Some think that there is only one or two versions of bow ties one can wear for white tie. They would be wrong; for there is actually a lot of variations at one’s disposal. It doesn’t always have to be plain old white cotton marcella in the thistle/semi-butterfly pattern!
For one, material. Cotton marcella (or ‘pique’, I hate that word) is seen as de rigueuer for full dress. After all, the (exteremely boring) cake-mold cotton marcella single-breasted three-studded two-pointed hem square-lapelled waistcoats sold by shops and hired out by hire-wear companies are made of that same old material. And there is this assumption that the tie MUST match the material of the waistcoat, etc. Again, like so many ‘rules’ they are meant to scare you and put you off from thinking about things. When you think about it you realise that the waistcoats, in particular those worn as part of alternative court dress, require or prefer a satin waistcoat. Or the fact that black waistcoats of the same wool material are also correct for full dress. Thus, this presumption that the exact matching is a rule is not so much a rule after all. Historical photos and sources say so. The ancients knew what they were doing. We have just decided that their innovations and their access to choice no longer applies to us, or we shun their variations as ‘old fashioned’. Unfortunately, this sticking to one thing only would eventually kill white tie for good. It is a uniform but a uniform which has room for individuality and to move in. Within reason. Within style. Within elegance.
Thus, as I have set out above, cotton marcella is not the only material one can use, oh no. Depending on you sartorial intelligence and understanding, there are other options, namely, silk (grosgrain, satin, moiré, taffeta, etc.) and cotton (marcella, lawn, etc.) Some even say damask is appropriate but I urge caution in that area (if you must then the pattern must be as subtle as it could as you want to avoid looking odd and prommish.) These can exist in the white tie ensemble in the form of the waistcoat, the shirt bib, etc. They are not simply pulled out of thin air.
Also, colour. It doesn’t necessary have to be pure white. Off-white, ivory, even a very light cream, is permissible as long as it goes well with the ensemble and doesn’t look obviously out of place.
Then we have pattern. You can have your butterfly, semi-butterfly/thistle, batwing, pointed, equal width, etc. There are various combinations and dimensions to work with. The only think it must be is that it be a sized bow rather than an adjustable one for, since you are wearing a wing collar, you do not want clips and buckles showing (do I even have to mention pre-tied or clip-ons? Best not to avoid a rant against these abominations…). It does not look neat and tidy and when you ahve gone all through the trouble of assembling your full dress you do not want to fail on a simple cheap bow tie.
A key thing to remember is that when wearing a bow tie, the tie itself should be of a well proportioned size. That means it shouldn’t be clown size or so small it looks like it was stolen from one of The Borrowers. As a rule, a large face requires a bigger bow and a smaller face requires a smaller one. The collar also plays an important role in determining the bow shape and side. A very high collar with big wings needs a bigger bow and vice versa. Balance is the key here. Also, when wearing the bow, the ends of the bow (namely the top corners of the ends) should not extend beyond the tips of ther wings. And, the bow sits in front of the wings of the collar, not behind them. This is because the main point of focus is the bow, not the collar. The collar frames the bow, not the other way round. Having droopy wing tips covering the bow is a unjustified practice which I assume is down to the fact that people would rather like to show off that they are wearing a stiff detachable collar and so would compromise some elegance, probably as a backlash for those wearing silly attached floppy wing collar shirts.
Of course, some people would wear their collars in such a way that the wing tips stick up instead of being folded right down as it was done in the past. In such a case, as long as the tips do not droop and block the view of the bow then I would say it would be acceptable.
I would also say some types of wing collars are also exceptional such as the butterfly which by virtue is not as wide on the tips so the ‘no extension beyond the tips’ do not apply. Nevertheless, the wings still go behind the bow.
Here are some of my bow ties (some for black tie, but only to illustrate a unqiue pattern, etc) that I have in my collection. I don’t have the full range but this is a taster of what you could have (made) to supplement your ensemble. We’ve been given this variation and choice at our disposal. We should utilise it and make our full dress as different and individual to the hoi-polloi of cake-mold cotton marcella single-breasted three-studded two-pointed hem square-lapelled waistcoat crowd that either can’t bother or accept what is given to them without thinking about it. If you go to white tie parties regularly, simply a different bow tie adds to the air of sophistication and says you haven’t just got one piece of clothing in the wardrobe but an array.
Since the materials in question can be obtained fairly easily and cheaply, why not attempt to make one yourself? All you need is an existing bow to get the size and dimensions right then you can then experiment from there.
For those who wish to have instructions of how to tie a bowtie, this link shows it very clearly:
(Oh, Henry Poole, an adjustable bow! And at the beginning, a pre-tied clip-on! The Shame…)