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Trac­ing the evo­lu­tion of the bolo tie

Johnny Depp is a big fan, as was a young Clint East­wood, and John Tra­volta fa­mously wore one in the film Pulp Fic­tion. Chances are, if you have ever watched an Amer­i­can West­ern, you will al­ready be fa­mil­iar with the bolo tie, a thin, dis­tinc­tive cord of braided leather worn around the neck, and often dec­o­rated with a shiny sil­ver or­na­ment or pretty piece of turquoise.

Although its ends are tipped in sil­ver, this ac­ces­sory is as­so­ci­ated with an out­doorsy life­style and has been a sar­to­rial choice for cow­boys for the past cen­tury. The name bolo is thought to come from the Ar­gen­tinian word boleadora, mean­ing lariat or the rope used to lasso life­stock.

The idea of us­ing a sim­ple slid­ing tog­gle to se­cure a neck scarf while horse rid­ing is be­lieved to have been in ex­is­tence since the early 1900s. Although or­nate bolos have been made by the Hopi and Navajo com­mu­ni­ties since the 1930s, it was dur­ing the 1950s that their pop­u­lar­ity mush­roomed. This was, iron­i­cally, fu­elled by a na­tion­wide boom in busi­ness that saw many men don se­vere-cut suits. Bolos be­came widely avail­able in 1956, as men in some parts of the United States looked for a re­laxed style of dress­ing that re­flected their non-city life­style.

In the Mid­west, the bolo quickly be­came a sta­ple, partly as a push­back against the for­mal dress codes of the East Coast and partly linked to a huge leap in tele­vi­sion own­er­ship. This meant that an in­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple were ex­posed to an end­less stream of nos­tal­gic cow­boy shows, such as Gun­smoke (1955),

The Ri­fle­man (1958) and Bo­nanza (1959), which were all set in Amer­ica’s Wild West. Ref­er­enc­ing a time that was still within liv­ing mem­ory, the cow­boy style of dress­ing proved to res­onate so deeply that in 1971, Ari­zona made the bolo tie the state’s of­fi­cial neck­tie, fol­lowed by New Mex­ico in 1987 and Texas in 2007.

Not long af­ter the bolo be­come pop­u­lar in Amer­ica, it trav­elled to Eng­land, where it was adopted by Teddy Boys, who re­named it the boot­lace tie and wore it with drape suits, crepe-soled shoes and quiff hair­styles. The 1980s saw an­other boom, when men in South Korea and Ja­pan clam­oured to get hold of sil­ver de­signs by the Hopi, Navajo and Pue­blo tribes.

Europe, mean­while, was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a rock­a­billy revival, which saw a new gen­er­a­tion em­brac­ing the fash­ions of the 1950s. At the same time, the bolo started ap­pear­ing around the necks of the so-called New Ro­man­tics, which ex­plains why, when Live Aid took place in 1985, U2 singer Bono was wear­ing one, to com­ple­ment his bouf­fant hairstyle. Back in the US, the bolo was un­der­go­ing a re­nais­sance and was be­ing worn by the likes of Bruce Spring­steen and sci­ence-fic­tion writer Isaac Asimov.

More re­cently, the ac­ces­sory has un­der­gone yet an­other trans­for­ma­tion, most notably when Olivier Rouste­ing el­e­vated it to high fash­ion by send­ing it down the Bal­main spring/sum­mer 2018 run­way. Or­nately en­graved with shiny discs pushed up high into the shirt col­lars, each was priced at US$550 (Dh2,020) and all promptly sold out.

Given that to­day a bolo tie can be worn as com­fort­ably with a tuxedo as with a denim shirt, and as high and tight or loosely slung and re­laxed as one likes, there is lit­tle rea­son not to try one out. With mod­ern styles fea­tur­ing ev­ery­thing from sim­ply turned wood to a sil­ver dol­lar coin, the time has come to em­brace your in­ner cow­boy. Sarah Maisey

Clockwise from top, tra­di­tional bolo ties fea­tured a shiny or­na­ment for a tog­gle; Bruno Mars paired a bolo with his suit for the Grammy Awards in 2014; and a Car­los Cam­pos out­fit ac­ces­sorised with a sleek ver­sion of the tie

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