Swellboy on… an epoch-making moment of bow tie archaeology

A long-forgotten style of bow tie is now back on the racks at Budd – all courtesy of our intrepid correspondent

The mid-20th-century Budd white-marcella bow tie discovered by the author, which can now be seen at Budd
The mid-20th-century Budd white-marcella bow tie discovered by the author, which can now be seen at Budd

Occasionally there are moments when life seems to have a purpose, when one really achieves something… when one actually makes a difference. It is the sort of thing Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winners experience on a near-daily basis: sequencing the human genome, and bringing down corrupt governments – that sort of thing.

Budd Shirtmakers in Piccadilly Arcade
Budd Shirtmakers in Piccadilly Arcade

Well, now I know how it feels. When I was in my mid-teens, I came across a Budd bow tie in black marcella while scouring a jumble sale. It was a little like those moments on Antiques Roadshow when someone says they paid a fiver for what turns out to be a missing painting by Turner. At that age, I had heard of Budd, but never dared to cross the threshold. A few years later, as a young executive in the wine trade during the mid-1980s, I paid my first visit to Budd in order to equip myself with a striped shirt and a pair of statement braces, as was the custom in those distant days.

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While chatting with Budd’s then manager, Mr Rowley, I casually mentioned that I was the proud owner of a Budd black marcella bow tie and his attitude changed very subtly; actually, more than subtly. It was as if I had strolled into the Natural History Museum with a breeding pair of dodos. No longer was I just another floppy-haired neophyte to be guided through the mysteries of shirting, I was a man of substance, a personality to be reckoned with, the sort of man about whom it was whispered reverentially: “That’s the man with the black marcella bow tie.” 

Budd Charleston bow tie, £75
Budd Charleston bow tie, £75

Apparently, my black marcella bow tie was a jewel beyond price, a survivor from a lost era of elegance, a precious relic from the days of a certain Mr Chalmers who used to cut shirt collars for the King.

The Charleston also comes in white
The Charleston also comes in white

About a quarter of a century passed and I came across a white marcella bow tie by Budd. White marcella bows are hardly rare, but this one was still in its paper wrapper from the mid-20th century. What’s more, on closer inspection it resembled no bow tie, marcella or otherwise, that I had ever seen. Instead of the familiar butterfly silhouette at each end, this bow tie had two superimposed flaps of fabric that looked like one half of a pre-prepared bow. Quite how they were to be united was beyond me, so I decided to present this curiosity to the nation, and when the nation didn’t want it I gave it to Budd, who, realising its historical significance, framed it and stuck it on the wall – where you can still see it.

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But more than that: through careful study of historical documents and general fiddling about, Mr Rowley discovered that the way to wear it is simply to arrange it around the neck and then tie it in a knot, not some fancy fastening that requires half a dozen diagrams of how the tie should be manipulated, but the sort of knot you might use when tying up a a parcel with string. It works brilliantly, better than a “real” bow tie.

This was the research breakthrough that we were waiting for, enabling a sort of Jurassic Park-of-the-wardrobe moment. This month, for the first time in living memory, bow ties executed in this strange but easy-to-wear style are back in stock at Budd.

Much as Budd wanted to name this rediscovery after me, I urged them to find another name (anyone who really knows me knows how modest I am). So it is called Charleston (£75). However, should those in charge of the Nobel Prize see fit to bestow a special award upon me to honour this momentous discovery, I promise to accept with my usual grace and humility.

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