The black bow tie is one of the most iconic of James Bond symbols. Though James Bond only wears bow ties for black tie—and only in black and midnight blue—and never with a suit or sports coat, his bow ties have seen many variations in shape and size over the decades. When a bow tie is a simple black or midnight blue, the focus of the bow tie is placed on the shape and size since there is no bold colour or pattern to take centre stage. The concepts behind the shape of the bow tie apply no matter the bow tie’s colour and use.
Types of Bow Ties
There are two primary types of bow ties: the butterfly and the batwing. The butterfly is the more classic bow tie shape, which has a contoured shape that looks like the spread wings of a butterfly. It is also called a “thistle”, since the shape of the untied bow tie resembles the shape of the thistle’s flower head. The butterfly can be narrow or wide. The butterfly has appeared the most of all bow tie shapes in the James Bond films, starting with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
The batwing bow tie has straight ends and is also known as a “straight” or “straight-end” bow tie. The shape is less like the wings of a bat and more like the shape of a cricket bat. Batwing bow ties are usually narrower than the butterfly; the slim batwing is the quintessential 1960s bow tie and is the style Sean Connery wore throughout his 1960s Bond films. Batwing bow ties are not always straight and may have a slight contour with a dip in the middle, but it is a subtle contour in comparison to the shape of a butterfly. A contoured batwing may have a cleaner tied shape than a straight batwing, particularly in wider sizes. For example, Charvet’s signature variation on the batwing is wide and has a slight contour.
The diamond point is a variation with pointed ends instead of straight ends, and both butterfly and batwing bow ties can take pointed ends. The pointed butterfly is much more common than the pointed batwing, but this is likely because the butterfly is more common overall. Drakes calls their diamond pointed bow ties “batwing”, and while that is not consistent with the standard use of the “batwing” moniker, the pointed butterfly shape resembles the wings of the bat animal. James Bond’s first bow tie in Dr. No is a diamond point bow tie, and it more recently appears in Quantum of Solace andSpectre.
Some bow ties have an asymmetrical top and bottom, such as a straight shape like the batwing on the top with a contoured butterfly shape on the bottom. Tom Ford makes such bow ties, and this is what Daniel Craig wore to the 2019 Oscars. Such a shape can make for a large bow tie that won’t get in the way of the face by placing the fullness lower in the tie.
The single-ended bow tie is a variation with only one wider end of the bow tie. While a regular double-ended bow tie needs to either be sized or be adjustable, the single-ended bow tie does not need to be either. The excess of the narrow end of the single-ended bow tie is tucked under the band of the bow tie. A single-ended bow tie must have a symmetrical top and bottom and cannot have a point, otherwise the bow tie would be asymmetrical.
There are still other variations on the bow tie shape, such as the rounded bow tie.
Bow Tie Width
Bow tie width is usually defined as the size of the bow tie from top to bottom and is the main way that the size of a bow tie can vary. Bow tie width has often followed trends in lapel width. Narrow bow ties were popular in the 1950s and 1960s and wide bow ties were popular in the 1970s. The width of a bow tie never directly corresponded to the width of the lapels like a four-in-hand tie has, and if it did the bow tie would be too wide. A bow tie is generally a half to two-thirds the width of the lapels.
Bow tie width more importantly should correspond to the shape of one’s face rather than the width of one’s lapels. Sean Connery’s chiselled face and Daniel Craig’s small face both look better in narrower bow ties. Daniel Craig is overwhelmed by large bow ties, as we saw at the 2019 Oscars. Wider bow ties, on the other hand, well suit Pierce Brosnan’s larger face and full hairstyle.
Butterfly bow ties come in a variety of widths. George Lazenby’s butterfly bow tie in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is much narrower than the extra-wide butterfly that Sean Connery wears only two years later with his ivory dinner jacket in Diamonds Are Forever. Roger Moore wore wide bow ties throughout the 1970s, with The Man with the Golden Gun seeing the most extreme. Pierce Brosnan also favoured wide butterfly bow ties throughout his tenure as Bond. Timothy Dalton wore some of the narrowest butterfly bow ties of the series in The Living Daylights. 5 1/2 to 6 cm is a moderate width for a butterfly bow tie. 7 cm starts wide bow tie territory, with 8 1/2 cm approaching clown proportions.
The width of the bow tie in between the wings of the butterfly affects the size of a bow tie’s knot. A larger knot better fills up a tall collar band, while a smaller knot fits better in a short collar and. The weight of the interlining inside the bow tie can also determine how large the knot will be, and it can also affect if the bow tie looks stiff or droops down. Some men prefer their bow ties one way or the other.
Batwing bow ties are typically narrow, and the 1960s slim batwing is usually around 3 1/2 to 4 cm wide. Batwing bow ties can also be much wider, but when they are much wider the knot ends up being very chunky because there is little or no dip in the middle where it is tied. Goldfinger and Thunderball feature the most classic examples of Bond in a narrow batwing bow tie.
When considering overall width of a knotted bow tie, it should be approximately the width of one’s face (matching the outer edges of the eyes). Wider bows can make a head look too small while narrower bows can make a head look like an inflated balloon.
Pre-tied Bow Ties
Pre-tied bow ties should generally be avoided, since tying a bow tie is no more difficult than tying a long tie. It is simply a different technique that can be learned just the same. The bow tie uses a square knot, which is the standard knot used to tie one’s shoes. The difference lies in the material, the extra care needed to tie a bow tie and the position in relation to one’s hands and body.
Most pre-tied bow ties look stiff, unnatural and lack character, and such bow ties should be avoided. They are also tied to be a certain end-to-end width, which may be too narrow or wide for some faces. However, some brands, like Turnbull & Asser, sell bow ties that come pre-tied with a clip but can also be untied and re-tied. They are ideal for those who have trouble with tying but want a stylish bow tie. Most Tom Ford bow ties are pre-tied but have the natural look of a self-tie bow tie.
For James Bond, the bow tie is exclusively the domain of black tie. With a dinner suit the bow tie should ideally match the lapel facings in both colour and texture. A black satin bow tie for black satin lapels and a midnight blue grosgrain bow tie to match midnight blue grosgrain lapels. Bond has worn grosgrain bow ties with satin lapels and black bow ties with midnight blue lapels, but with the ease of getting custom bow ties today there is no excuse for a mismatch.
If wearing a dinner jacket without lapel facings, the silk stripe on the trousers should be the guide.
This blog’s article on dinner jacket facings has a more comprehensive guide to the best types of bow ties for each type of dinner jacket.