Year’s Eve and the Prom, are all occasions a bow tie is guaranteed to be in good company.

Fabric, pattern and color will factor strongly in which bow tie you choose for these events. A Spring Wedding, for example, may conjure seersucker and madras, whereas a holiday party may call for velvet and tartan

Groom wearing a bow tie for the wedding

3. When You're Going To Operas, Symphonies, and other Cultural Events

Bow ties and the arts go hand in hand! Choosing a bow that’s on theme is charming - perhaps one with musical notes for a performance of Tosca, a handsome green bow at Wicked, or a holiday bow for The Nutcracker.

Creative events give room for creative dress. This is also true if you're a musician or performer - rocking a bow tie instantly elevates your stage presence. 

Musician wearing a bow tie

4. When You Can Sport a Bow Tie for the Derby and Beyond

Sports-themed bow ties abound! The Kentucky Derby is a wonderful example of an occasion where novelty bow ties are an absolute must!

Derby Bow Tie

Others that are well-matched with bow ties include rowing, game shooting, lacrosse - even baseball bow ties are popular! Of course, a bow or necktie in the home team colors are always a win.  

5. When You Want to Add Style to a Party With a Costume Bow Tie

Get ready for a super-fun outing with a bow tie that sets the tone!

At R. Hanauer, we have fabulous bows for fantastical events like Mardi Gras, Halloween, and St. Patrick’s Day, as well as pieces that will jazz up costumes for themed parties (add sophisticated shimmer to 1920s parties!) and cosplay events.

Costume bow tie for St. Patricks Day

6. When You Want to Proudly Show Your Independence 

All of our fine accessories at R. Hanauer are hand-cut, hand-sewn and shipped from our workshop in Fort Mill, SC. We’re proud to offer American-made menswear - including our many red, white and blue bow ties and neckties.

Fourth of July, Flag Day, Memorial Day, Election Day, political fundraisers … our collection of patriotic pieces will serve you year round. 

Bow ties for forth of july

7. When You're Trying to Figure Out What to Wear to a Winery

Culinary events, from fancy brunches to wine tastings (burgundy, anyone?), pair well with fine accessories.

what to wear to a winery

Whether you want to look the part when extending your pinky finger at High Tea or sipping a martini (shaken, not stirred) when fine dining, you simply cannot go wrong with an elegant bow tie to elevate the occasion.

8. When You Want to Project Effortless Authenticity

These days, it is not so uncommon for people of all ages to opt for a bow tie on any day that ends in D-A-Y. In fact, we Hanauers are proud to be among them! 

If your signature look includes a bow tie, wear it! Even if you are overdressed, you will unmistakingly be you - and there is nothing more charming and appealing than casual authenticity 

Young man wearing a bow tie for authenticity

9. And... When NOT To Wear A Bow Tie

As a general rule, a bow tie is an inappropriate choice for a somber event. Bow ties are associated with happy and celebratory occasions. Unless you are known for “always” wearing one, you would be considered disrespectful to wear a bow tie at a funeral or wake. 

Now, if loved ones choose to honor the departed through a celebration of life, it may well be appropriate to don a bow. Be sure to think of the person being remembered, the time of day, and location for the event. If you’re unsure, in this instance, it would be wise to go with a necktie.

More Wardrobe Resources 

At R. Hanauer, we delight in providing assistance so that you can confidently put your very best foot forward. Here are 10 of our favorite resources that may prove useful as you continue to refine your sense of what to wear and when. 


Bow Tie Fashion Rules

Self Tie Bow Ties Vs. Pre Tied Vs. Clip On

How To Pair a Bow Tie and Pocket Square

How to Fold a Pocket Square

How to Wear a Tie Clip

How to Wear Suspenders

Your 5-Step Guide to Preppy Style

What to Wear with a Navy Blue Blazer

Suit Alterations: Your Complete Guide


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