The one fashion accessory that President Barack Obama seems certain to sport at one of Monday's inauguration balls is the same one favored by Abraham Lincoln and other presidents, a good number of cartoon characters and a growing number of suburban characters -- the bow tie.
For his first inaugural ball, Obama drew attention (good and bad) by donning an eye-catching white bow tie with a black tuxedo without tails. But all bow ties make a bit of a statement.
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"I think it takes courage and confidence to wear a bow tie, but not like it use to," says Greg Shugar, founder of Naperville's The Tie Bar, which introduced bow ties in 2007 and has seen bow-tie sales increase every year. "They are part of the newer generation now. It's very much in tune with people in their 20s and 30s."
Once the domain for stuffy, scholarly, conservative, professor types, the bow tie now comes in myriad patterns, colors and styles, and gives the wearer "a hip, metropolitan look," says the 40-year-old Shugar.
Depending on your age and interests, a bow tie might bring to mind Winston Churchill, Groucho (or Karl) Marx, our late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, pundit George Will, Pee-wee Herman, Nation of Islam legend Louis Farrakhan, Frank Sinatra, James Bond, the young ring-bearer at your cousin's wedding, popcorn magnate Orville Redenbacher, Playboy bunnies in costume (what, you didn't notice their necks?) and a host of cartoon characters such as Huckleberry Hound, Magilla Gorilla and Boo-Boo Bear.
"I graduated from Notre Dame in '62, and there's a picture of me jumping out of Alumni Hall wearing a bow tie," says noted bow tie-wearer Brand Bobosky, a lawyer, real-estate broker and longtime community leader in Naperville. "I have a Cubs tie, a Republican tie, a Christmas tie, an Easter tie, patriotic ties and Valentine's Day bow ties with hearts."
Already carving out a fashion niche by wearing suspenders and pocket kerchiefs, former Naperville Councilman James Boyajian says he picked up the bow-tie habit from Bobosky, even though they didn't always agree on political issues.
"I thought, 'Boy, that looks sharp,'" remembers Boyajian. "To me, it sets you apart."
When he retired from the council, other councilmen wore bow ties in his honor. Boyajian says he almost always wears a bow tie when he dresses up, but not at his home in Florida. "Right now, I'm in shorts and a T-shirt," he quips.
The bow tie became a symbol synonymous with former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, who called it his "declaration of Independence." His daughter, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, was in Naperville earlier this month with actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson of TV's "Modern Family" to launch Bow Tie Lobby Day in support of gay marriage. Ferguson, who plays a gay dad on the comedy and is engaged to a man in real life, sells bow ties to support a nonprofit foundation called Tie The Knot, which raises money for the Human Rights Campaign pushing for marriage equality. Ferguson's bow ties, including the one Shugar says was given to Obama in the hope that he might wear it to an inaugural ball, are designed to make more than a fashion statement.
"I've been wearing them a long time before these guys," Bobosky counters. "I'm stating my independence, not making a political statement."
To Bobosky, the bow tie brings to mind Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and the age when men got dressed up, wore bow ties and drank martinis straight-up. Just like bow ties, martinis also made a comeback, Bobosky notes.
Young professionals (who probably go to parties where they listen to Sinatra and drink straight-up martinis, shaken, not stirred) now tweet about Bow Tie Tuesday or Bow Tie Friday, when everyone wears bow ties to the office, Shugar says.
"Wear a bow tie to work sometime and see what conversation comes up," Shugar suggests, adding that the bow tie talk usually is pretty fun and interesting. "They are quirky."
While bow tie fans clearly hail from different generations, political parties and ideologies, they all seem to agree that much of the appeal comes from learning how to tie a bow tie. Master that skill and you become a little more interesting.
"It's as easy as tying a shoe," Bobosky says, before he ponders the footwear options available today. "Of course, people don't tie their shoes anymore."