It's Time to Ditch the Necktie for the Bolo Tie

It’s time to ditch the necktie in favor of the bolo tie.

Alright, alright, we’re not saying you need to go all John Travolta in Urban Cowboy, but if you’re bored of silk ties and Windsor knots, the bolo tie is the perfect way to add a little rugged Americana to your style.

There’s no denying that western wear is back in a big way in 2020. Even The Wall Street Journal is talking about it.

We called it a western renaissance in our Hat Styles article, and we’re doubling down on cowboy couture with the bolo tie. While you might be on the fence about the bolo, we think that there’s never been a better time to add one (or a few) to your wardrobe.

Being headquartered in Austin, Texas, we see our fair share of bolos, and we even have a couple of Beardbrand team members that sport the cowboy necktie from time-to-time.

In this blog, we’re breaking down our favorite ways to wear a bolo tie, where to find them, and what to look for when buying one.

WHAT IS A BOLO TIE?

A bolo tie is a necktie made up of three components—a cord, cord tips, and an ornamental clasp. They are sometimes referred to as bola ties, cowboy ties, or shoestring neckties, and are the official neckties of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.

Cord
Bolo tie cords are typically made from braided leather and are most often found in black or varying shades of brown, though a variety of cord colors and materials can be found. We’ve even seen some made from braided horsehair.

Cord tips
Most bolo cords are adorned with decorative tips that are most often made from metal and silver.

Clasp, slide, or pendant
The clasp is the decorative part of the bolo tie. Clasps come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and materials. Less expensive bolos will feature clasps made from wood, plastic, or metal, while higher-end bolos feature inlaid gemstones like turquoise and onyx.

HOW THE BOLO TIE BOUNCED BACK FROM OBSCURITY

As little as a decade ago, you wouldn’t think of slipping a braided leather cord over your head and tightening a turquoise-gemmed clasp up to your collarbone—unless you lived in the American Southwest. For most of us, donning a bolo tie in 2010 would have been met with inevitable ridicule.

Bolo ties, as we know them, first began showing up in the late 1940s and early 1950s. However, they can be traced back to the early 1900s, where they were common among Zuni, Hopi, and Navajo men who often wore bandanas held together by strings or shell-like structures.

By the mid-1950s, bolo ties were being sold as the casual alternative to the stiff east coast business suit. At a time when Hollywood was pumping out over 100 western-themed movies per year, it’s no surprise that the bolo caught on. By the end of the 80s, bolos had reached critical mass and everyone from Midwestern businessmen to dad-rockers like Bruce Springsteen were sporting bolos. Even sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov was pairing the bolo with a mean set of mutton chops.

Western wear began to fade in the 90s. It became campy, and the bolo became something that only John Travolta in Pulp Fiction or your middle-aged, definitely uncool Uncle that played in that local country cover band wore. The bolo had returned to its roots—a simple, regional symbol of the American Southwest.

But like most things in fashion, if you leave them dormant for long enough, they’ll come back. The bolo is no exception, and over the past eight years, they’ve been showing up around notable necks, including Macklemore, Bruno Mars, and Johnny Depp. In 2020, Nick Jonas, Quavo, and Dylan Sprouse have led a younger generation of bolo wearers—though they’ve swapped the turquoise gems for Prada.

Prada isn’t the only major fashion house to be in the loop on the resurgence of bolo ties—Yves Saint Laurent and Versace have also added them to their catalogs.

We prefer more traditional western bolo ties over the big fashion contemporary versions. But, either way, it’s safe to say the bolo is back, and adding one to your style is as simple as swapping your necktie for a string tie.

HOW TO WEAR A BOLO TIE IN THE 2020s

One of the things that we love about the bolo tie is that it’s versatile—more so than a traditional men’s necktie. You can dress it up, dress it down, and everything in between.

So, how do you wear one if you never have before? These are some of our favorite ways to rock the bolo tie.

Full Business Suit
The traditional way to wear a bolo tie is to dress it up with a suit and collared shirt. All you’re doing here is swapping the necktie for the bolo. You can wear a narrow or wide-collared shirt if your bolo has a large clasp but stick with a narrow-collar for smaller bolos.

As for the tie itself, you’ve got two options—button your shirt up and tighten the clasp to the top, or undo the top button of your shirt and wear the clasp just below the opening (around the 2nd or 3rd button). The higher the clasp, the dressier the look.

As for color, any color suit with a white shirt works well. Mike, from Beardbrand rocks them with a navy suit (pictured below), and we love how Brett McKay over at Art of Manliness pulls it together with a dark grey suit.

Man with a mustache wearing a navy suit, white oxford shirt, and bolo tie.

Business Casual
Stick with a collared shirt and suit jacket or blazer, but swap the trousers for dark denim. Keep the top button on your shirt undone and wear the clasp loosened to the third button. We love this look with dark, muted earth tones like dark greens, greys, and browns. One of our favorite bolo looks is Colin Farrell in season 2 of the HBO series, True Detective.

Denim Jacket
Swap the blazer for a denim jacket. Keep the collared shirt unbuttoned at the top and loosen the bolo clasp, so it sits around the 3rd button of your shirt. Pair with dark indigo or black jeans and cowboy or similar western heeled boots for a mix of contemporary style and cowboy ruggedness.

Man with mustache wearing a denim jacket, white oxford shirt, and bolo tie.

Wear it loose
You can dress a bolo tie down and make it more casual by sliding the clasp down near the bottom of the cord and wearing it like a necklace. This style is more polarizing, but we’ve seen it work. Try it with an unbuttoned short sleeve layered on top of a white tank top.

