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From Boleadora to Bolo: The Evolution of the Western Tie


Though the necktie triumphs at fashion shows and business meetings, the Wild West holds its own through the ever-present bolo tie. This Western tie gets its name from the Spanish word boleadora, a type of Argentine lariat. Made of weights attached to the ends of cords, the boleadora’s resemblance to what eventually evolved into the bolo tie probably inspired the name.

The story of the construction of the first bolo tie begins with a horse ride. As silversmith Victor Cedarstaff was riding along in Arizona, his hat blew off. Because of the top-quality silver hatband he wore, Cedarstaff was not keen on letting that happen again. He slipped the hatband around his neck and continued riding. Later, a friend’s comment about his “nice-looking tie” started an idea that eventually led to a patented neck slide design. Some argue that a similar idea had been around since the early 1800’s, but the point is clear. This Western tie is here to stay.

The bolo tie has some pretty strong supporters. United States President Jimmy Carter often wore a bolo tie. Several state governors have as well. The ease of sliding it on and off certainly shortcuts the hassle of taking time to tie a tie. As well, the somewhat retro and definitely Western fashion of the bolo tie certainly demands attention. Other famous bolo tie wearers include Brandon Flowers of The Killers and Bruce Springsteen. Whether in politics and pop culture, the bolo tie makes its presence felt.

The bolo tie is not monopolized by the United States, however. In the United Kingdom, it is called a bootlace tie. Lacking the Wild West subculture, bootlace ties don’t make as strong of an appearance in UK fashion; however, the 1950’s-era band The Teddy Boys was known for their Western ties. They also wore a drape suit (zoot suit) to round out their wardrobe’s fashion explosion. Recent sightings of bolo ties in the UK have dropped, however, leaving this tie its predominately Western flavor.

Because of the original silver styling of the tie clasp, American Indian silversmiths have adopted the bolo tie as one of their trademark products. Particularly among the Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni people, bolo tie slides and tips have settled into traditions since the tie's inception. The braided leather, rope, or cord that forms the tie is often tipped by their work. These tips, called aglets or aiguillettes, are styled to match the slide. The whole look keeps a rustic Western feel while maintaining an acceptable fashion standard. This blend of statement and standard has stayed on ever since the first bolo. In fact, in 1971, the state of Arizona adopted the bolo tie as its official neckwear. After a non-binding measure in 1987, New Mexico followed suit (or tie, perhaps) on March 13, 2007. Governor Bill Richardson (a political bolo tie figurehead) signed the full measure into law. The official state tie of New Mexico is now the bolo tie. We suppose that Western types, grandfathers, and counterculture-supporting rock stars rejoiced worldwide. The bolo tie remains an omnipresent fashion force. In the right to wear yarn, the United States leads out with the bolo tie.

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