Bolo Ties for Men (A Brief Introduction)


Looking to try out new types of accessories? Consider a bolo tie!

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Imagine having a tie that you never have to worry about tying. Imagine not having to struggle to get the right tie length. 

Well, my friend, what you are imagining is a bolo tie.

Within the last five years, bolo ties have risen quickly in popularity. But what is it behind these metal clasps, and how can you incorporate them into your outfit? Those, and many more, are precisely the questions I will answer here. 

What is a Bolo Tie?

Bolo ties go by many different names, such as bola ties, string ties, bootlace ties, and many others. No matter the name, bolo ties are all the same thing — a happy medium between a necktie and a necklace.

Bolo ties are comprised of a cord, a slide, and aiguillettes. I’ll explain each of these parts in a moment.

Bolo ties can replace standard ties in the right setting, as they are worn around the neck with collared shirts the same way. Later we will get into the appropriate times to wear bolo ties.

The History of Bolo Ties

The most commonly held belief is that the bolo tie was invented in New Mexico in the 1930s. There was a small craft store there at the time, and the owner’s name was Manny Goodman. 

Along with having his successful craft store, Manny was also known for being friendly with the Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni tribes that inhabited the area.

One thing that Manny observed from his Native American friends was that many of them would wear a bandana around their necks. The way that they would keep it on their neck was with a shell or piece of silver that could also make it tighter or looser.

Manny adapted this bandana-around-the-neck idea and turned it into the bolo tie that we know today. Needless to say, his shop was pretty successful after that.

Throughout the 1940s, the bolo tie became a staple of Western American and Native American culture. Many silversmiths took up the task of making bolo ties and adding intricacies to their designs as they went.  They soon began to incorporate stones and gems into the clasps of the ties.

As cowboy movies rose in popularity throughout the 1950s and beyond, so did the popularity of bolo ties. Arizona and New Mexico even made the bolo tie their official state neckwear.

What Makes Up a Bolo Tie

One of the reasons that bolo ties are so unique is their simplicity. There are only a few parts that make up a bolo tie.

The Cord

The cord goes around your neck and keeps the tie on you. This can be made out of simple cord or braided leather. 

They can be black, brown, tan, or any color that complements the rest of the tie. 

The Slide

The slide is the part of the bolo tie that gets the most attention — the centerpiece of the bolo tie, if you will. 

Usually made out of some point of metal, the slide has thin loops on the back that connect it to the cord. Some have locking devices to keep it in place; some do not. 

By moving the slide up and down the two cords, you can select how tight you want the tie.

The slide can be made out of a variety of materials. The most common base material of a bolo tie is silver. 

The silver is then commonly adorned with a gem, turquoise being the most popular. Gems such as coral, mother of pearl, jasper, and many other stones are used as well.

When deciding on a bolo tie to buy or wear, this is the part of the tie that you should focus on the most. 

Find a slide that calls your attention and fits the need that you are looking to fill. If I were to buy a bolo tie, I’d probably opt for one with a smaller slide with a small stone.

The Aiguillettes

The aiguillettes are the metal tips found at the end of the cord, hanging down and resting on the chest. The aiguillete’s function is to make an end to the cord and keep the slide from coming off of the tie.

Some manufacturers will put intricate designs into the aiguillettes, whereas many will also be very simple. 

It is uncommon to find stones or gems in the aiguillettes, as this would draw the attention away from the slide.

How to Wear a Bolo Tie

To put on the bolo tie, loosen the slide to fit around your head. Put the tie around your neck and under your collar, and then move the slide up the cord until it is at the desired tightness. 

Some ties will have a clasp that you can shut to keep the slide in place. Others will simply be snug enough to stay in place.

Nice and Tight

The standard way to wear a bolo tie is to tighten it up so it fits snugly around your collar, covering the first button of your shirt.

It should be the same tightness as a standard tie, merely replacing the knot of the tie with the clasp of the bolo tie.

Loose and Casual

For a more casual and laid-back look, try wearing the bolo tie loose. To do this, leave the top button of your shirt unbuttoned and only tighten the tie so it rests around your mid-chest.

This makes the bolo more of a necklace than a necktie.

When Can I Wear a Bolo Tie?

When wearing a bolo tie, you want to be sure that it is in the right setting and with the right outfit so it doesn’t come off as “costume-ey.” 

The bolo tie is becoming more and more popular in the US but is generally still worn more in the West. So, if you live East of the Mississippi, it would be wise to exercise a bit more caution than if you live in the four corners area. 

Here is how to wear it in different settings.

How to Wear a Bolo Tie With a Suit

Take the setting that you would wear a standard tie — and without changing anything else — replace your tie with a bolo tie. This can be a fun way to change up your formal attire.

As I mentioned above, this does change with your location. This is much more acceptable in the West than on the East Coast. 

While it can be a nice change up, It should be noted that a bolo tie is almost always less formal than a traditional tie. So, if you really need to dress up, opt for a fabric tie.

The right bolo tie with the right suit at the right time can be a very nice look. Again, be very aware of your setting and know that a bolo will always be less formal than a traditional tie. 

For example, it’s probably not a good idea to wear a bolo at a job interview or to a funeral (unless it’s the deceased or family’s wishes). Wearing a bolo to church or to an art gallery is generally more acceptable.

Find a tie that complements your suit in color and style. Be sure to wear the bolo tie snugly, like a normal tie. This is a nice way to make your suit a little bit more casual.

Western Attire

If you are wearing boots, a belt buckle, a cowboy shirt, and a cowboy hat, then the only missing piece to the getup is a bolo tie! 

However, if you do pair all of these things together, it is a royal flush of cowboy apparel. If you are attending a Western event, then go for it!

If you are just looking for a nice outfit and aren’t a cowboy, then don’t wear all of these things together — you’ll look like a caricature. 

Instead, choose a couple of these Western items at a time, and you can feel like a “cowboy” without actually being a cowboy.

Causal Wear

A bolo tie can be a fun statement piece in your casual outfit as well. Be sure to wear the tie with a collared shirt.

Past that, though, have some fun with it! Try it loose or tight, with jeans or formal trousers. See what look fit you best.

Where Do I Get a Bolo Tie?

If you’re convinced that a bolo tie is just what you need, then the next step is simple — go get one! Because of the craftsmanship that goes into them and the different stones that can be used to make them, bolo ties can vary greatly in price. 

There are less expensive options, under 100 dollars, that you can find by browsing the internet. Montana Silversmiths is an amazing online shop that boasts a wide selection of bolo ties that are sure to fit your needs.

If you want something that is unique — or even custom-made —  know that the price will reflect your piece’s stunning nature. Black Arrow is an example of a high-profile shop whose bolo ties are each a work of art.

Another great place to look for bolo ties is your local antique shop or thrift store. I live in the American West, and one can find some nice pieces for good prices at my local second-hand stores.

So What Are You Waiting For?

Bolo ties are quickly rising in popularity. I have very rarely worn my tie and have not been asked about it or complimented on it. I keep seeing more of them being worn by those around me.

Consider swapping out that old necktie for a nice and classy bolo tie.

Do you own any Western wear? If so, what piece is your favorite? Let me know in the comments!


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