Bow ties were once a signature of worldly authority—think FDR and Winston Churchill—while Jerry Lewis and Pee-wee Herman gave them a comic twist. Famous women from Marlene Dietrich to Diane Keaton to Rihanna have sported the neck-cessory. This season they’re back but in iconoclastic shapes and exaggerated lengths that evoke more boho poet than ambitious politician. For her fall collection designer Tory Burch added voluminous ties to amber and rose silk blouses and then included a video on her blog instructing how to knot them. “The tie takes the classic shirt and makes it glamorous,” says Burch. “It reminds me of all those incredibly chic women from the ’40s and ’70s.”
On the runways Phillip Lim sent out a sweater maxicoat with a modernistic, chunky half-tied neck bow; Gucci, a printed chiffon scarf; and Ferragamo, a jet-black silk tie that added architectural accents to form-fitting apparel. Jason Wu devised a skinny ribbon sewn onto shirt collars, while Dolce & Gabbana’s diminutive patterned bow made the subtlest of statements.
Lately L.A.-based stylists Emily Current and Meritt Elliott, the duo behind the denim label Current/Elliott and a handbag line for Kate Spade, have been pairing a shimmery vintage tie shirt from Palace Costume with tux-cut pants. “We love the theatrics of it,” says Elliott, who wears a similar Rebecca Taylor design with her bell-bottom jeans. “On a man it seems gender bending, but on a woman it’s the perfect balance of masculine and feminine.”
Melissa Akkaway might have been channeling her great-grandfather Will Beckley, whose men’s store set fashion standards in long-ago Las Vegas, when she topped a blouse and a dress with bow tie necklines for her fall collection. “There’s so much you can play with,” says Akkaway, whose West Hollywood boutique, Beckley, carries similar looks by Zac Posen and Camilla and Marc. “If you have a corporate job, pair the top with a pencil skirt, and if it’s retro you’re going for, tuck it into a high-waisted pant.”
Man about town Cameron Silver, owner of the high-end vintage boutique Decades, often dons floppy velvet versions from Lanvin or creations by French designer Alexis Mabille. “They have to be worn tongue in cheek because they are a bit clownish,” Silver admits. “I call them my erectile dysfunction bow ties.”
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