As World War II raged on, and the size and intricacy of cravats was replaced by the simple neck tie, an American contribution to menswear was, literally, being forged. Victort Cedarstaff, an Arizona silversmith, donned a sliver-trimmed band around his hat. Since he didn’t want to lose the band when the hat kept slipping off, he looped the band around his collar. A friend remarked, “That’s a nice-looking tie you’re wearing, Vic,” according to an Arizona newspaper. Cedarstaff soon fashioned the first “bola” tie, which comes from boleadora, an Argentine lariat. The bolo was born.
A southwest favorite, it’s a leather strand connected by a buckle in the front, with aglets hanging down on the ends of the strands. Based on the pictures I’ve seen, it’s worn with a suit, in place of a tie. It’s currently the official neckwear of three states: Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
This is a diagram from Cedarstaff’s patent, filed in 1959. The diagram lacks a buckle, though the text mentions a “rigid front plate.” One oddity I’ve noticed about bolo ties is that there’s no clear rule about whether the front plate/buckle should rest over the collar button or below it, like a traditional tie knot. In the previous picture, the cover of his album, Tunnel of Love, The Boss wears his bolo tie under his collar button. On the other hand, Buddy Ebsen, who played Jed Clampett in Beverly Hillbillies, wears his on top of his collar button. (Though the guy on the right is wearing his under the button)
From what I’ve seen, the bolo tie is most popular with older men in western and southwestern states. Ken Salazar, former Colorado senator and current Secretary of the Interior, falls into this mold. However, it’s the only picture I’ve seen of a bolo tie next to a President. (Though I wouldn’t be surprised if George Bush didn’t wear one at some point.) As you can see, Salazar wears his above his collar button.
In discussions about menswear, the question is often asked, “Can I wear this?” It’s usually in the context of a clothing item that might be practical or widespread in a different time or place, but rare, odd, or even dandyish today. Men should dress well, but they should not dress up, in a costume. So is a bolo tie too much of a costume?
The most common answer is, “only if you’re a cowboy or you live out West.” The bolo tie isn’t practical for a time or place, but it does carry certain connotations. The reasoning behind that common answer is, don’t try to imply what you’re not, ie, a cowboy.
Yet, I’ve never worn my boat shoes on a boat, I don’t wear ties to keep warm and I have little need to show of my white cuffs to separate myself from the blue cuffs of the working class. Point being, style eventually sheds old connotations and uses and becomes something you wear because people think it looks good. When men’s style experts say, “don’t wear that,” they don’t mean, “it’s not practical,” they mean, “it’s not in style.”
Will bolo ties ever become “style?” Well, maybe if Obama wears one.
Stay tuned next week for the next installment!
The Boss photo credit: Poster Guide
Buddy Ebsen photo credit: The Official Buddy Ebsen Website
Salazar photo credit: Reuters
Black and white photo credit: The Trad