The bow tie is passé in contemporary fashion in anything but a formal setting but its use was far more flexible in the "Jazz Age" of the 1920s. In this period the bow tie was used in both "black tie" and "white tie" formals, but was more popular in conjunction with casual outfits such as V-neck sweaters and oxford bags.
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"Black tie" is now synonymous with stodgy formality, but as Anne McEvoy notes in her guide to the 1920s and 30s "white tie" events were considered more formal than "black tie" events. For "white tie" events men wore "a black tailcoat and dress trousers with a white vest, a starched white shirt with a wing collar, and a white bow tie." For less formal "black tie" occasions men wore a black dinner jacket with a white dress shirt and a black bow tie.
Many men who returned home from World War I found a closet full of old clothes from the previous decade. As a result, slight alterations to suits and bow ties were made to add a fresh look for the 20s. For instance, the Black Tie Guide states that "minor fashion developments, that applied to both informal and formal evening dress in the twenties, included bolder wings on shirt collars and wider bow ties."
Although formal wear has changed very little since the 1920s, casual outfits have seen more significant changes. For instance according to the Men's Fashion Guide bow ties were worn on "fashionable sporting events," in conjunction with linen knickers, a V-necked sweater and classic spectator shoes.
Bow ties were worn in the 1920s to complement oxford bags, which the Men's Fashion Guide states were "wide-legged cuff trousers that dragged along the ground." This style was often used during yachting trips, where men wore a navy sport coat, white slacks, and yachting cap.
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