If we consider a bow tie in its simplest form, a basic piece of fabric tied around the neck, we can tell that bow ties have been used for centuries and centuries.

For instance, some artefacts and paintings of Chinese soldiers under Chi Shi Huangdi emperor (third century BCE) wearing a kind of short scarf around their neck have been found. Later, in the Antiquity, roman legionaries used to wear a piece of fabric to protect their neck against armor frictions. This piece was called “focalium” (from the latin word “fauces” which means “throat”) and was made of silk or wool.

From that, we can feel some sort of kinship with our modern classical bow tie. But, the true origin of bow ties, worn as fashion accessory, has to be found more recently… But it’s not as easy as we may think…

Several hypotheses stand about bow ties origin:

  • George Bryan Brummell was a British aristocrat born in 1778. History tells us that he is likely the creator of the dandyism. His life consisted of spending time in the aristocratic circles of London and Paris. Brummell. Called “the handsome”, he got famous for his intelligence and the elegance of his clothing. He became a close friend of famous people like the prince of Wales. And here it is…It would appear that one day, Brummel tried to tie his tie differently… the outcome was something looking like a bow tie with a core and two wings. Ultimately, it became known as a bow tie.

  • Pierre Lorillard IV is a clothing designer. He was the great grandson of a french business man who emigrated to the USA. On the 10 October 1886, Pierre Lorillard wore a new kind of suit at a gathering hosted by the Tuxedo Park Country Club in New York. This new suit later became known as a “Tuxedo”. But people were also amazed by a black accessory he wore around his neck. It was a kind of short tie with two wings… the bow ties were born!

  • In 1904, the lead singer of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly wore a short tie with large wings. The success of this opera might have launched the fame of this accessory.

So mystery still stands and the truth never really came out of the ages. At So Papillon, we ‘re happy that this secret remains a secret. Given our mixed culture, it would be too difficult to choose between an English, French or Italian origin!

Regular ties have always been a strong competitor for bow ties. Indeed, at first bow ties struggled to make their own place on the market. Bow ties had to navigate in a very narrow room. Very formal, it is the marker of some trades (hospitality, physicians, etc.). On the other hand, it can easily become a laughable accessory like those worn by clowns or by some burlesque cinema actors.

Among this dark period, the salvation finally came from Sean Connery, alias James Bond 007. Indeed, right from the beginning of the saga, bow ties were the key accessory of the secret agent, as we can see on the poster of the first movie (Dr No). Is that fair to say that, before saving the world, James Bond probably saved the bow ties?

Since then, bow ties have been used to magnify different styles (urban, business, casual, formal…) and is the symbol of elegance. It is used by many famous fashion designers. For instance, in the 2000’s, Alexis Mabille or Albert Elbaz (for Lanvin) gave bow ties a proper place in their collection. Similarly, bow ties are often used in Ralf Lauren or Hackett collections.