How to Wear a Bolo Tie

how to wear a bolo tie with suit or vest

Written by Tanya Zhang

You might be perusing your closet, looking for new accessories to adorn and compliment your outfit. Perhaps you've heard or seen bolo ties in the movies or within your circles and want to learn more about the official neckwear of New Mexico state. This accessory in western wear comes with a rich history, origin, and cultural roots.

We'll break down everything there is to know about how to wear a bolo tie and when is the appropriate time to do so in this guide. Here is a separate guide on different ways to tie a tie.

What is a Bolo Tie?

A bolo tie, also known as a bola tie or simply a bolo, is a type of necktie that consists of a cord or braided leather string with decorative silver or metal tips, typically featuring a clasp or slide in the center. The distinctive feature of a bolo tie is its cord or string, which is fastened around the collar using the clasp or slide, instead of being tied like a traditional necktie.

Bolo ties are often associated with Western and Southwestern fashion styles, particularly in the United States. They have a rich history and are considered a symbol of Western heritage and cowboy culture. Bolo ties are commonly worn in states such as Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and parts of the Rocky Mountain region.

In this guide, we will go into the history of bolo ties, how the word came to be, and how to wear a bolo tie for various dress codes and occasions.

The History of Bolo Ties

The history of the classic bolo tie can be traced back to the late 19th century in the American Southwest. The exact origin of the bolo tie is subject to some debate, but it is commonly associated with the Western states of Arizona and New Mexico.

One popular theory suggests that the bolo tie was inspired by similar neckwear worn by Native American tribes in the Southwest, particularly the Navajo and Hopi tribes. The Native American tribes used cords or braided leather cord or strings with decorative tips to fasten items like knives or tools to their clothing. It is believed that Anglo settlers in the region adapted this concept and turned it into a decorative necktie.

Another theory suggests that the traditional bolo tie was influenced by Western-style neckwear worn by cowboys and vaqueros (Mexican cowboys) in the late 19th century. These individuals would often wear bandanas or neckerchiefs tied around their necks for protection from dust, sun, or cold weather. Over time, this style evolved into a more formalized neckwear, eventually becoming the bolo tie we know today.

In more recent news, the State of New Mexico "passed a non-binding measure to designate the bolo as the state’s official neckwear in 1987. The State Legislature adopted the bolo tie as the official State Tie on March 13, 2007."

bolo tie is new mexico's official neckwear

The Origins of the "Bolo Tie"

The term "bolo tie" itself is said to have originated in the 1940s. The word "bolo" is derived from the Spanish term "bola," which means "ball" or "round object." The bolo tie gained popularity in the mid-20th century, particularly during the 1950s and 1960s, as it became associated with Western fashion and cowboy culture.

Today, vintage bolo ties, are still worn and appreciated as a symbol of Western heritage and individual style. They have become collectible items, with various designs, materials, and craftsmanship being highly sought after by enthusiasts and collectors.

The bolo tie continues to be worn on formal and informal occasions, serving as a unique and distinctive accessory.

bolo tie origins from western wear

When to Wear a Bolo Tie?

The appropriateness of wearing a bolo tie depends on the specific occasion and dress code. Here are some general guidelines to consider:

  1. Western-themed events: Bolo ties are particularly associated with Western culture, so they are commonly worn at events with a Western or cowboy theme, such as rodeos, Western weddings, or the Kentucky Derby.
  2. Semi-formal occasions: Bolo ties can be a unique and stylish alternative to traditional neckties in semi-formal dress codes. Here's a breakdown of what is semi-formal vs formal. They can add a touch of personality and individuality to outfits, making you look more attractive.
  3. Casual settings: Consider wearing a bolo tie with a button-down or collared shirt, jeans, or khakis for a more relaxed yet put-together look. Here's a guide on how to wear a dress shirt with jeans, and how to wear a bandana. A loose bolo tie can be worn for even more casual wear.
  4. Business casual: In some casual business environments, bolo ties can be acceptable, especially if the workplace has a Western or Southwestern influence. However, it's essential to gauge the culture and expectations of your specific workplace before incorporating a bolo tie into your attire. Here are some business casual dress shirts to consider.
  5. Formal events with a Western twist: In certain formal events where Western or cowboy elements are incorporated, such as black-tie Western galas or themed parties, a bolo tie can be a suitable accessory to complement your outfit. Pair with a white dress shirt for more formal events like these. 

