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