The Bow Tie

Nothing celebrates the return of warm weather like a bow tie.
Nothing celebrates the return of warm weather like a bow tie.

With the height of spring rapidly approaching, what better time to highlight one of the all-time great WASP fashion accessories: the bow tie.

While the general theme of WASP fashion revolves around the subtle and understated, the bow tie is unique for its boldness.  Perhaps its the bow tie’s association with classic formal wear, or the stereotype of people who traditionally wear them, or maybe it’s simply the fact that they’re so difficult to tie.  Whatever the reason; when you put on a bow tie, people will notice.

The key of course is getting it right.  As a student of WASP culture, your goal is to project the kind of formal preppiness that sets you apart at a cocktail party, or an air of intellectual superiority that gives you the upper hand at a business meeting.   Get it wrong, however, and you may quickly regret all that new found attention…

But not to fear, the howtoWASP is here to help and by following a few simple rules you’ll be a bow tie pro in no time.

From the Battle Field to the Opera

In a departure from most things WASP’y, the bow tie does not trace its origins back to Great Britain, or even Western Europe for that matter.  Instead we have the Croatians to thank.

A 17th Century Croatian mercenary with "cravat"
A 17th Century Croatian mercenary with “cravat”

Back during the Prussian Wars of the 17th Century, Croatian mercenaries were hired to fight for King Louis XIII and became known for the knotted silk scarves they used to hold the top of their shirts closed.  The scarves aroused the curiosity of Parisians who began wearing the “cravats” (simply French slang for Croat at the time) themselves and a fashion legend was born.  The style caught on in France, particularly among the upper class, and became wildly popular over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries.  During that period, the cravat evolved into the modern bow tie and eventually the neck tie of today.

Of course it wasn’t long before the British, who often looked to the French as the vanguards of fashion, began to emulate the style on their own, furthering the bow tie’s popularity and world wide exposure.

However, all good things must come to an end and by the 20th century the modern neck tie began to replace the bow tie as an every day fashion accessory.  The bow tie stuck around, but became regulated to formal wear duty and as a trademark fashion accessory among a few niche segments of society (doctors, attorneys, professors, etc…)

Fortunately the bow tie is making a comeback.  Gone are the stuffy/nerdy stereotypes of the past.  Today the bow tie can be the perfect option for the fashion forward WASP who’s not afraid to stand out amongst the crowd.

The Technical Stuff:

As mentioned earlier, part of the mystique surrounding the bow tie probably comes from the fact that they’re so difficult to tie properly.  Truth be told, the knot itself isn’t all that complicated, but unlike a typical necktie (with a Full Windsor for example), a bow tie is not adjustable.  In other words, there is no margin for error.  Once it’s tied, it’s not going anywhere, so it better be done right.

That being said, let’s try and walk through the process.  Note that all directions are given relative to your own body (i.e. they will be reversed when looking in a mirror).

1) If you have an adjustable tie, be sure to set the correct neck size.  Sometimes it’s helpful to go 1/2 size larger to give you a bit more material to work with.  Drape the tie around your neck, with the left side just sightly longer than the right.  Then cross the left side over the right.

Left over right.
Left over right.

2) Take what is now the right side and pass it around the back of the knot so it hangs over the front.  Grab both ends and pull lightly to comfortably tighten the tie around your neck.

Right side back and around.  Tighten comfortably.
Right side back and around. Tighten comfortably.

3) Take the left side and fold the flap over on itself so that it forms the bow shape.  You’ll want the folded side on the right and the single end on the left.  The right side of the tie should be draped over the middle of the new bow.

The folded end is being held.
The un-folded end is being held.

4) Here’s where it starts to get tricky…  Fold the ends of the bow together in front and hold then with your hand.  You should have the right (unfolded portion) side of the tie trapped in the middle of the fold.  Then pull down slightly on untied portion to cinch the knot a bit.

Fold and hold.  This is where things get tricky.
Fold and hold. This is where things get tricky.

5) Now things get really difficult.  If you pull the pinched ends out slightly, you’ll notice a hole in the back of knot.  Take the unfolded portion of the tie and push the wide portion of the fabric back through the hole,right to left, folding it on itself on the other side.  The idea is that you want to create another bow shape, matching the bow in front (the one you created in step 3).  The only difference is this time the folded portion will be on the left and the single end on the right.  Don’t worry about getting the knot tight, proper basic form is all you need here.

IMG_1455
Notice the hole, this is where the undone portion must be pushed through.
IMG_1456
Half the the back bow has been pushed through. Adjust as necessary.

6) You should be left with a loose version of the final knot with one bow in front and an identical bow in back.  It takes a lot of practice to get to this point, but if you make it, you’re 95% of the way there.

