Trying to decide whether you should wear a bow tie or necktie? Let the other pieces of your outfit dictate the right neckwear for your look.
If you’ve picked the rest of your outfit, you’ve already chosen between wearing a bow tie or necktie. That’s because neckwear depends so much on the context in which it’s being worn—your suit or tux, the formality of the event, and even the style of shirt all play a role in your choice. It sounds pretty complicated, but we can show you what’s what.
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Bow Tie vs. Necktie: Which Should I Wear?
There are only a few circumstances where you need to follow actual neckwear rules. These are pretty specific situations, and we’ll address the most common ones in the next section. Otherwise, the most obvious way to decide whether you should knot up in a bow tie or necktie is to consider how formal (or casual) this event will be.
If the event is formal (black tie dress codes, black tie optional dress codes, or events where you’ll need a tuxedo) then a bow tie is going to have you covered. It’s always better to be slightly overdressed than too casual.
If you’re wearing a suit, or you know the atmosphere will be more laid-back and casual, a necktie should be fine. And while they’re less commonly worn to casual events, bow ties can be just as casual as neckties. Whatever makes you feel right will work.
What to Wear: Common Neckwear Situations
Sometimes you know you’ll be renting a tux, or you know you’re going to wear a casual suit. Those are useful clues for choosing neckwear.
You’re wearing a pleated shirt.
This is as straightforward as it comes. Pleated shirts are formal, often worn with a tuxedo, and many are designed to be worn with button studs. A necktie is casual and would cover up those hypothetical button studs—double don’t. Wear a bow tie.
You’re wearing a tuxedo.
If you’re wearing a tux, that means the event is pretty formal or there’s a specific dress code. If the dress code is black tie, wear a bow tie. If it’s a little more laid-back (black tie optional, creative black tie, or a more casual event) you’re clear to wear a necktie. Just be sure to stick with black satin or silk, or a simple black and white pattern.
You’re wearing a suit.
Bow ties are a less common choice, so they’ll make more of an impact and set you apart from the crowd. More people seem to be comfortable wearing a necktie, so while you won’t be the only one, it’s fine to stick to what you know. The truth is, there isn’t a “wrong” neckwear choice if you’re wearing a suit.
You don’t want to wear a tie.
Going tieless can help you stand out, whether you opt for the casual unfastened top button or the trendy “air tie” look with the shirt fully buttoned. This works best with a suit, but if you somehow score an invite to an über-fashionable event like the Met Gala, you could ditch the tie. We don’t recommend going sans tie for formal events (black tie weddings, etc).
If you really have the green light to own your look, don’t sleep on the turtleneck—a tieless throwback that’s easier to pull off than it looks. (Confession: I always get my head stuck in those things.)
More Advice About Ties & Accessories
As we’ve pointed out, you really need to look at your entire outfit and where you’re headed to choose between a necktie or bow tie. If you’re still putting together your look, use the guides below to get it together.
But really, just a great tie guide—even if you’re not tying the knot.
This ain’t origami. From simple folds to pairing pocket squares with ties, this guide covers a lot of ground—or at least a 13×13 square of it.
Details make the look, so don’t forget the little things. Cufflinks, button studs, tie clips, belts—you’ll find it all here, plus more tips on ties and pocket squares.