How to Tie the Great, Confounding Bow Tie

This week two different students have come down to my office and asked for help tying their bow ties.  I hope I've made more important impacts on the students at Trinity, but I won't lie: There's a joy in seeing young men sporting the Bow around campus.

We don't dress up much at Trinity, but this week is different.  Grandparents and Special Friends Days mean ties for the gentlemen.  And the Spring Formal brings all kinds of sartorial innovations.  

It's not hard to find instructional diagrams online.  Like this:
The problem with these is that the two dimensional scheme doesn't illuminate the trickiest part of the operation.  That would be Step 7 in the diagram above.  Everything else is intuitive and obvious, but taking the long end through the mysterious tunnel in the back of the tie is the real challenge.  The diagram can't really show us the reality of what needs to happen.  Thus does the Great Bow Tie remind us, each time we tie it, of Greater Mysteries that we struggle adequately to explain.

Live instructional versions are more helpful.  There you can see more clearly how Step 7 works.   How to Tie a Bow Tie is a good one--actually a very good one.  But even these fall short in another way: They show the act from the outside looking on.  Now if your goal is to hang a shingle out and run a service for tying other people's Bows, this is your video.  What most of us need, though, is a way to learn how to tie our own ties.  We do that looking at a mirror, and then everything is backwards.  So we have to translate the You Tube version and we get all tangled up.  

So here's my own version, filmed on location, in a mirror.  (Note: I mis-spoke in the video: the lower end of the bow tie is the longer end, not the upper end.  Also, I forgot that my right and left would be reversed in the mirror, so follow what you see and not what I say when it comes to left and right.)

A few pointers: 

1.  If you are a rookie, start with a pliable tie.  Stiff ties make nice knots, but they are intractable and you want to learn on material that will work with you.

2.  Always make the lower end, the one that goes under the other, the longer end.  Not by much, but maybe by a finger's breadth.

3.  Use your dominant hand to work the longer end through the mysterious tunnel, the rabbit hole in the back.  You want to

4. Make the tunnel, the rabbit hole, as large as you can.  This is the hardest part.

5.  Once you are through the hole, grab the two double ends and start working them.  Back and forth.  Adjust using the single ends.  It may take a while to get it right, but keep working it.  When you tug on the bows, you end up loosing the knot, so you have to go back and forth.

6.  Proportion is everything.  Just as there is a Golden Proportion in architecture, so is there a perfect ideal for the Great Bow Tie.  The most common error I see is Bows that are too long.  They protrude outward to the shoulder blades and look sort of clownish.  Remember too that the proportion of the Bow is relative to the size and shape of the Body wearing the Bow.  So it's an art.  If your Bow is too long (the most common error), you need to untie it, go back to Step 1, shorten the tie in the back (use a small safety pin if the presets aren't working for you) and re-tie it.  On the other hand, if you get it too short, it will be difficult or impossible to get a loop through the tunnel.

You'll figure it out.  Just be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to make multiple tries. 


allansthoughts said…
This was really helpful. Thank you!
pairalegal said…
Great video. Now Maurice has converted from regular ties to strickly bowties.
GardnerGang said…
Hahaha! We've been waiting on this! Best demo yet! Thanks!

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