Print Columns   |   Web Chats   |   Blog Archives   |  

RFQ: Are Guys in Bowties Weird? Dull? Republican?

We have the great fortune to live in a time when someone will pay to poll the American people on every single topic ever imagined. Such as this: Whether we've been trained to think so by generations of movies or we're just drawing conclusions from our personal experience, Americans think men who wear bowties are a little strange. Well, you know, Pee Wee Herman, Louis Farrakhan, C. Everett Koop and Tucker Carlson.

We think the bow-tied among us are probably older than they look, and they're dull, and brainy. And maybe Republican too. These are some of the results of a survey of more than 900 people by an outfit called HCD Research, which showed people photos of faceless men wearing no tie, a necktie or a bowtie, and then asked questions about the pictured men's background and character.

Today's Random Friday Question: What stereotypes do we have of men who wear bowties, and how strongly does neckwear--or lack thereof--alter your perception of a man?

When I think of folks I've known who wear bowties, I find myself nodding in agreement with some of these poll results--yes, most of the guys I've seen go through life wearing a difficult, decidedly nonconformist and definitely retro accessory have tended to have sharp minds, a personally though not politically conservative bent, and at least a touch of rigidity to their character.

But I was surprised to see how united those surveyed were on their dislike and mistrust of people who wear bowties. Dislike? Mistrust? Aren't bowtie guys pretty benign, even occasionally admirable? After all, the ranks of the bowtied also include Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and more college presidents than you can begin to count.

Americans disagree, as they say in USA Today. The bowtied gents in the experiment were by far the least likely to be liked, least likely to be desired as a neighbor, and least likely to be sought as an officemate or friend. About the only positive connected to bowtied men was smart (but also brainy, which can cut both ways.)

Shown photos of men with various or zero neckwear, those surveyed concluded that the bowtied men were probably clerks (32 percent), managers or office workers. Men in neckties were assumed to be managers, office workers or farmer/laborers, in that order. Clerks were way down at the bottom this time, at five percent. And those with open collars were taken for office workers or managers; again, clerks ended up with just 13 percent of the predictions.

Bowties definitely make men seem older, the survey found. Men of no particular age--the photos were cut off at the neck--were pictured, and those in the bowtie were taken for being 35 to 55 fully half of the time, whereas only 26 percent of those viewing the necktied gent made that guess, and only 13 percent of those looking at an open collared fellow called him that old.

Finally, based on just the bowtie, respondents were far more likely to call the gent a Republican, while those looking at the tieless man were evenly split as to whether he was a Dem or a Repo, and those who saw the necktied fellow were a bit more likely to conclude that he was a Republican.

Are these biases justified? Why do men go with the bowtie, even in this ultracasual age? (I haven't yet seen the bowtie/flipflops combo, but I'm sure it's out there somewhere.)

By Marc Fisher |  November 9, 2007; 7:19 AM ET
Previous: Pretend Primary: Income Inequality | Next: The XM-Sirius Merger: One Is Less Than Two


Please email us to report offensive comments.

All biases are justified, they help us make sense of the world. You can't wait for personal experience with everyone you meet to find out whether they're good or bad. In the bowtie thing, yes they make people look older and they're always a little weird. I think that someone wearing one is more likely to be a Dem since it's unconventional and the most prominent nowadays are people like Louis Farrakan and pig-nose Henry Waxman.

Posted by: Stick | November 9, 2007 8:41 AM

I'm wearing a bow tie right now, as I do every Friday. Among those who comment, most men don't care for it. With women, the response was overwhelming...

chicks dig the bowtie

Also, how can you not Tony Williams or Sen. Paul Simon?

Posted by: WFY | November 9, 2007 8:42 AM

Oh, poor self-editing for me, I forgot to include "include" between "not" and "Tony Williams."

Posted by: WFY | November 9, 2007 8:44 AM

bowties are gay

Posted by: Anonymous | November 9, 2007 9:02 AM

Men wearing a bowtie are weird. A woman wearing just a bowtie with FMP's is hot and sexy.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 9, 2007 9:02 AM

Chap Petersen just got elected, no?

Posted by: NoVa | November 9, 2007 9:12 AM

Interesting that the responses combined "Brainy", "Smart", and "Republican".

Add in "least likely to be desired as a neighbor, and least likely to be sought as an officemate" and the inferiority complex of the person responding to the poll is as clear as day.

Posted by: VoiceofReason | November 9, 2007 9:40 AM

I don't follow the inferiority complex comment at all. I don't think ANYONE likes pedantic nerds and I knew people in graduate school that did the bowtie thing in order to create distances between themselves and others and maintain aloofness due to their inability to communicate on a human level. Sadly a common problem here in DC.

Posted by: DCer | November 9, 2007 10:38 AM

Men in bowties have deep-seated desires to be bound and gagged with them. Petersen got elected because he was less frightening.

Posted by: bigolpoofter | November 9, 2007 11:03 AM

There are neckties and neckties: regimental ties; hand-painted numbers with palm trees and hula girls; skinny knitted or Rooster ties; broad silk ties with little golf clubs, tennis rackets, and Stratocasters or stock tickers on them.

