BY MARK MATHOSIAN
For most of my working career, I wore business attire, meaning a suit and tie. I attended meetings with professionals from a variety of businesses and government agencies. I remember clearly that every so often someone stood out from the crowd, no matter how large the gathering. Those individuals wore bow ties and/or used fountain pens. To me, bow ties represent individualism, intelligence, and confidence. Likewise, fountain pens also speak of individualism and independence of thought. Today I’ll share with you a little history about bow ties and fountain pens and suggest that if you want to make a lasting impression, incorporate them into your business apparel.
For a writing instrument to be called a fountain pen, it must have a chamber in its body that stores water-based ink. The ink feeds through the tube of the pen by gravity to the tip of the pen called a nib. Pressure on the nib when writing causes the ink to disperse onto the paper. Historical researchers say that one of the earliest mentions of a pen meeting these requirements was in the year 973. Allegedly, Ma’ād al-Mu’izz, a caliph (Muslim civil leader) from Northwest Africa asked for a pen that wouldn’t get his hands dirty. The pen they made for him held ink inside and could be used upside down. Unfortunately, few details are available about this early fountain pen.
Later in the 17th century, there is reference to a German inventor named Daniel Schwenter who invented a form of fountain pen made from two quills. One quill was placed inside the other that held ink and a cork kept the ink in reserve. By the 19th-century, standard pens were improved and mass-produced using inexpensive steel pen nibs. The use of those inexpensive nibs greatly influenced the future manufacture of fountain pens. One famous manufacturer you have probably heard of is Parker. Parker was founded in 1888 by George Safford Parker in Wisconsin, USA. A few popular Parker fountain pens include the Duofold, Vacumatic, Jotter, Vector, Sonnet and Parker 100. Other famous manufacturers include Mont Blanc, Waterman, Faber-Castell, and Cross. Today, fountain pens are readily available in a wide array of materials, from beautifully crafted wood models to ones made of gold, sterling silver and even exotic metals like meteorites. Some pens are expensive, and some aren’t. Regardless of their cost, they all make positive statements.
Bow ties are a product of the 19th century and a modification of their predecessor, the cravat. A cravat is a wide strip of fabric worn around the neck and tucked inside an open-necked shirt. If you Google cravat you will find many examples of this historic tie. In 1886, Pierre Lorillard, a wealthy American aristocrat designed a new style of formal wear and wore it to a formal ball held at the Tuxedo Club just outside of New York. Lorillard’s tuxedo was an instant hit among other wealthy fashion buffs, and the tuxedo and black bow tie became known as “black tie” attire. This new style quickly outpaced the vintage look of a tailcoat and white bow tie as the primary formal outfit for men. By the mid to late 1880s, bow ties were a staple in men’s wardrobes. Today, the bow tie continues to maintain its place along with the necktie as acceptable and fashionable attire for the well-dressed businessman.
Finally, although you may think bowties are primarily a male accessory, that is not the case. Bow ties crossed the gender line in the 1920s and ‘30s when famous movie actresses like Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn wore bow ties, tailored suits, top hats and buttoned down shirts in musical acts and in Hollywood movies. Marlene Dietrich is credited with making this look fashionable when she wore her garb in Morocco during the 1930s. Today women still occasionally adorn bow ties. I believe it is safe to say that bow ties will be around as long as both men and women want to make a fashion statement that speaks of individualism, intelligence, and confidence.