If you made it this far, you're gold.
If you made it this far, you’re gold.

7) Now all that’s left is to cinch down the knot to make it look great.  Grab the back folded half of the knot in your left hand and the front folded half in your right.  Then pull the ends very slightly to begin to cinch down the knot.  If the ends are in danger of being pulled through the knot, stop and recenter the front and back, one at a time.  The knot should stay tight while you recenter the front and back bows.  Repeat the cinching procedure until the knot is tight.

Pull the double folds apart.  About 75% of the way there.
Pull the double folds apart. About 75% of the way there.

8) To finish things off, before the final cinch, take the edge of the front bow in the middle and give it a little fold forward along the top and bottom of the knot.  The ideal is to create a uniform pinch in the middle of the tie.  Think like a piece of bow tie pasta.  Once you have it, give the knot one more final pull to cinch things down for good and you’re ready to impress!

Done!  Notice the folds in the middle near the knot.
Done! Notice the folds in the middle near the knot.

The key thing to remember is that practice makes perfect and tying a bow tie will require a  lot of practice before you can get it right with any sort of regularity.  You’ll know you’ve mastered it when people ask (and they will) you if you’re wearing a pre-tied bow tie, at which point you can proudly show off your WASP’y skills by informing them otherwise.  Note: You should never wear a pre-tied bowtie…

Bond likes the "undone" bow tie look.  So should you.
Bond likes the “undone” bow tie look. So should you.

Oh, and to remove the tie, simply pull single ends of the tie (as opposed to the folded ends, which you used to tighten the knot) and you’re free.  As a bonus you can then rock the “undone bow tie look”, which is unequivocally one of the coolest looks in all of fashion, WASP or otherwise.

What to Wear:

Now that you know how to tie your bow tie, the only issue that remains is what to wear it with?  The options here are endless, but in order to avoid falling into the stereotype zone (i.e. looking like a nerd) I would suggest keeping things conservative by not wearing the bow tie without some type of formal jacket (suit, blazer, sport coat).  Remember that typically bow ties are considered one step up on the formal scale, so plan accordingly.

In terms of colors you’ll want to follow the same rules you (hopefully) use for choosing a neck tie.  In other words, contrast is good, but you’ll want to match at least one color in the tie to the color of your shirt.  Unless your shirt is white, then the sky’s the limit.     But in general, don’t be afraid to go bold.  After all, the whole point of wearing the bow tie is to stand out and be noticed.

He may be a doofus at times, but he does know how to wear a bow tie.
He may be a doofus at times, but he does know how to wear a bow tie.

Lastly a word on formal wear.  Bow ties should always be a no-brainer when it comes to putting on a tux.  The modern neck tie may be acceptable these days, but the fact of the matter is that you won’t look nearly as cool as you will with the bow tie, especially one that you’ve tied yourself!  Just be sure to keep it classic.  No colors besides black (for black tie) and a basic conservative shape is all you need.

Next Steps:

  • Go out, get a bow tie, and start practicing!  For your first tie, I would recommend something conservative that will match a wide variety of shirts.  Also you might want to avoid smaller ties, as the lesser amount of material makes them more difficult to knot properly.  Finally, you’ll definitely want to get an adjustable strap.  Need a place to start?  Like most WASP’y fashion, you can’t go wrong with Brooks Brothers.
  • If you’re having trouble mastering the typing technique, check out YouTube, which has plenty of how to videos of varying usefulness.
  • The first time you wear the bow tie, be sure to give yourself plenty of extra time to tie it.  It’s also helpful to have a backup necktie on hand just in case…
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Port

Port: the greatest, and WASP'iest, of all fortified wines.
Port: the greatest, and WASP’iest, of all fortified wines.

After a hiatus, I’m pleased to announce that the how to WASP is back!  And to celebrate its return to the blogging world, I’ve decided to highlight one of my all-time favorite WASP’y indulgences: Port.  Now that I think of it, Champagne would have probably been a better celebratory choice… but that will have to come later.  So for now, Port!

No, we’re not talking about the seaside variety (although confusion could be understandable given the focus of this blog), but rather the undisputed king of all fortified wines.  When it comes to dining like a WASP, there is perhaps no better way to finish off a fine meal that a good glass of Port.  However, the subject can be surprisingly complicated, so it’s important that you know the basics before you can order, and most importantly enjoy, that tote of Cockburn (see Next Steps below) with confidence and pride.

What Exactly is Port?

Excellent question!  And to provide and answer, it is necessary to take a brief trip back in time.  Port, like most things WASP’y, is a product of the British and a dislike of the French.

As most students of history will know, England spent a good portion of the last millennium fighting the French.  However, by the 17th Century they ran into a problem.  The Brits had developed a taste for Continental wine, but thanks to their most recent war with the French, they suddenly found themselves cut off.  Their solution: simply get wine from Portugal (one of their few wine producing allies on the Continent) instead.

