What is the proper way to wear a bow tie & wingtip collar shirt?

Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images

When dressing for a formal occasion, men have a choice of two styles of shirt collar to go with a dinner jacket. The turndown collar creates a simple, versatile and understated look, but the winged collar adds an element of traditional elegance.

Some traditionalists claim that winged collars should be restricted to white-tie events, but in practice winged collars and black bow ties are a popular combination.

The shirt

A number of factors go into choosing a short for formal wear. Should the front of the short be pleated? Will it fasten with studs or buttons? When it comes to collars, even winged collars show some variation. Tall separate winged collars were once the standard; these were gradually replaced by soft turndown collars. Modern, attached winged collars were reintroduced in the 1960s and remain more popular in the US than in Britain. The key is to find the collar shape that suits your neck and face. Full-faced men may not benefit from a high winged collar, while a low winged collar won't suit a man with a long neck.

The tie

The bow tie that accompanies the winged collar shirt should be black; the fabric ought to match the lapels of the jacket. Pre-tied bow ties are convenient, but don't look as good as a properly tied bow tie. The irregularity of a hand-tied bow actually improves its appearance in comparison to the sterile precision of a pre-tied tie. Some men may find the challenge of tying the tie daunting; in actuality, tying a bow tie is much like tying any other bow. Those who aren't confident tying a bow underneath their own chins can practice by tying it around a leg beforehand.

Wing position

One of the most common questions about wearing a bow tie with a winged collar concerns the location of the wings in relation to the tie. Once the tie is tied, the two wings of the collar should sit behind the tie. The natural stiffness of the collar will mean that the wings press gently against the back of the bow tie, keeping it in place. The wings should not protrude above the tie; if this happens, it may mean that the tie is too loose.


Although it is a classic look, the combination of winged collar and bow tie is not the only option for evening wear. Turndown collars give a relaxed, understated look to a dinner jacket, and some fashion authorities prefer them. More controversial is the introduction of ties other than the traditional bow tie. While some men have begun to wear four-in-hand ties, this innovation has yet to be generally accepted; the traditional bow tie remains the standard.