Bow Ties

By Dipesh Navsaria

I am often asked why I wear bow ties.  I didn’t always — I first tried them out in about 2003 or so, and after I became adroit at tying them, I bought more…and before I knew it, had given away virtually all of my long ties.  (A handful remain in a drawer for their sentimental value.)  I now own…many.  More than I can count.

There are a few reasons:

1. They’re refreshingly distinctive.  You become easy to pick out.  Even if patients and families don’t remember my name, saying “You know, that guy with the bow tie” usually narrows it down pretty quickly.

2. They’re microbiologically correct.  Long ties flop forward and touch things — and are rarely cleaned unless rather dirty.  Bow ties do not.  There’s even a study about this.  (To be fair, this is really a minor issue.)  This also means they don’t flop all over or fall into your food…and are much harder to spill food on.

3. They’re siruclastic.  People have a stereotypic image of bowtie-wearers as humorless, serious types.  Most people would agree that my sense of humor is fairly well-developed.  Pushing people to think beyond what they might assume isn’t a bad thing.

3. They look good even when untied.  An untied long tie looks unkempt.  An untied bow tie looks casually fancy.*  (And, no, a bow tie is a specific type of tie, not a long tie knotted up in some unimaginably correct way — you wouldn’t believe how often I get asked this.)

4. They are true knots.  This means that they actually fit around the neck and hold in place without undue pressure, so they don’t feel anywhere near as “tight” as a long tie might.  Long ties need to be ciniched in if you want the knot to look good.

5. They start conversations.  I’ve had people of all ages tell me how much they like the tie I’m wearing.  I get pleased double-takes when I go by on my bicycle to work with a bow tie on.  And if I run into a fellow bow tie wearer, there’s often a quick nod of acknowledgement.

6. Bow ties are cool.**

My medical school regional dean Brad Schwartz, myself, and my student-run free clinic colleague Chris Erb at an awards ceremony, showing we all wear free-tie bow ties…and therefore know how to tie them properly.

Fan mail referencing bow ties.

*Of course, this means that if you want to be a proper bow tie wearer, you should purchase “free tie” bow ties that you tie yourself, not a pre-tied one.  (Clip-ons are even worse.)  Exceptions are okay for unusually complex tie patterns that would be difficult to align just right, or fabrics that would suffer from the friction involved in repeated tyings—although both instances should be exceedingly rare.

It’s actualy not very hard to learn — after a couple of weeks of practice, I developed the “muscle memory” to be able to tie one without a mirror.  And it’s great fun when someone asks me if my bow tie is a clip-on to, without a word, undo the knot and then proceed to tie it back up in front of them without a mirror.  (A mirror or friendly acquaintance is necessary for a final alignment check, however.)

**The most recent individual to have widely made bow ties cool is, of course, the Eleventh Doctor, played by Matt Smith.