As news of my new signature bow tie line for Windsor Neckwear, set to launch later this fall, spread to my family, friends, colleagues and my social media networks on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+, the reactions have been universally positive and enthusiastic. People have been gleeful, supportive, enthusiastic and impressed. The one thing they haven’t been is surprised.
That’s because I’ve loved dressing well since I was a preschooler, thanks to my mother, who routinely dressed my brother and I up in suits and ties as toddlers. As a four-year-old, I even rocked a fedora. And for as long as I can remember, I’ve been infatuated with bow ties in the same way I’ve been fascinated by girls since I was a little boy. By the time I got to college at Rutgers University, bow ties had become a signature accessory, long before I’d learned how to handle them properly. However, the truth is, when it came to wearing bow ties, I was way out of my league (which also paralleled my competence with the fairer sex as an undergrad).
That all changed (my confidence with bow ties, not with women) after I landed my first job at a national magazine: MBM/Modern Black Men, a now-defunct monthly fashion and lifestyle publication for Black men. As my career goal at the time was to become the first Black editor at GQ or Esquire (an ambition I have not entirely surrendered), this was a dream job for me, only three years out of college. Again, my passion for fashion was far bigger than the budget I had to support it, but the natural sense of style I’d cultivated served me well in my role as MBM’s senior editor. Or so I thought—until I had the temerity to wear a clip-on bow tie to work on a late August day in 1986. That’s when my boss, MBM Publisher George C. Pryce, called me into his office and said the words that would officially fan the flames of my infatuation with bow ties into a full blown affair.
“Clip-on bow ties are for proms and tacky weddings,” Pryce announced once we were behind closed doors. “You are a top editor at a national men's fashion magazine. If you won’t take the time to learn to tie a bow tie, don’t wear them at all.”
The words stung—still do. But the truth is he was right. After all, I was a 5th grader when my mother tossed our clip-on straight ties and announced that my brother and I would master a basic Windsor knot. Why would clip-ons of any variety be acceptable for a grown man—especially one raised with an appreciation of personal style, regardless of income or stage in life? Sure, I was a poor, struggling, recent college grad. However, a dearth of financial resources was no justification for lack of style, even if it put the latest designer fashions beyond my reach.
I will forever remember how I spent my Labor Day in 1986. I threw away my collection of clip-on bow ties and purchased three real bow ties at prices far beyond my financial means, knowing that once I purchased them, I’d be too invested to not wear them. I then spent the first half of the day learning how to hand tie bow ties (no YouTube videos, just a diagram in my copy of Dress for Success as a guide), and the rest of the day practicing what I’d learned.
I can say without hesitation that I remember that day with the same fondness that I recall the day I made love for the first time. Like love making, you can’t master tying a bow tie in one day. I made a point of wearing a bow tie to work at least twice a week, to make sure I didn’t forget how to do it. By the time I joined Black Enterprise a year later, my love affair with bow ties was in full bloom.
So, more than 25 years later, when those who know me heard that I had a signature bow tie line coming out, it was like I finally “put a ring on it”: “Congratulations!” followed by “It’s about time!”