A pretty slick solution, but another problem quickly became evident; Portuguese wine proved to be much less stable than its French counterpart   As a result, the Portuguese wine would spoil during the extended sea voyages back to England.  Fortunately for all of us, the classic sense of British stick-to-itiveness prevailed.  They discovered that by adding a small amount of brandy (a process known as fortification) to the finished wine, it could be made stable to endure the long trip back to England and the wine we know as Port today was born.

A Port Primer

Now, you may be thinking “So that’s why it’s called Port, it’s from Portugal!” but you’d be wrong.

The namesake of Port is actually the city of Oporto, located on the Atlantic at the mouth of the Douro River.  This city is where the English set up their first Port Houses to distribute the newly invented wine and where they have remained ever since.  In fact the world’s first Port producer, Warre (established in 1670) is still operation there today!

The Douro Valley, one of the most scenic wine regions on Earth and where Port is born.
The Douro Valley, one of the most scenic wine regions on Earth and where Port is born.

So Port wine comes from Oporto, which makes perfect sense, but it gets a little more complicated.  While Port is distributed from Oporto, the wine is actually produced about 50 miles up the Douro River in the hot and ruggedly mountainous Douro Valley.  This is where the grapes are grown and the wine is fermented.  It’s then packed into barrels and sent down the river to Oporto, where it’s fortified, aged, bottled, and eventually shipped to Port lovers all over the world.

Styles of Port:

Port has two constants: It’s always sweet, and (almost) always red.  Beyond that, however, the varieties and styles of Port are nearly endless.

Part of that variety is thanks to the sheer number of grapes that are permitted in Port.  In most blended wines, you’ll see 3-4 grape varietals, tops.  In Port there are more than 80!  Although in practice the most common types used are Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional, and Tinta Barroca.

While the grapes certainly play a role in nature of a Port, it’s really the style of wine that determines its ultimate character (and price).  While there aren’t quite as many styles as grape varieties, there is still a lot to know, so pay attention!  Below are some of the most common Port styles, listed from lightest to fullest.

  • White Port:  White Port is just that, Port made from white grapes.  It’s not very popular and much more difficult to find that the red variety.  It’s also generally known to be not anywhere near as good.  I confess that I’ve never tried it myself, but I’ve heard that it’s best use is when served ice cold as a summer aperitif.  Not really in the same league as red Port, but I included it here for the sake of knowledge.  
  • Ruby Port: The youngest and simplest version of Port.  Just like the name implies, its typically deep red in color.  It’s also fruity, sweet, and easy drinking.  The wine itself is aged about 3 years in wood and is ready to drink as soon as it’s released.  In fact the younger it is, the better it will taste.  Ruby Port is also the cheapest Port available and often a great introduction to the wine.
  • Tawny Port:  By far the most popular and common type of Port you’ll encounter in an after dinner setting.  Tawny Port is generally a blend of good quality wines that have spent a long time aging in oak barrels.  While in the wood, the wine softens and turns to a pale garnet or brownish color (it tawnies, hence the name).  One point of
    Tawney Port is the most common style available.  Note the 20 year marking on the bottle, indicating the average aging of the wine in the blend.
    Tawney Port is the most common style available. Note the 20 year marking on the bottle, indicating the average aging of the wine in the blend.

    confusion is the age marked on the bottle, typically 10, 20, 30, or 40 year old.  This is NOT the age of the wine in the bottle, but rather the AVERAGE time the wines used in the blend have spend aging in barrels.  Tawny Port is generally less sweet and fruity than Ruby Port and offers more complex earthy/nutty flavors.  It varies wildly in quality and price, from less than $10 to well over $100.  Tawny Port is ready to drink upon release and won’t get better with age.

  • Colheita Port:  A sub-variety of Tawny Port where the blended wines are all from a single vintage, usually listed on the bottle.  In other words the wines from a single year are placed in wooden barrels and aged (tawnied) for many years before being bottled.  It’s generally better quality than regular Tawny, but not very common.
  • Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) Port:  This Port is made from a single, generally lesser quality, vintage year.  The wine is fermented and then aged in wooden barrels for anywhere from 4-6 years before being bottled.  The result is a darker, less soft, and much fuller style Port than the Tawny.  LBV Port is marked with the vintage data and ready to drink as soon as it’s released.  It’s fairly easy to find and you can expect to pay $20-30 for a half bottle, making it a fairly good value.
  • Vintage Port:  The crème de la crème of Ports.  Vintage Port is only made during the very best years and from the very best grapes.  It is aged for a scant two years in oak
    Some older bottle of Vintage Port.  Amazingly these are still drinkable and probably quite good.
    Some older bottle of Vintage Port. Amazingly these are still drinkable and probably quite good.

