The History of the Bolo Tie
There are ties, and there are ties, and then there are bolo ties. We’ve all seen them; a length of thin lace-like or braided material , often clasped with a decorative or fanciful fastener. And, on some level, we have all been forced to respect them; for their casual disregard of convention, while still managing to project an air of dignity and confidence. They are of an iconic Western look, and deserve to be so. And for many men around the globe, that is exactly the point. The bolo tie is as casual as the bow tie is formal; the opposite end of the spectrum, completing the tie triumvirate.
But, as probably the newest addition to the tie family, where did it come from? When and from where did it saunter onto the men’s fashion scene? Did it evolve slowly from other forms of ties, or happen all at once in a flash of inspiration? The truth is that it’s a little of both, that the answers to the bolo tie’s origins are as varied as the types of slides you can sport on one. Some historians point back to the American pioneering traditions of the mid to late 1800’s. Trekking across the continent, many settler men would adopt the practice of wearing kerchiefs or modified ‘loop’ ties around their necks. Held together in the front by a clasp or slide, these ‘ties’ seem more of a practical nature than a fashion statement. Elsewhere, beyond the American west, Argentine cowboys were also sporting a similar version of the bolo tie; this time made from thin leather straps. But, the most concrete version of the ‘evolution’ theory for the bolo tie, seems to come from Albuquerque, New Mexico of the 1930’s, and a man called Manny Goodman. At the time, Manny owned a New Mexican Indian craft store called The Covered Wagon. And, as Goodman recalls, local Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni men who came into his store around this time, began clasping bandanas around their necks. These man would go further to define the fashion by using a shell, or a silver conch as a slide to adjust the fit. Though acknowledging that this anecdote was obviously influential to the bolo tie’s creation, some disagree that this was its origin. Bola Bill Kramer points to what he considers to be the authoritative version of the bolo tie creation theory. In 1978, he wrote a book called “Bola Tie: New Symbol of the American West”, where is tells the story of one Victor E. Cedarstaff. In the 1940’s, Victor was a resident of Arizona, and a silversmith by trade. So the story goes, Cedarstaff, and some buddies were chasing wild horses across the sparse desert one day. The hunt was fierce, and in the fray, Victor’s ornate silver bordered hatband slipped off, taking his hat along with it. Wheeling his horse around, and retrieving his hat, he slipped around his neck for safe keeping, and went about his business. Noticing Cedarstaff’s new ‘look’, his friends jokingly complimented him on his new tie. But, the idea stuck, and inspired by the incident, Cedarstaff decided to create his own line of ties made of braided strips of leather, and capped with silver tips to prevent fraying. Finished with the creating part, Victor dubbed his invention the bola tie after the ‘boleadoras’ cords worn by Argentine cowboys, and applied for a patent.
Part of the reason there are so many stories of the bolo tie’s creation, is that there are so many different variations. The South Western United States lays claim to the Indian and western versions featuring regional stones and Native American silversmithing traditions. While, further south, Argentina takes credit for the use of three interwoven leather straps, and call it the ‘lariat’ tie. The British even have their own version called the ‘bootlace’ tie, which was popular with stylish ‘Teddy Boys’ during the 1950’s. About the only constant with the bolo tie, is that it must be worn beneath the shirt collar like a traditional tie. Other than that, it seems to be that the sky’s the limit as to how one may customize their own personal bolo tie look. But then, more than other tie, the bolo tie is less a fashion accessory, and more a statement of character.
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