Back in high school, I never understood what the deal was with bow ties. It seemed needlessly confusing and beyond my reasoning, especially considering I didn’t even like wearing or tying regular ties all that much.

Then I went to college. There’s something about going to a big university, feeling like such a small fish in an oversized pond, that instinctively compels one to find a way to stand out. I was no different. Bow ties offered a small but effective statement piece that got me recognized when I went out. Sure, in the beginning it got me made fun of, but on some occasions people would offer helpful advice to my naïve, uneducated self.

For starters, I was using clip-ons almost exclusively… and after writing that sentence, I can feel the collective cringe from the bow tie-wearing community. As I mentioned before, the hassle of tying a bow tie was still too much to commit to, which was a problem. Anyone remotely connected to bow ties will tell you how crucial it is to tie them yourself. They won’t always be perfect, but it’s a learning experience and you’ll be rewarded for the constant effort.

The more I went on YouTube to look up tutorials and the better aware I became of the fashion statement, the less I reached for bow ties as a go-to staple of my outfits. This isn’t a jab at bow ties—rather the opposite, actually. I began to show a respect that I hadn’t before, a lesson I never quite grasped from the people who offered me help. Invariably I’d ask them, “If you know so much about bow ties, why don’t you wear them out?” To which they would reply, “That’s not the point.”

And it isn’t. Bow ties should be worn in moderation so as to preserve their authenticity. Some celebrities like Questlove make it their thing by wearing a litany of ties all the time, and that’s totally fine. For the layman, I would preach moderation as king.

Bow ties started out my adult life as a crutch for basic attention. Having done some growing up, I feel my taste has become more refined and my appreciation for bow ties has followed suit. They gave me confidence at a time when I had none, and the ability to spark a conversation with other aficionados is about as invaluable a skill as anyone could possess.

Now, I wait for the day some 18-year-old with a mismatched bow tie crosses my path. I’d like to give him the advice I so desperately needed at his age, and hope he too pays it forward in turn.

Photo: iStock/SrdjanPav