    barrels before it’s bottled and sold, which is not nearly enough time for the wine to soften or fully develop.  As a result, Vintage Port requires an enormous amount aging in the bottle before it’s ready to drink, typically around 20 years after the vintage, but sometimes even longer (70+ years) depending on the year!  However, the wait is worth it.  Vintage Port is not only one of the best dessert wines in the world, it’s one of the best wines period.  It’s extremely full bodied, rich, and chock full of flavors such as nuts, toffee, chocolate, and spice.  Recent release bottles of Vintage Port are fairly easy to find, but are expensive at $50-$100 a bottle.  For properly aged (and ready to drink bottles) expect to pay around $100 or more, sometimes much more…

Enjoying Your Port

OK, enough with the academic stuff, now it’s time to for the fun part: drinking Port.

As was mentioned earlier in the post, the good WASP will enjoy a glass of Port as an after dinner drink, which means you should too.  Because Port is a sweet wine, it’s the perfect compliment to dessert.

Truth be told, nothing goes better with a good glass of Port than a simple hunk of dark chocolate, but in general the rule is that Port will pair beautifully with any dark colored dessert.  In other words if chocolate or dark berries are listed in the ingredients, you’re good to go.  What if you’re having a light colored dessert?  Sorry, you’ll just have to wait for the post on Sauternes…

Proper Decanting is necessary to aerate and remove sediment from Vintage Port.
Proper Decanting is necessary to aerate and remove sediment from a Vintage Port.

Of course Port can also be enjoyed without dessert on its own.  Or for a truly classic paring, try a glass with walnuts, or any strongly flavored cheese (Bleu cheese is best).

If you’re serving Port at home (or just want to impress your friends/annoy your waiter) it should be served at cool room temperature, or roughly 65 degrees.  Most Ports can simply be poured and enjoyed, but properly aged Vintage Ports (don’t even think about serving otherwise) requires several hours of decanting to remove sediment and allow the wine to properly aerate.  It may seem like a lot of work, but just do it, otherwise you’ll have wasted that $100 investment and worse yet, cast yourself as a WASP noob in front of all your friends.

Port-ing Thoughts

Port really is a wonderful wine and, unlike most things WASP’y, actually represents a phenomenal value.  Port’s popularity has waned in recent years, which is bad for Port producers, but great for you as a consumer since low demand = low prices.  Good quality Ruby and Tawny Ports can easily be had for less than $20.  Even an expensive Port (like a $100+ bottle of Vintage Port) is a great deal considering a comparable quality dry red wine will cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

Another value consideration is that unlike normal wines (that will start to turn bad a mere day or two after uncorking) Port will stay good for weeks, or even months, after opening.   The reason of course is the fortification (adding brandy to wine to preserve it) that makes Port so special in the first place.  After all, if it could survive weeks in the cargo hold of a ship, a couple days on your shelf is nothing.

Oh, and one last parting word of warning…  Because Port is a fortified wine, it will typically have an alcohol content that is far higher than normal table wine, usually anywhere from 15-25%.  In other words, watch out!    Generally speaking, a serving of Port is about half that of a normal glass of wine, so pour and enjoy accordingly.  Cheers!

Next Steps:

  • The first step is obvious: Go out, buy some Port, and drink it! I recommend starting with a bottle of Ruby Port and working your way up from there.  The beauty of Port is that it’s usually available in half bottles and cheap enough to try a bunch of different brands and styles without breaking the bank.  And if it’s something you don’t care for, just pour it out or cork it up for a couple weeks till you can offer it to someone who does.
  • Real Port only comes from Portugal, but that hasn’t stopped others from imitating the
    Renwood, out of Amador, CA, makes an exceptional Zinfandel based Vintage Port.
    Renwood in Amador, CA makes an exceptional Zinfandel based Vintage Port.

    style.  Many wine producers (particularly in the US) make at least one port-style wine, often with very good results.  Typically these wines are made with local varieties (Zinfandel makes particularly good Port wine) and will be sold as Ruby or sometimes LBV style Port.  You’ll rarely see Tawney or Vintage offerings.  Some makers can call their wines Ports (via grandfathered rights, otherwise Port is trademarked and can only be used for real Port) but most will not.  You can identify them by their smaller bottles, alcohol content (around 20%), and usually find them along with the other fortified wines at the wine shop.

  • Most high end restaurants will include Port (almost always Tawney, but sometimes Ruby’s or Vintage as well) on the dessert menu, which you should absolutely try.  A popular offering is from a producer called Cockburn.  This is a wonderful choice, but you can save yourself some embarrassment by using the correct pronunciation: COH-burn.  Enjoy!