Next month, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens will retire from the bench after 35 years of service. Since today also happens to be be Stevens’ 90th birthday, I could think of no better person to name as the Gentleman’s first Style Icon. You don’t need to agree with all of Justice Stevens’ court opinions to recognize his faithful commitment to the rule of law in this country. You also don’t really need to know much about law to recognize Stevens’ signature sartorial style: the bowtie.
In recent years, Justice Stevens has found himself writing increasingly sharp dissents without ever surrendering his gentlemanly goodwill toward the rest of the Court (just read his dissent in 2008’s notable case Heller v. D.C.!). It is perhaps for this reason that the bowtie is such a good emblem of this venerable jurist. The bowtie straddles an interesting line in men’s style between displaying a courtly, old guard image, and having a hint of edge. Indeed, in today’s day and age, a man like Justice Stevens who eschews wearing a necktie in favor of a bowtie must have a bit of pluck.
It goes without saying that a Gentleman always wears a real bowtie and always ties it himself. He would never wear a clip-on. Learning to tie a bowtie is a bit tricky, so here is the link to one of the better YouTube videos explaining how to tie a bowtie, and below is a helpful illustration. Don’t worry if you have find it difficult the first few times; you’ll get the hang of it sooner than you think. There’s also something to be said about a loose, roguishingly tied bow. It’s part of the edge.
The bowtie must always be “framed”, meaning that it should never be worn without a jacket or a vest providing structure around the tie. The bowtie is a splash of horizontal color at your neck, and because it lacks the vertical element of a necktie, it leaves too much of your torso exposed if worn without something to frame it.
Unlike Justice Stevens, I enjoy the bowtie only occasionally. Perhaps one out of every ten times I wear a tie do I bring out a bowtie. During the fall and winter, attain a dapper look by pairing a bowtie with a vest or v-neck sweater of a strikingly different color. During the summer, I like wearing one with a navy blazer or a light colored sport coat in cream, chino or seersucker. Of course, if you happen to be on the bench like Justice Stevens, feel free to rock a bowtie with your black robes!
The Gentleman would never leave you hanging without a bowtie buylink. Neckties can be found in pretty much every store that sells men’s clothing, but bowties cannot. You have to look at more classic men’s retailers. Brooks Brothers is probably the best store to buy bowties, they run around $50. It’s difficult to get bowties for less than that, although eBay typically has a few floating around. This Brooks Brothers bowtie is a great conservative option that can be worn year round. For a bit more whimsy, a patterned bowtie like this is a lot of fun during the summer.
If you happen to run in to me today, you’ll definitely see me wearing a bowtie in tribute to Justice John Paul Stevens.