When Tyler Ray bought his first bow tie four years ago, he needed a YouTube tutorial to teach him how to knot it, since neither his father nor grandfather were versed in the art. Now he owns 35 bow ties and says he’ll be wearing them for life.
“You are being noticed because you went the extra mile to wear that,” said the 24-year-old merchandiser for a denim maker in San Francisco. “That makes me feel good.”
Young men like Ray, seeking to display a little more personality in their style, are fueling a surge in bow tie sales. The accessories are on pace to almost double their share of the U.S. neckwear market and retailers including PVH Corp. and Macy’s Inc. are grabbing the opportunity with new styles.
The ties’ resurgence began in their traditional Southern enclave, where preppy gentlemen donned them at fraternity parties and the Kentucky Derby, before it spread across the country, said Durand Guion, Cincinnati-based Macy’s men’s fashion director.
“It was all about newness,” Guion said. “One, two generations on the West Coast had never worn it.”
Bow ties were helped by the recent “geek chic” trend that borrowed from the Ivy League styles of the 1960s, such as shrunken oxford button-down shirts and horn-rimmed glasses, said Mitchell Lechner, president of PVH’s dress furnishings group. The look “screamed” for a bow tie, he said.
A relaxation of the old rule of wearing bow ties only with tailored clothing helped, too, Guion said. Men started using them to dress up shirts and cardigans, discarding jackets. A bow tie paired with rolled-up shirt-sleeves evokes a certain kind of “bartender chic,” Lechner said.
Bow ties will represent about 7 percent of the $850 million U.S. neckwear market this year, up from 4 percent last year, New York-based PVH projects. In the Southeast, they account for about double the national share, the company said. PVH, owner of Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, commands more than half of the U.S. neckwear market.
Total menswear sales rose 2.7 percent to $58.1 billion in the 12 months through May, as tallied by market research firm NPD Group Inc.’s consumer-tracking service, helping boost clothing retailers as a whole. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Retailing Index closed at a 62 percent premium to the broader S&P 500 on a price-to-earnings basis today. PVH shares rose 0.2 percent to $131.20 in New York.
Men have worn knotted fabric around their necks since the 17th century, according to the website of New York-based formalwear maker After Six. Croatian mercenaries wore bow ties to hold together the openings of their shirts. The practice was adopted by the French, who called the fabric bows “cravats.”
The ties eventually became a distinctive part of formal attire, with “black tie” referring to the bow tie worn with a tuxedo. Winston Churchill and Fred Astaire were among the ranks of celebrity bow tie aficionados.
Bow tie sales stagnated after the millennium because men’s fashion designers, more focused on skinny ties, weren’t paying a lot of attention to a category they viewed as “Southern dandy” and synonymous with conservative, middle-aged college professors, Guion said.
“You certainly weren’t wearing one when you were 21,” he said.
It was in 2010 that “high-profile early adopters” began wearing them on the red carpet, Lechner said in an e-mail. Actors Jon Hamm and Max Minghella are among the celebrities snapped in the ties. Boy band One Direction, rapper DyMe-A-DuZin and professional basketball player Dwyane Wade also have taken to them.
Recent converts to bow ties have found they have some enduring advantages. They’re easier to wear than long ties, and they use less fabric -- 37 inches instead of 57 inches for neckties -- making them a bit lighter, Macy’s Guion said. They also sit on the neck, so the wearer is less conscious of them and they’re less prone to food stains.
With simplicity in mind, more men are taking the shortcut of buying pre-tied ties, pushing their sales up to 40 percent of PVH’s total bow tie sales from 30 percent a couple of years ago, Lechner said.
There are diamond-pointed or bat-wing bow ties in addition to the traditional butterfly shape. Slim and reversible styles are readily found, as are gingham, knit and chambray versions. They come in bright colors, bolder polka dots and in-your-face variations of camouflage, animal prints and florals.
“Conversationals” include styles with skulls and crossbones. The French fashion house Lanvin applies its crest logo to a $140 version.
“I like a unique pattern,” said David Brackenhoff, 33, a bow tie-loving television producer in Los Angeles. “If you are going to wear one, you might as well really wear it, right?”