Collar Bow Knot Types

Figure 1.--American boys usually had their collar bows tied in perky little knots. This American boy wears his bow ribbon more like a tie, which was more common in France. This photograph was probably taken about 1905.

Collar bow styles varied greatly from country to country. We note several different styles of bow knots. The most notable were the large floppy bows popular in the 1880s and 90s. We also note a kind if flat bow worn in the 1870s. The perky floppy bows neatly tied were especially popular in America, especially the large bows. Untied bow ribbons were more common in Europe.

Flat Bows

Some bow look flat, almost as if they were ironed. As far as we can tell these bows were usually black. They may have evolved from the stocks worn in the 1850s-60s. I think these flat bows were most popular in the 1870s, but that needs to be confirmed. A good exanple is Emery Washington Elliot, a San Francico boy abouy 1880.

Standard Floppy Bow

Most of the bow knots for large floppy bows were a fairly standard one. The two wings of the bow were generally about the same size as the tail. This was particularly true of the larger bows. There were some exception to this standard. Some bows were rather like string ties, although these were little seen by the 1880s. Other bows were relatively rare with little or no noticeable tail. These different knots probably had names at the time. Unfortunately I do not have details on these names. Interestingly the neatly tied perky bows seem to have been particularly popular in America. They were much less seen in England, France, and other European countries. Most of the larger bows came from the 1880s and 90s.

Narrow Ribbon Bows

Most bows during the late 19th century were made of quite wide lengths of ribbon which tied into wide floppy bows. Before these wide bows became popular in the 1870s, a popular style was the narrow ribbon bow worn with a relatively small collar. This style of bow was common in the 1860s and was worn by both boys and men. The slender ribbon bow as a child's style declined in the 1870s as mothers opted for increasingly large bows. It is today largely seen as a western style an often worn by American opting for a western or cowboy look.

Unknotted Bows

Some boys wore their bow ribbons more like a tie without an elaborate knot. This was more common in France than in America.

Bow Ties

The modern bow-tie appears to be a direct descendent of the basic 18th-century stock. The bow tie was not initially a style of neckwear specifically associated with boys. We note what look like bow ties in the mid-19th cntury. We are not sure what they were clled at the time. American boys in the 1940s-60s often wore bow ties when they dressed up. This was especially true of younger boys under 12 or 13 years of age. The reason for the popularity of the bow tie is probably the clip on versions which permitted the boy to wear one with out tieing a knot. Today boys are less likely to wear ties at all, especially bow ties.


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Created: November 6, 1999
Last updated: 8:25 AM 1/3/2016