John Scott Masthead
July 17 2012 at 10:26

In case there are any readers of this column who like to keep abreast of men’s fashion, I am happy to inform them that bow ties are making a comeback.

“An entirely new generation has embraced the bow tie as a way to express personal style,” announced a New York-based fashion house.

Well, you can’t argue with an entirely new generation, especially if you belong to a somewhat older one.

The last time I wore a bow tie (apart from the black one I always wear with a dinner jacket) was at my wedding 10 years ago.

It was a big, light-blue polka dot tie and it was intended, as the experts in these matters claim, to make a |statement – in my case that I was very happily entering matrimony for |the second time.

Throughout my working life I wore neckties, though I have hardly ever done so since I retired.

A necktie with a jacket was |considered de rigueur and even now I cannot get myself to go tie-less on the rare occasion I am required to don a suit or jacket.

The first time I met the father of a girlfriend in my student days, he confided: “There are two things that separate them from us, young man. One, always stand up when you have a drink. Two, always wear a tie with a jacket. Hip, hip!”

So hip, hip it was, as we raised our glasses together, standing.

Bow ties were uncommon, and still are, but one of my journalistic colleagues always wore one.

In fact I never saw Bob Steyn, political editor of the Cape Argus, without it. Bob went on to become Cape Town’s only Unitarian minister and conducted my mother’s funeral service.

Another Capetonian renowned for his habitual bow tie was photographer Desmond Bowes-Taylor and a third was palm court pianist Tom Parkes.

By day Tom taught English at a local cram college and very pedantic he was, too, forever pointing out to newspapers their grammatical errors.

In the early evenings he would be seated at the grand pianos of the Mount Nelson and Grand Hotels, |accompanying the general clink of gin and tonics.

Tom didn’t mind a drink or two himself and would get out of the train at Newlands for an additional pint, before carrying on home two trains later. He retired to Onrus, and occasionally urged me to join him there for a “jar”. He died before I had the opportunity.

I think all three were, by their devotion to bow ties, making a statement.

Warren St John, the American writer, says a bow tie suggests “a fusty adherence to contrarian point of view”, that it “hints at intellectualism, real or feigned” and “is a way of broadcasting an aggressive lack of concern for what other people think”.

More famous people associated with the wearing of bow ties include Winston Churchill (polka dots were his favourite), Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, sex researcher Alfred Kinsey and Robin Day, the BBC journalist renowned for his “inquisitorial” interviews and whom I once found wandering around in a daze outside Cape Town’s Newspaper House.

I assumed that, like old Tom Parkes, he had had a jar too many.

One of the great advantages of bow ties, apart from making statements, is that it is virtually impossible to spill soup, or drink, on them.


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