SLO-Town & My Academic Adventure

It’s Pretty Cute, But I’m Still Skeptical:

 Tom Ackerman for The New York Times

If You’re Young and Not Fainthearted

Published: March 13, 2008
MONSTROUS cinema villains are not, as a rule, inspired dressers. They usually go for some moldering garment that suggests they shopped in a victim’s dirty laundry pile rather than the racks of Jeffrey New York.

 But they do have a way with accessories: Freddy Krueger and his fedora; Jason and that jaunty hockey mask. Chic, right? And “Funny Games,” opening on Friday, puts sharp style right up front, as two young men, nattily dressed as if for a Hamptons summer lunch, drop by to terrorize a vacationing family. As the white-gloved Paul puts it, “It’s easier when things are polite.”

However enigmatic the statement is in context, it gets right at a key point in men’s style — that is, dandyish one-upmanship. And if you think such movies strain credulity when the villains come back to life despite repeated puncture wounds, take a look, if you will, at the bow tie.

Only a few years ago it was all but left for dead; men were ditching it even as part of a tuxedo. But as seen at the Academy Awards ceremony last month, the name of the game for many men, Daniel Day-Lewis among them, is Bow Tie: Resurrection.

Of course, as with spontaneously regenerating killers, the numbers are small. But the increase is marked, especially among men in their 20s. “We didn’t really have a bow tie business till this season,” said Tommy Fazio, the men’s fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman. “And it’s really taken off.”

On eBay, a good resource for anyone experimenting with a look, sales of bow ties jumped 34 percent from December 2007 to February 2008. And for men who are no longer dabbling, there are now bow ties from fashionable lines like Lanvin, Thom Browne and Michael Bastian.

Randy Hanauer, the owner of bowties.com, based in Fort Mill, S.C., said his business has spiked in the last two years. “All the growth is coming from young people,” he said. “I’d say guys from senior year in high school to about 25. It goes along with all the seersucker and madras they’ve gotten into. This generation likes to dress up and look nice, unlike the generation prior to them.” (Hello, 40-somethings?)

“We love the bow tie,” said Tanner Graham, 26, an account manager at Laird & Partners, an advertising firm in New York (and a champion of the royal “we”). “I enjoyed wearing ties when it wasn’t necessary, and this is like taking it to the next level.”

Many men do not know how to tie a bow tie, but even if they do, Mr. Graham said: “A lot of guys are afraid to pull it off. They don’t think they can be taken seriously in a bow tie.”

So, he said, “One-upmanship is definitely a component.”

For those who want to learn, the easiest and best instruction comes from Lucky Levinson, an owner of Brittons, a clothier in Columbia, S.C. His charming YouTube video, “How to Tie a Bow Tie,” should make him the Tim Gunn of Southern-gent style.

Indeed, if you take your fashion cues from obscure Belgian designers, you may be chagrined to learn that the bow tie’s comeback originated on Southern college campuses. But then, a city man will want to wear his bow tie with clothes that have a sharper edge than seersucker. It looks sharp with jeans, a white shirt and a solid sport coat, say; or wear a formal black bow tie as an accent, instead of a more colorful and wholesome one. The idea is to avoid a costume-ish look — Southern gentry, Ivy League professor, classical architect, 1960s geek — while hinting at some romantically out-of-it, bespectacled antihero.

“What I like about the bow tie is that it’s both old-fashioned and somehow clearly current,” said Alexander Olch, a fashionable young tie designer whose new line of bow ties is sold at that bastion of T-shirt chic, Opening Ceremony.

Like most new bow tie makers, Mr. Olch makes only the kind you tie yourself. The pre-tied bow has come a long way (the ones at Etro are great), but for the bow tie’s new fans, tying it on is more central to its charm than having it look perfect.

“A bow tie is more formal, right down to the knot,” Mr. Olch pointed out. “You can’t loosen a bow tie like you can a necktie.”

This may appeal to formalists. Others, however, may see it as one more reason to drive a gold tie tack through its knotted heart.

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