Buyer's Guide

Guide for the purchase of a bow tie – Quality Marks and Traps

There are many shops which are selling bow ties. And there are big price gaps, even if the fabric is totally identical. Is it justified?

I did not find any article, whether in French or in English, which explains how to well buy. Here it is, precising the essential quality marks, the main traps, and few benchmarks to buy at a rather fair price. I say rather fair, because there will always be a part of subjectivity.

If your time is limited, you can only read the titles of paragraph.

1. It is true that there are many possibilities. And this can scramble.

Choose a bow-tie, that means to choose:

  • a usage: pre-tied, self-tie, clip
  • a shape (small / medium / big … butterfly / diamond / …)
  • a material (cotton, linen, silk, …)
  • a pattern / a color
  • a shine (mate / satin / …).

But all this is a matter of personal preference.

2. But there are 2 very simple methods to compare the propositions: 1. with an identical fabric, and 2. with a reliable benchmark on value for money.

To compare with an identical fabric, we can compare the bow ties made with a cotton from Liberty London. Many do. And you will immediately see different prices and qualities (the Tana Lawns from Liberty London are sold at the same price). See below

A very good benchmark on value for money is Tie Rack. Their knows are well done, and at a fair price. This means that a bow tie at cc. the same price shall have a close quality level.

3. It’s obvious, but the quality of a bow tie mainly depends on the quality of the fabric. And it’s even truer for the self tie, and for bearden men. When you can touch (ie in store), there are 4 criterias that must all uncompromisingly be met.

I was surprised that many, including famous premium department stores sell, at more than 50 Euros bow ties that are made with really average fabrics, without impact on price, and without any obvious style value.

The fabric of a bow tie is twisted, compressed, wrinkled; it rubs. Though, certain fabrics get less wrinkled than others, or can be twisted with a higher elegance; of course, it’s a question of fabric (eg linen vs wool), but also a question of material quality, thread, and weaving. It’s truer for bearded men and self-tie because:

  • top quality weaving makes material more resistant to “stress” (rubbing, twisting, pulling, …);
  • it reduces the risk that the hair of the beard abrade the thread, or “damage” the weave.

All in all, like for ties, wool and thick silk make the most beautiful bow ties. Namely because they are crease-resistant, and better keep the shape. These are rather expensive materials. The classical trick / trap is to voluntarily replace a thick silk -or wool- by a thiner one fused on canvas, without saying it, because it’s cheaper. The only way to evaluate it is by touching. Further, even if the fabric is underlined (a Tana Lawn cotton from Liberty is very thin and must be underlined), the canvas / lining shall be chose to give the best result in terms of hand-feel and shape.

So, in terms of hand-feel, 4 criterias: the thickness, the flexibility (ie not rigid), the softness and the shape / holding. They are all to be met. Except if it’s a creative choice to make it really different, and if it is fairly passed in the price.

4. When it’s not possible to touch (e-shopping), it’s of utmost important to get tangible pieces of evidence about the quality of the fabric that was used (eg the name of the manufacturer or the brand of the fabric).

Globally, a good nice fabric starts with a good thread and a good weave. So, how to do on the Internet? When there is nothing written, I highly recommed you to ask what are the tangible elements that define the quality of the fabric, and to first evaluate the answer on the basis of your intuition, and common sense: a vague answer does not equate to honesty, transparency, nor professionalism (any maker and manufacturer must know the quality of the fabric that he/she/they are buying).

The answer can of course be more technical (thread count, mommes, …). But the usual quality mark, or let’s say the most reliable and check-able is the name of the manufacturer. Beyond Liberty London, there are also many brands for fabrics: Robert Kaufman, Art Gallery, Atelier Brunette, Kokka, Rifle paper, …. I don’t see why this information shall be confidential.

5. I saw 3 big traps in terms of quality: they are linked with the words satin, Japanese and Liberty.

Satin, that is a way to weave. There are satins of cotton, silk, … A satin, without a precision of material, is almost systematically a satin of polyester, that is very very cheap.

Some write “Liberty fabric” to mean “floral fabric”. The genuine one is a brand: Liberty London or Liberty Art Fabrics, with a name given to the pattern (Betsy, Hera, Adelajda, …), and a remarkable quality (light, silky, quality of the colors, durability, …). The price difference can be huge.

If the genuine Japanese fabric manufactured in Japan are of top quality, some also sell “Japanese style”. In that case, it relates to a fabric of average quality, with a Japanese pattern. Here also, the price difference can be huge.

6. Make a bow tie is technically rather simple, especially for the pre-tied ones. What makes the difference is 1. the mix fabric / lining, and 2. the quality and precision of the execution.

What is underlining? It’s a specific fabric that is fused or sewed on the back of the main fabric. It modifies its thickness, improves its holding and shape, …

When you are an important brand (eg Hermès or Tie Rack), volume and/or margin make that you can order the fabric that you want. For an artisan or small maker (ie semi-artisanal / semi-industrial), it’s different. In the last case, you have to manage fabrics with different technical specificities (material, the thickness of the thread, thread count, …..). In paralel, there are many different underlinings. And the whole thing is about finding the best associations.

