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OPINION | MALE CALL: Bolo ties strictly casual, not for formal occasions

by Lois Fenton | January 2, 2022 at 2:15 a.m.


Q I have a beautiful custom-made silver bolo tie that I purchased from a native American about 25 years ago. It is one-of-a-kind, but probably not considered antique. I want to give it to a family member, but I don't want it to remain in his drawer. Can you tell me if bolos are in style today, and if so, when it would be appropriate to wear one?

A Well, no, unless you are in Texas or some other part of the Southwest, bolo ties generally are not "in style." But they are definitely "a style" that some men like and continue to wear, because they help the wearer express his individuality. Wearing one may make even more of a personal statement than, say, heeled cowboy boots or a Western hat.

For those not familiar with this item, a bolo tie (or bola, or string or cowboy tie) is something of a substitute for a traditional necktie. It has three parts: a string/cord (or often actually braided leather that looks like a string), tips at each end (generally silver, often with jewels attached), and the highlight being a slide clasp (usually in precious metal, jewels or a combination). Some people believe the bolo began with American Indians, but it's more often associated with cowboys. It has become an American Southwest style that is very common in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Bolos are also worn by other men who are drawn to the western look.

Whether the man you are considering giving the bolo to would wear (and appreciate) it is definitely something for you to consider before making such a gift. If he's a straight-laced, traditional dresser, such a gift does not seem to make sense. But if he is more relaxed and a bit of a maverick who likes to set himself apart from the pack, then he might very well enjoy wearing it. You need not only consider it with respect to his office clothing. Some guys are serious dressers at work, but more laid-back after hours; they like to save a non-traditional look for fun informal parties, cookouts, etc. They might occasionally wear a bolo. It is not necessary to be totally consistent in one's choices.

To help you determine whether a man would wear a bolo tie, consider if he often wears jeans or denim jackets. If dressy suits and blazers are a much more expected part of his usual dress code, then you might reconsider who will be the recipient of your gift.

And, if you're wondering what a man (when he is not actually in the Southwest) should wear his bolo tie with, don't overdo the look with too many western elements. A good rule is to keep it to no more than two pieces. Other cowboy-influenced items include cowboy boots, cowboy hats, western-style pearl-snap shirts, larger or more ornamental belt buckles, and fringe. So, for example, cowboy boots or a not too eye-catching western belt buckle or perhaps a western hat is as far as you should go. A modest bolo tie works in dress-down settings, and when it stands alone, it ensures that no one is wondering where your spurs are. But combining too many themed items takes your look into the borderline costume realm and away from a grown-up, professional appearance.

In terms of actually putting on a bolo tie, it is generally designed to be worn exactly like any other necktie, with a collared shirt buttoned to the top, and the tie firm to your neck. Wear it with either western or button-down collar shirts in Oxford cloth or denim. My preference is to button all the buttons on the front of your shirt, including the top collar button, and then slide the clasp all the way up to your neck. While I am not a fan of the look, some men wear it with one button undone and the clasp set down a few inches. That said, a bolo would look really strange with a spread collar shirt.

Since there are no truly hard and fast rules for wearing bolo ties, you have some leeway and can choose a look that you like. Even so, be careful if you are researching bolo-wearing guidelines. Some online advice is misguided, especially when it recommends wearing a bolo to a black-tie affair. Bolos are elements of casual dressing; they are not formal attire.

Please send your men's dress and grooming questions to MALE CALL:

[email protected]


Print Headline: Bolo ties strictly casual, not for formal occasions

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