It's important to note that the appropriateness of wearing a bolo tie can vary depending on cultural and regional factors. In some areas, wearing bolo ties may be more commonly worn and accepted, while in others, they may be less common or even considered unconventional.

Therefore, it's always a good idea to consider the cultural context, the event's dress code, and the expectations of the people attending when deciding when and how to wear a bolo tie.

 how to wear a bolo tie

How to Wear a Bolo Tie with a Suit or Vest

Wearing a bolo tie with a suit or vest can add a unique and stylish touch to your formal wear. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to properly wear a bolo tie with a suit or vest:

  1. Choose the right bolo tie: Select a bolo tie that complements the color and style of your suit jacket or vest. Consider factors such as the design, material, and color of the bolo tie to ensure it coordinates well with your outfit.
  2. Put on your suit or vest: Dress in your suit or vest as you normally would, ensuring that it is properly tailored and fitted.
  3. Button up your shirt: Button up your dress shirt fully, ensuring that the collar is in place and standing upright. This is our favorite white dress shirt from Nimble Made. 
  4. Slide the bolo tie's clasp: Hold the bolo tie's decorative clasp or slide it in one hand and allow the cord or braided string to hang freely.
  5. Place the bolo tie in position: Position the clasp or slide of the bolo tie in the center of your collar, just below the knot of your tie. Adjust the length of the cord to achieve the desired placement of the clasp.
  6. Fasten the bolo tie: Bring both ends of the cord or braided string around the back of your collar, cross them over each other, and bring them back to the front.
  7. Adjust the tension: Pull the ends of the cord or string to adjust the tension of the bolo tie, ensuring it rests comfortably and securely around your collar. The bolo tie should sit firmly but not too tightly.
  8. Arrange the decorative tips: Take the decorative metal tips of the bolo tie and adjust them to hang evenly and neatly. The tips should hang down the front of your shirt, framing the clasp or slide.
  9. Final adjustments: Check yourself in a mirror to ensure that the bolo tie is centered and balanced. Make any necessary adjustments to the position, tension, or arrangement of the bolo tie.

Deciding how to wear a bolo tie with a suit or vest can add to your personal style and individuality so make sure the other look has the western flair you're intending.

Is it appropriate to wear a bolo tie?

The question of whether wearing a bolo tie constitutes cultural appropriation is subjective and can depend on various factors, including the context, intent, and respect shown towards the culture from which the item originates.

Bolo ties have historical and cultural significance in the American Southwest, particularly among Native American tribes and the Western cowboy culture. As such, it is essential to approach the wearing of a bolo tie with sensitivity and respect for the cultural origins and significance of the accessory.

If someone from a non-Western or non-Native American background chooses to wear a bolo tie, it is crucial to understand and appreciate the cultural context and history behind it. It is important to avoid appropriating or trivializing the significance of the bolo tie by treating it as a mere fashion statement piece or costume accessory.

When wearing a bolo tie, it is respectful to be knowledgeable about its origins, appreciate its cultural significance, and honor the traditions and communities associated with it. Engaging in appropriate research, acknowledging and respecting cultural heritage, and supporting artisans and communities involved in the creation of bolo ties can contribute to a more responsible and informed approach.

Ultimately, it is important to be sensitive to cultural appropriation concerns, listen to the perspectives of the affected communities, and engage in thoughtful dialogue to better understand the complexities surrounding cultural identity and the appropriation of cultural symbols.


Frequently Asked Questions about the Bolo Tie

Is it appropriate to wear a bolo tie?

The appropriateness of wearing a bolo tie depends on the specific occasion, dress code, and cultural context.

When wearing a string tie or bolo tie, it is respectful to be knowledgeable about its origins, appreciate its cultural significance, and honor the traditions and communities associated with it.

Can you wear a bolo tie with any suit?

While bolo ties can be worn with suits, it is important to consider the formality and style of the suit, as well as the overall aesthetic you wish your casual bolo tie to achieve, to ensure that the bolo tie complements the outfit appropriately.

How low should a bolo tie hang?

A bolo tie should typically hang at an appropriate length that allows the decorative tips to rest comfortably near the sternum, or breastbone, without being too short or too long.

What does the bolo tie symbolize?

The bolo tie symbolizes Western heritage, cowboy culture, and individual style, often associated with the American Southwest. It represents a fusion of Native American and Western influences and is appreciated for its unique craftsmanship and distinctive appearance.

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