With the holidays and its many sparkling parties upon us, dressing up is as important as ever, and for men, that includes a tie.
And if you've flipped through men's fashion magazines or spotted recent ad campaigns for Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren and other designers, you've probably noticed the prevalence of bow ties.
"We've actually seen an increase in bow-tie sales," said Jeff Miller, owner of the Howard & Miller men's clothing store in Victorian Square in Lexington. He said bow-tie newbies walk into the store "at least once a week."
In the South, including Kentucky, bow ties are trotted out every year for special events, including the Kentucky Derby and Keeneland. It's not that unusual to spot groups of young men at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May decked out in seersucker suits paired with bow ties in eye-popping colors.
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At once vintage and positively modern when worn with clashing patterns — say a bold striped tie with a close-fitting checked shirt — this men's classic is a must-have for winter.
Alan Flusser, men's clothing designer and author of Dressing the Man, a history and how-to of men's fashion, lauds the versatility of a bow tie, which can be worn with single- or double-breasted jackets, vests, sweaters or just a shirt.
And if you're thinking of wearing the clip-on variety, forget it, Flusser says: "Place a pre-tied model under your chin and you forsake any claim to individuality or style. It's like allowing someone to forge your signature."
In stores and online, you'll find everything from solids and classic tartans of reds and greens to the fun patterns of Vineyard Vines, a brand carried at Howard & Miller along with Bird Dog Bay and Carrot & Gibbs.
Online, you'll find woven plaids at Jcrew.com and multi-colored stripes at Bowties.com, the site for New York-based brand R. Hanauer.
"They look great with V-neck sweaters; we're seeing a lot of quarter-zip sweaters," Miller said. "A lot of younger kids are now wearing them with button-down shirts and khakis."
And as for mastering the tying of a bow tie, "it's an art in itself," says Miller, whose staff gives impromptu lessons to buyers in front of the store mirror.
"No two people tie them the same," he said. "I think once you learn how to tie them, they're easy to wear."