30. Bow Ties

Architects aren’t into fussy fashions that require extensive grooming or prep time. They prefer to sport a look that appears effortless and nonchalant to drive home the point that they ‘do what they want’. In all reality, most architects are so preoccupied with how to anchor a plywood panel to a CMU wall in such a way that doesn’t look ‘cheap’ that they pay little attention to their wardrobe choices save for whether it is the correct shade of black. While architects avoid clothing that requires excessive ironing, precise buttoning or buttons in general, they are somehow drawn to wear bow ties; the fashion accessory that requires 16 steps to tie and numerous attempts to master.

08 - Buddy Holly & The Crickets

Image by Bradford Timeline via Flickr

The technical challenge presented by the bow tie is no doubt a selling point for architects. They are drawn almost obsessively to any challenge that will test – and prove – their abilities to manipulate matter into something that is [undecidedly] beautiful. Aesthetics are another reason architects choose to wear bow ties. The traditional and formal look of the bow tie exemplifies the architect’s education and understanding of classical design and proportions. Wearing a bow tie draws the attention to the face, making the architect’s exclusive eyewear more evident. Had a client confused the architect in thick black frame glasses with Buddy Holly, a bow tie will eliminate any confusion. Obviously, anyone wearing both black rimmed glasses and a bow tie must be an architect because only James Bond wear bow ties outside of formal events. Problem solved – and we know architects are problem solvers.

Perhaps the greatest irony of bow tie wearing architects is that so many of them are not classicists, but rather, modernists, post modernists, or deconstructivists.

A striped bow tie.

Image via Wikipedia

The modernist architect justifies his bow tie by claiming that form follows function, and if one must tie a giant knot around his neck for the sake of fashion, it should at least look nice. The modernist defines the bow tie as a machine for looking suave. He determines that a bow tie is not an element of ornament because it is constructed of a single piece of fabric, oblivious to the fact that fashion accessories, by nature, are ornamental. The modernist convinces himself that the bow tie is a symbol of the movement’s great struggle between the old and new, and that pairing a classic bow tie with a sports coat and Bermuda shorts will give voice to the struggle – subtly, of course. Ultimately, the modernist mandates the singular use of ‘freestyle’ bow ties and denounces the use of ready-tied bow ties, as this would obviously be in violation of ‘truth in materials’.

Post Modern Bow Tie - via BrooksBrothers

Meanwhile, the post modernist gladly embraces the falseness of the adjustable length bow tie, seeing it as both a rejection of modernism and as a nod to mass production. While the pseudo-functional construction sits well with the post modernist, the color selection does not. Boring black and white does not provide enough color, so the post modernist seeks out multi-colored and multi-patterned bow ties to liven up his wardrobe as he makes his statement in defiance of modernism’s cold and minimal aesthetic. The more colors and patterns the better. Everyone knows that ‘less is a bore’, plus his tie is equipped to coordinate with any outfit he wears. Who cares that he only wears turtlenecks and that one does not traditionally wear bow ties with turtlenecks. The point is to both buck tradition and embrace it at the same time.

Deconstructivist Bow Tie - via hipsterchic.com

The deconstructivist is dissatisfied with both the freestyle bow tie and the adjustable ready-tied varieties as they focus too obviously on the structure of the tie itself. The deconstructivist sees fashion accessories as simply additional skins which have no need of exclusive structure. Keeping with this notion, he incorporates a clip-on bow tie into his wardrobe as a subconscious expression of fragmentation. He is pleasantly surprised with the unpredictable and chaotic nature of the tie’s movement as it dangles precipitously from his collar. The ambiguity of the clip’s structure and the structural support of the shirt collar gives him great delight.

At the next get-together, the three architects gather next to one another so that passers-by will be sure to understand the reference each tie makes to the other. Sadly, the only thing that passers-by ‘get’ is that bow ties are much too formal and traditional for a college career fair.

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  • Funny post. On a serious note, however, I was always told that the reason previous generations of architects wore bow ties was one of simple practicality: bow ties wouldn’t drag across the drafting desk when working. Modern-day architects who wear a bow tie are hearkening to this tradition, even if they don’t know why Le Corbusier and all those guys were always wearing them. At least we’ve largely dropped the capes.

    I have heard that some people receive a handsome silk bow tie upon completing their ARE successfully, and it’s a charming idea of a tradition – though the only time a bow tie, or any tie for that matter, is likely to be worn by a modern architect is at a fancy-schmancy design banquet. Walk into any but the most corporate of architecture firms today, and you’ll be lucky to see designers wearing anything besides pre-distressed jeans and plain white dress shirts. For a profession that’s supposedly concerned with beauty and aesthetics, many of our members have forsaken both form and function for a sloppy version of “comfort” in the studio – but maybe that’s just my own pet peeve showing.

    • Thanks for that bit of information – very interesting! It is good to know there was a purpose for the bow tie, at least back in the day. As for those who wear it now, I can’t decide if it is more of an ego/arrogance thing, or just a trend. I agree, most architects don’t dress very well, but then again, society in general doesn’t dress well any more. I prefer to dress up, but if those around me opt for tshirts and jeans, I usually stop trying so hard 😉

      • guest

        Billford Godfreid sez: The bow tie symbolizes sophistication, inequality, and a bit of pomp & circumstance… all the good things in life!

        The bow tie is best paired with an estate cane, sleeping hound at your feet, and a glass of warm bourbon in front of the fireplace.

        Here here!

  • Anonymous

    Sorry, Brinn, I’ve never donned a bow tie to be honest. I’m lucky to wear more than a t-shirt and jeans. My normal garb is typically a nice shirt with jeans or khakis.

    • Now we know what to get you for Christmas 😉

      • Anonymous

        Architects are the best to find gifts for at Christmas. It’s easy. I wonder what my students at CMU would think if I wore a bow tie…hmmmm.

  • Brians1999

    Great post! This was the last read before leaving work for the weekend. What a way to end the week…thanks.

  • Given the post, I would like to share my artist friend’s work, his name is Norman Teague here is Chicago. He creates beautiful wood hand-carved bow times that have become the talk for many… and I personally love them (especially those of zebra wood and wood + leather combination) … here it is :

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