My Latest Preserves

Products Reflected In "The Bow Tie"

 

Once upon a time in the South, a few good men gathered for a wedding. These men looked over a set of bow ties with a sense of awe, respect, and (most predominantly) confusion. In a matter of minutes, they needed these loose pieces of unrealized cloth to transform into something akin to timeless elegance.

There was an unspoken understanding that this skill should be something each of them had mastered at some point in their lives. It wasn't. They'd mastered things like making beer vanish, high-fiving, and eating entire pizzas without actually chewing. But the bow tie... It would need to be tamed. Immediately.

The act of tying a bow tie is a little more involved than one would think. Anybody can use a clip-on (including, though not limited to primates). Tying one’s own, however, is the real deal and the pièce de résistance.

Like men in battle, tilted toward a common threat, a leader reliably emerges when a group is forced toward a shared purpose...or destiny. He (or she) will arise with the requisite talent and may provide the guidance and will, such that all succeed. On the day I speak of -- on this day, I was not that man. I hadn't the talent. I hadn't the skill. I used phrases like "how" and "which way?" And "holy shit, help me.”

 

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History has been fond of men in bow ties...and even women (see Marlene Dietrich in Morocco). The spectrum of cool spans Pee Wee Herman to James Bond. Their inception into American culture begins aptly enough in Tuxedo Park, New York. My purpose, however, is not to inform the diligent reader on the history and origin of bow ties. Sourcing such an article would easily outstrip my limited attention span, skill, or energy. Rather, I wish to share my own introduction to the bow tie itself.

Thankfully, and by the grace of some patient father or wedding-enthusiast somewhere, my good friend possessed the skill set to accomplish our goal. This good friend became a catalyst for so many great things in that moment. You see, tying a bow tie is actually a metaphor and indicator for survival of the species.

In general terms, men on their best day possess the style acumen of a cinder block. We tend to occupy a patriarchal sense of entitlement relating to effort in appearance. Many men (and by "many men," I mean me) have long considered cargo shorts and flip flops as the flagship staple in evening attire.

But the transformative effects of a snappy bow tie cannot be underestimated. Within a matter of minutes, a man can go from Larry The Cable Guy to Cary Grant. Or, depending on what you're into, a Chippendales dancer. But this was a wedding. And today, we'd need the magic of Mr. Archie Leach.*

One way or another, this group of men was to master the most formal of all dress knots. Despite the confusion, desperation, and anxiety, a hero indeed emerged.

 

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His name isn't as important as his resolve. He was a schoolmaster and we were his disciples. Several of us lined the hallowed mirrors of an ancient southern building. We anxiously struggled forth, lurking over each other’s shoulders…performing corrections while all manner of expletives filled the air like smoke.

With the guidance of our bow tie guru, the product neared completion. These men, from every corner of the country, filled in a small piece of a puzzle together. Indeed, this was about more than a bow tie. It was a symbol of unity, purpose and belief. It was acknowledgement and integration of a bygone era.

Our friend and mentor stepped lightly among our ranks while tugging the bow tie ends, pinching folds, and guiding the delicate "overs and unders.” He insisted not on tying them for us, but showing us how to do it ourselves. Once you know it, there's nothing scientific or particularly difficult involved... but not knowing? It's the old fishing proverb: give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day. But teach a man to fish? He eats for life.

In this case, I liken it to knowing how to build a fire without matches or a lighter. You may never decide to build one voluntarily. But if you're a man of even minimal adventure, there'll come a time in which you must. If you possess the requisite skill, you live. If you don't, you may find yourself freezing to death in the wilderness, hoping your friend, Brad dies first, because at this point...you'll eat anything.

 

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* In 1932, a young actor at the precipice of film stardom changed his name from Archibald Alexander Leach, to Cary Grant.

 

Photography by Guy Aroch

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