A FEW TIPS ON WEARING BOLO TIES

Match the cord to your belt and shoes
Just like you match your belt and watch band to your shoes, your bolo tie cord should match as well. If you’re wearing black boots and a black belt, go with a bolo that has a black cord. The same goes for brown. You do have a little more leeway with cords in other colors, like tan or red.

Match metals
When it comes to jewelry, you want to match metals—keep silver with silver and gold with gold. So, if your watch and wedding band are silver, you want to go with a bolo tie that has silver cord tips and a silver clasp.

Avoid sneakers and shorts
Bolo ties and sneakers don't pair well. Stick with a good pair of western-style boots or good dress shoes, and you’ll be fine. And since we’re sticking with boots and shoes, this means shorts are out too.

Don’t overdo it on the western wear
Unless you’re all in on the urban cowboy look, a good rule of thumb for western wear is to keep it to two or three pieces. Other pieces of western wear include cowboy boots, cowboy hats, western-style pearl snap shirts, giant belt buckles, fringe, and other similar cowboy influenced attire. If you’re wearing a bolo tie and cowboy boots, you’ve probably got enough western wear on.

WHERE TO BUY BOLO TIES

The question of where to find bolo ties becomes easier to answer the further west you go in the United States. It can be more challenging to find bolos if you’re living on the east coast. However, you can still get lucky from time-to-time if you know where to look.

Vintage and thrift stores
People often inherit bolo ties from their grandfathers, and if they don’t want them, they tend to end up in second-hand stores. Even if you aren’t in the southwest, vintage and thrift stores can be a great place to find old bolos. That said, the quality you find in these stores will vary greatly. We’ve seen cheap vintage store bolo ties made out of string and wood and vintage pieces of jewelry that sell for hundreds and thousands of dollars.

Native American Artisans and Jewelers
Native American silversmiths invented bolo ties, and Native American artisans and jewelers still make some of the most beautiful pieces you can buy. If you are in the southwest, you can often find Native American jewelry stores that sell good quality and affordable bolo ties. You can also find artisans and silversmiths that make custom pieces, which is always a great way to go if you can swing it.

Online
There are plenty of online jewelry stores that sell bolo ties. You can also find quite a few that people are selling on Etsy and eBay. However, it can be hard to know what kind of quality you’re getting with these, so do as much research as you can to find out if the quality matches the price.

How much should you pay?
Bolo ties range in price from a few bucks at a thrift store to thousand dollars pieces handcrafted from precious metals and stones. If you are just dipping your toes into bolos, you should expect to pay between $30 and $120 for a good quality, nice looking tie—which is right around the range of what you would expect to pay for a necktie.

Finding a bolo tie that speaks to you
One of the coolest things about bolo ties is that there is such a wide variety in shape and style. With neckties, you're limited to color and thickness, and maybe fabric. But with bolos, you can find ones that reflect your personality—whether that’s the shape of your home state, a symbol that has significance to you, or a gemstone that fits your vibe. Plus, finding one that you genuinely like will motivate you to wear it.

If you’re unsure where to start, a simple, oval-shaped clasp with a black onyx stone can be a solid first bolo tie—and it won’t break the bank. Wear it with a black suit for your next black-tie affair and turn heads.

Of course, If you can’t find a bolo tie that you like, you can always make your own. All you need is an item with a flat back, such as a coin, stone, or pendant. You can order braided cords, cord tips, and slides online and assemble it yourself, as shown in this video from Rocky Mountain Western.

Lastly, wearing a bolo tie all comes down to confidence. Like anything, if you’re feeling unsure about it, skip it. That said, we think you should at least try one on—you might be surprised.

Want to talk about bolo ties, or need some grooming and style advice? Shoot us a message at [email protected], or Text "STYLE" to 512-879-3297 for a free personalized consultation. We’ll be happy to help you out.

YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY

THE BEARDBRAND GUIDE TO MEN'S HAT STYLES
From fedoras to cowboy hats, we breakdown how to pull off headwear in this guide.

MEN’S STYLE GUIDE: 12 TIPS TO TAKE IT TO THE ULTIMATE LEVEL
Everything you need to know to tighten up your style game.

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO MULLETS
If you’re bold enough to rock a bolo tie, you’re bold enough to rock a mullet.

TL;DR

Western wear is back in a big way, including the bolo tie. Here are a few of our favorite ways to rock the cowboy necktie.

  1. Full Business Suit - The traditional way to wear a bolo tie is with a suit and collared shirt. All you’re doing is swapping the necktie for the bolo. Wear it with the clasp all the way up for a dressy look or slightly loose for the afterparty.
  2. Business Casual - Stick with a collared shirt and suit jacket or blazer, but swap the trousers for dark denim. Keep the top button on your shirt undone and wear the clasp loosened to the third button.
  3. Denim Jacket - Swap the blazer for a light-wash denim jacket. Keep the collared shirt unbuttoned at the top and loosen the bolo clasp, so it sits around the 3rd button of your shirt.
  4. Like a necklace - You can dress a bolo tie down and make it more casual by sliding the clasp down near the bottom of the cord and wearing it like a necklace. Try it with an unbuttoned short sleeve layered on top of a white tank top.

Want to talk about bolo ties, or need some grooming and style advice? Shoot us a message at [email protected], or Text "STYLE" to 512-879-3297 for a free personalized consultation. We’ll be happy to help you out.

Shop now

Our mission is to make men awesome through amazing content and class leading products. Take time to invest in yourself and treat yourself to some great Beardbrand products.

Eric Bandholz, Founder