Thursday, March 6, 2014

Gordian Knot

I bought a bow tie for the wine tasting we're hosting this weekend.  I don't really know how to tie a bow tie, but they give you instructions on how to tie them in the box with the bow tie.  They look more or less like this:

I pulled that off someone's blog, but essentially, they're the identical instructions that came on a card in the box into which my new bow tie was elegantly stuffed.

I won't ask you to read through the steps, but, well, no, go ahead and read through as much as you can.  I think somewhere around instruction 2 or possibly 3 is where the words started sliding over each other.  I can't think of a better way to describe it, but the instructions should be easy enough to follow, and for some reason I just couldn't wrap my head around them.  I got all swimmy and confuzzled.  I found myself reading the instructions aloud and very slowly performing the actions as I read.  Emma, curious, watched from behind me.

"Can I try?" she asked.

"In a minute, Em," I mumbled, "I need to figure this out for myself."

She waited in what was her version of 'patiently'.

The bow tie was a wad of fabric vaguely globe-shaped as I completed the instructions.  It fell to rest against my shirt shapelessly.  I extracted its component parts from the weave into which I'd contorted it and gave the tie to Emma, busying myself making lunches and grumbling to myself.

Leslie called from the family room.  "Emma, you need to study for your tests."  Emma dejectedly set aside her work with the tie and collected her papers to study, the tie just as unvanquished by her youth and enthusiasm as it had been by my aged experience. 

"I almost had the shape right," she muttered.

Later we both revisited the project, this time with a few Youtube videos.  I searched for "How to tie a bow tie."  There were many.  One tutorial was ten minutes long.  Ten.  I watched it.  I made it perhaps through six minutes before I was overwhelmed and set the project aside once more.  Emma picked up where I left off, fresh from having correctly answered all the questions I had asked her from her study guides, and therefore fulfilling her commitment to "study for her tests."

We both eventually went to our respective beds that night unsuccessful.

This morning I again revisited the project.  I watched a shorter, but much less technical version of "how to tie a bow tie".  Although the video was shorter, and the person in the video hadn't paid enough attention to allowing his pupils a clear view of the tie he was tying as he was tying it, I had some success following his directions, which were simpler.

I practiced while waiting for Lily's bus to come pick her up.  Lily was swinging the cat by its tail, or hitting baseballs through the TV or playing in the street or something, it's not terribly clear to me, so consuming was my need to overcome this hurdle.  At last..., a passable bow.  I don't mind the folded knot.  I don't mind the asymmetry of the two sides.  In my head it sort of gives the bow tie character.  It shows it off as "hand tied" vs. "clip on".  I'm not saying I'm standing pat with that effort.  I still have some work to do, but it's a bow, and it's tied correctly. it?

So this thing occurs when you tie the tie as I tied it.  The right side is a loop.  The left side is the tail of the loop.  In my head I thought that couldn't be right.  In my head a properly tied bow tie has a bow and a bow...loop and loop in front, tail and tail in back:  bow/tail on the left, bow/tail tail on the right.  I asked around.  There was general agreement among the equally uninformed.  I tried googling this:  "Top view of a bow tie".  It was really hard to find.  Nonexistent even.

WHY ARE THERE NO TOP VIEW SCHEMATICS OF BOW TIES???  This was the thought that entered my head.  Caps required.  I was passionate about this lack of important information.  The question in my head amounted essentially to this:

And this is a big deal.  The people who go to these parties, they're friends.  And if you're my friend, it might be assumed that my friends are somewhat similar to me.  And if it can be assumed that they are somewhat similar to me it should logically follow that by showing up with my bow tie improperly tied I would be subjecting myself to loss of face and public shaming in perpetuity.  I'm not saying my friends are assholes.  I'm just saying that the friendships of men are like feudal Japan, exhausting and filled with hidden rules and codes and etiquette and I'm not throwing myself on that sword willingly.  One friend allegedly* caught the table on fire three years ago and is still subjected to "keep the candles on this end of the table"-style jokes to this day.  Last year Leslie put a fire extinguisher next to his fork.

*He denies it to this day using the "it wasn't me" defense.
I did a lot of digging.  A loooooooooooot of digging.  Almost every picture of a bow tie is from the front.  It's impossible to tell if I had my tie correctly tied.  I revisited the how-tos.  I watched videos, combed pictures, asked my boss.  It wasn't clear.  But everyone with whom I spoke on the matter agreed...two bows in front, two tails in back.

Despite this, I soldiered on until I came across this diagram:

If you look closely, really closely, the tie appears to be bow in front, with tail behind on the right, then tail in front with bow behind on the left.

Then I came across this diagram:

Both diagrams show bow/tail/tail/bow, and I was psyched in a way that was so illogically relieving that I struggle to describe it.  It's such a stupid little "problem" to have that the relief from finding its solution seems similarly stupid.  It definitely merits a place among other worthy First World Problems:  "Can't tell whether my black tie should be tied with both bows in front".  But I felt like the color picture definitely showed the pink side of the tie completely in front; both bows couldn't be in front in that case.

Had I possessed the above diagram yesterday none of this would have been an issue.  Or maybe it would have been a different issue, because without words I challenge any reader who is still hanging in there despite the subject matter to tie a bow tie using the above diagram and no explanation. 

I informed my boss of my findings, but he remained unconvinced.

"Google Bill Nye," he suggested.

I did so.  Nestled among the thousands of pictures of "The Science Guy" and his signature bow tie were clearly visible examples that when Bill Nye ties his bow tie, like the old cliche says:  he does it just like the rest of us, bow/tail/tail/bow.  Case closed.

Do other men know this?  Other men who don't wear bow ties, I mean?

In my Google travels, I came across a how-to video from Howdini.  The caption of the how-to was, "Knowing how to tie a bow tie is one of those skills a woman should know, so she can help her man when the need arises."  And I thought, "Why is my wife so useless in bow tie matters?" and resolved to punish her with icy stares and stony silences while she fetches my slippers and pipe when we finish the home-cooked meal she prepares me after she's done working full time today.

Today at work, Emma texted me a picture of herself wearing my bow tie, neatly tied.  "Look daddy, I did it."  I'm almost positive she suffered no qualms regarding the relative locations of the bows and their tails in relation to one another.


  1. :) that was very informative Jim. I now know how to tie a bowtie if the situation should ever arise. I would describe the bow/tail thing differently though. I would say that the right side (as you are wearing the tie) has the tail in the front and the bow in the back. The left side has the bow in the front and the tail in the back. Simple.

  2. I used to be disappointed that my son needed only a black bowtie for orchestra, when I kept seeing such cool tie it yourself patterns...I am now convinced this is not a stress I need in my life! Kudos to you for your research and effort! ;)

    1. I think once you have the hang of it, it's smooth sailing...