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If you’re getting ready to attend a formal or semi-formal event (a prom, a wedding, an important conference, a business luncheon, etc.), then you may be wondering:

“What’s the difference between a bowtie and a necktie? And when is it appropriate to wear either of them?”

This can be a confusing question. 

Sometimes, you really need to wear a bow tie.

While at other times, it’s definitely more socially acceptable to wear a necktie.

And sometimes, you even have the option to choose one or the other!

So in this post, you’re going to learn the truth about which one to wear during which specific types of occasions. 

1. For Black-Tie Formal Events, Wear A Bow Tie

If the event is black tie or formal (i.e. if the men in attendance are going to be wearing tuxedos), then it’s definitely going to be a social and stylistic requirement for you to wear a bow tie.

Remember, black tie events are called black tie for a reason. 

They signify the highest level of formality and style.

And for an occasion like this, in our culture and society, a bow tie is a must.

2. If You’re Wearing A Suit, A Necktie Will Suffice

If the event is casual enough that either a tuxedo or a suit would be acceptable (such as prom), and/or if the event isn’t formal enough to specifically require a tuxedo, then odds are good that you would be safe wearing a nice suit and a necktie. 

In fact, if you’re going to be wearing a suit at all, a necktie is the default choice. 

It’s rare to wear a bow tie with a suit—unless you’re trying to achieve a particular type of alternative style. 

3. If The Event Is More Casual, A Necktie Is Appropriate

Sometimes, overdressing can be almost as awkward as underdressing.

For example, if you’re going to a business luncheon, odds are good that nobody else is going to be wearing a tuxedo. 

So if you showed up in a tuxedo with a bow tie, you would definitely look out of place.

And this is exactly what you don’t want.

4. If You’re Wearing A Pleated Shirt With Studs, Wear A Bowtie

You’ll probably notice that a lot of tuxedos come with a pleated shirt. 

And that shirt probably has little button studs that form a line running up the center of the shirt, all the way to the collar (these are traditionally black). 

If you wore a necktie, you would cover these studs—and that would defeat their purpose. 

This is a good indication of whether or not the shirt you’ve selected is supposed to be worn with a bow tie or a necktie.

5. You Can Wear Either A Bow Tie Or A Necktie For ‘Black Tie Optional’ Events

Some events are labeled as formal, but are technically classified as ‘black tie optional.’ 

For these types of events, it would be acceptable to wear either a tuxedo or a suit—and either a bow tie or a necktie would be acceptable, as long as it matched appropriately with the rest of your ensemble.

6. What About Wearing A Bow Tie With A Suit?

As a general rule, this isn’t a style option that be appropriate for a black-tie or formal event. 

However, sometimes, for less formal events, you can get away with wearing a bowtie with a suit as a unique or alternative expression of style.

But keep in mind that while this can be acceptable in certain situations, it’s also true that you’ll be less likely to wear a plain black bowtie. 

You’d be more likely to wear a bowtie that is either colorful, or that matches the rest of your ensemble in some other way. (Think of Bill Nye the Science Guy, for example.)

7. Should You Ever Go Without A Tie?

Sometimes, it’s a style in itself to go sans tie. 

Leaving the top button of your shirt and collar unbuttoned can produce a cool and rugged look. 

Sometimes, you can also opt for a turtleneck as opposed to a button-down shirt altogether. 

However, it’s important to understand that this look is really only acceptable on very limited occasions. 

If you show up at a formal black-tie event with no tie, you will look sloppy as opposed to rugged

With that being said, if you show up at a business lunch sans tie, but manage to pull it off well with the rest of your ensemble—it could make you look edgy, and perhaps even a bit more stylish.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this post has helped to clear up some of the confusion surrounding the question of when to wear a bow tie vs. a necktie for special events. 

And just remember—if you need some help getting a tux or suit for your next “tie event”, don’t hesitate to give us a call or come on by.

You can also view some of our available tie styles and colors online for inspiration (and we have many more in stock in our store).

We’d love to help make your next formal occasion a massive success!

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