Posted by: Mike Licht | November 9, 2007 11:32 AM

Two words: Jim Graham.

'Nuff said.

Posted by: Moose | November 9, 2007 1:33 PM

I image that all those who posted yesterday in defense of greed and the widening disparity of wealth wear bow ties, along with adult diapers.

Posted by: Mister Methane | November 9, 2007 1:53 PM

You forgot George F. Will. 'Nuff said.

Posted by: Section 419 | November 9, 2007 2:30 PM

My brother-in-law wears a bowtie on occasion.

He is odd.
He is not dull, not even close.
He is a big-time Democrat.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 9, 2007 4:23 PM

FYI, Marc, part of the association between bow-ties and "braininess" and college professors has to do with the fact that scientists cannot wear normal neckties. Back in the day, when scientists dressed up for work, they couldn't wear the neckties because those ties would catch on fire (from the Bunsen burners, of course!) or get mixed up with the chemicals they were using or whatever. Bowties, therefore, were the only way that a scientist could wear a tie without it interfering with his lab job.

So, that's where the association started, but nowadays, scientists don't bother dressing up for work anyway. So, it's just some odd people left who still wear the bowties.

Posted by: Ryan | November 10, 2007 10:42 AM

I wear bowties every work day as it's the easiest way for my clients to find me, as I sell cars for a living, and compete with other sales professionals.

Bowties are not the norm and I prefer to put myself in distinguised company: Paul Simon, Paul Tsongas, Daniel Boorstein, Daniel Patrick Moynahan, etc.

I am smart, Liberal, witty and nice. My neighbors like me although I am a little strange. Personally I like to think of myself as obtuse.

It takes a little bit of non-conformity to wear a bowtie and people are intimidated by it, only because they can't figure out how to tie one properly. I figure only fakes and reprobates wear clip-ons.

Posted by: Morgan Gale | November 10, 2007 1:52 PM

I really don't know what is all the fuss over bowties. If someone feels comfortable wearing them, they shouldn't have to feel like they're "dressing old". Neckties and bowties are great accessories for professional men in the workplace or at coporate-type functions and events.

I'm trying to figure out why the last poster would think someone with a clip-on bowtie is fake, but with all the negative connotations about bowties, I can see why he would write it. Many men who do wear bowties are usually extremely well-mannered and goal-oriented, which is a good thing. Its funny that if these same men wore wrinkled shirts and crumpled jackets, they would be criticized for not being "serious" and looking "unprofessional", but when they do dress seriously they get criticized anyway.

Many people in society really need to grow up if they feel intimidated by a bowtie that SOMEONE ELSE chooses to wear. People can wear what they like--who cares if a lot of people don't wear bowties? That's the problem with America--people have to do what someone else tells them to do. Buying flat screen TV's, the $750,000 suburban house you can't afford, standing in line to by the newest $500 gadget, maxing out credit cards each Christmas season are all the norm (which was not the case 20 years ago). Yet, many people have a problem with bowties. Amazing.

Someone also wrote that bowties were "gay". Really profound statement there. It just shows how people have become so vapid and uneducated.

Posted by: John | November 10, 2007 7:34 PM

I was considering buying some bowties to wear. I was wondering if there are any "style" rules as to how to wear a bowtie. I'm not concerned about the formal black but the day-to-day for work would be helpful.

Posted by: Joe | November 12, 2007 1:10 PM

A little late on the discussion, but here it goes:

Bowties work with a wardrobe the same way regular neck ties do. I find the few stores that still sell them offer the same choices as long ties, so I would suggest wearing the same pattern of bowtie that you would a long tie.

I deal with a large number of costumers from all walks of life in my retail job, and I wear a bowtie every day, just because I want to. I get all range of reactions, from nothing, to compliments (both from men and ladies) to out right laughter or anger - it's amazing the reactions one can receive from wearing a bowtie.

Some immediately assume I'm GOP (I also wear blazers and white collars so it's understandable) and either start in with a pro-Republican topic or start telling me off for supporting Bush & co. I'm way Liberal so this cracks me up. Others think my neckwear equals homosexuality, which is fine, whatever, but it's hilarious that a bowtie makes me either gay or republican. Perhaps the bowtie should become the neckwear of choice for the Log Cabin Republicans.

I guess most people can't help but try and fit me into a preconceived notion of nerdiness and whatver baggage comes with that, but I just roll with it. You shouldn't have to have serious balls to wear a bowtie everyday, but that's what it seems to take anymore, so I can see why most men don't wear 'em. It takes a "stiff upper lip" to ignore people treating you differently on a constant basis, but it makes life interesting.

Posted by: RJ | December 31, 2007 12:44 PM

I am a new family doctor in a very rural and conservative town in Idaho. I used to wear "normal" ties everyday to work, but have recently (in the last several years) started wearing more bowties. I am liberal-minded, not religious, a musician, and not gay.

I started wearing bowties after I had a serious medical problem and made it out of the hospital by the skin of my teeth. You only live once. Do what you like and what you want, and have fun.

Posted by: JO | January 9, 2008 5:21 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company