C’est also why, it is very important to obtain information about the fabric that was used. A fabric from Liberty London is very thin, and thus must be underlined to make an elegant bow tie, which keeps its shape. For a silk twill, you can fin some with 12mm (mommes, which measures density), which is low … but also with 20 or more. What does it change? A pure thick silk, in terms of look, that’s incomparable vs an underlined silk. So, ask to a maker if the fabric is underlined or not, entirely or not, makes sens.

Ater, the simple thing to do is to look, on the photos, at the quality of the knot, and the thickness of the fabric. And to compare them with the products from the others. The differences are often visible, even without being an expert. Invisible seams. No kink of the pre-tied. Balanced knot. Opaque fabric everywhere. Fabric giving the impression to be both thick and flexible (and not saging or rigid). Etc.

7. Beyond the quality of execution, the biggest variations are in the quality of the finish.

First, few can glue the knot. A sewed one is of course better. To ask and check.

Then, at the level of the neck, we can see many differences. Logical since we are often less focused or interested in this part.

The band around the neck is matching … or not, like below. Needed?

It’s the same question for any garment or accessory: shall the “non visible” or the “less visible” be less elegant and/or lesser quality? Each can argue and have own opinion. But this has a high impact on time to do and cost.

The band around the neck can be fully lined. Or not, like nearby. This significanly impacts the cost, the durability, and the hand-feel. The nice method: I cut the fabric and the lining, I line, I sew on the back side, I cut the extra fabric close to stitching, I return so that the stitchings are inside…. this, of course, demands more time and concentration.

To adjust the fit of the band around the neck, there are different options: hook and slots (like for bras), snap button, and the sliding clamp.

The last one enables the best and most comfortable fit. It’s the system which is used by, for instance, Hermès for their pre-tied bows. It enables a more precise fit, which is nice to have when you have shirts with different widths … of whether it’s hot or cold. It’s more demanding that simply use a press to fix snap buttons. What the price shall reflect.

Be careful: certain websites don’t precise what is the closing system of their pre-tied bows (neither in text, nor with photos).

8. Regarding the knot, for pre-tied bows, the double knot is often the most classy. Not systematically, but the most often.

For the pre-tied, the butterfly is either simple, or double like nearby.

Man can consider that, like for ties, the self tie are better looking. From that perspective, the double knot better makes the pre-tied look like self-tied. It gives more volume. If the print is rich and/or the fabric rather thick, a simple knot can be better looking.

9. With an identical fabric, the prices vary between cc 15 and 70 Euros, all included. Why? Fact is that it’s often not linked with quality.

A bow tie is rather easy to do (eg unique size), and it’s not a lot of fabric. This said, between the moment when you go to pick up the fabric, and the one when you post the parcel, there are a lot of small actions. You can see by yourself, there are plenty of tutorials on the Internet.

There are 4 different costs for a bow tie:

  • the fabric
  • the handling and making, mainly manual
  • structure, organisation, advertising, …
  • margin (for companies)

When it’s in cotton or linen, the cost of the fabric within the whole is marginal.  At equivalent quality levels, the cotton is the cheapest, then it’s linen, then wool, and then silk. The quality of the wool or silk can very significantly impact the cost. The value of a print is objective (quality of the dyeing), but also subjective (a matter of taste, fashion, brand, …).

If you type, in your favorite search engine: “bow tie Liberty”, you will see by yourself the prices vary between 15 and 70 Euros. Why? When comparing the finish, the differences are obvious, and are not reflected in price. It’s easy to find bow-ties which cost 35€ and more, and which have lower quality finish than competitors at the same price.

Logically, the handmade companies (ie partly manual / partly industrial) should be cheaper than artisans, since with better / faster performing machines. Indeed, it’s not the case, most probably because the other costs (structure, advertising, logistic, margin, …) are much too high.

The cottons from Liberty being among the most expensive ones, I don’t really see what could justify to sell a bow tie in cotton at 40 Euros and more …. beyond any subjective value (original shape of the knot, print from an famous artist, …).

If the print is made of small and repetitive motives, the fabric is easy to cut. Nevertheless, when the print is asymetric / irregular, and when, obviously, the fabric was cut to have a very nice look on a bow, work and value is higher.

Finally, for silk and wool, a significantly higher price is totally justified. Even very significantly when the quality marks are obvious. It’s even truer when the print is of top quality. And even truer for silk, which is not easy to work with (fragile, sliding, …).

10. Since this accessory is small, it has to have a certain visual impact, and thus a certain contrast with the rest of the outfit.

This contract can be obtained with colors, materials, prints, or simply shine (shiny / mate).

And since the bow shall have a certain contrast, it matters that the fabric expresses your personality, what makes you unique. That’s why there will always be a subjective part, and why this part is very important. But not till paying an unjustified price for a given work

Hoping that it helps

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