Screw Novelty Ties! Bolo Ties are the Trendy Accessory for 2012

I'm going to be completely honest - I have not always been a fan of bolo ties. Worn only by the elderly and with traditional western clothing, bolo ties came to mean "Retired Texan" in my mind.

My perception has changed after my latest visit to Tokyo. I always like buying accessories in Japan since they typically gain popularity there before becoming hits elsewhere (which makes me ahead of the trend curve in the States), so I stopped by a bunch of shops in Shibuya and Harajuku to hunt for some new additions to my collection. Bolo ties WERE EVERYWHERE.

While bolo ties are traditionally worn by men (at least in the States), the ties I saw in Japan were all in shops selling women's accessories, and most of the people wearing the ties out on the streets were female.

So it looks like Tokyo-based fashionistas are putting a whole new spin on the bolo tie! Let's have a closer look at the accessory and this recent development.

A very traditional bolo tie made with braided leather. Note the sterling silver aguillettes and dinosaur bone inlay on the decorative slide.
A very traditional bolo tie made with braided leather. Note the sterling silver aguillettes and dinosaur bone inlay on the decorative slide. | Source

What is a Bolo Tie?

A bolo tie forms the same purpose of a necktie, and is meant to serve as a decoration around the collar of a button-up shirt. Bolo ties are also known as shoestring ties, bola ties, and bootlace ties (in the UK).

Bolo ties are made up of three basic components:

  • A cord or piece of braided leather
  • Decorative metal tips (also known as aiguillettes or aglets for short) at the ends of the cord
  • A clasp or slide

A Navajo clasp on a braided leather bola tie
A Navajo clasp on a braided leather bola tie | Source

The Origins and History of the Bolo Tie

To better understand the bolo tie in a contemporary context, let's have a look at where it came from.

Bolo ties have origins in the American West (where folks are too darn rugged for cravats, bowties, and neckies, dagnabbit!!). Elements of the bolo tie (e.g. the silver tips and clasps) have origins in various Native American styles- particularly those from Navajo, Zuni, and Hopi tribes and their silversmithing methods and styles. Bolo / bola ties' names are derived from the word boleadora, which is an Argentine lariat.

Though some say that the bolo tie existed as early as the 1860s, a silversmith named Victor Cederstaff was the first to patent bola ties' slide design (in the 1940s) and also claims to have invented them. Apparently the tie was adapted from a silver-trimmed hatband that Cederstaff tied around his neck on a windy day (to keep from losing it).

During the 1950s, bolo ties were adopted as a must-have accessory for Teddy Boys and were typically worn with drape suits. In 1971, the bolo tie was named the official neckwear of Arizona, and in the '80s, shoestring neckties became incorporated into the Rockabilly look. Bola ties saw renewed popularity in 1988 and a bit in the early '90s, but have been (until now) mostly relegated to niche enthusiasts and Americans going for the Western look.

Bolo Ties as an Accessory for Women

Though bolo ties are traditionally worn like normal ties- around the collar of a button up shirt, it looks like the modern iteration of shoestring ties can be worn as a simple necklace instead!

I think it's much easier to rock a bola tie as a necklace if you're a girl, since girls are already free of the traditional preconceptions surrounding the accessory... and it would just look really weird to see a dude wearing a bolo tie as a choker or necklace.

That said, girls can also wear shoestring ties as ties- around blouses or even turtle necks- if they please. I saw people do it both ways in Tokyo.

Neat Embellishments

One of the reasons why I think bolo ties caught in in Japan is that they offer so much room for creativity. I saw a huge variation in the sorts of clasps and slides and can totally see the similarity between shoestring ties and other addictive collectable accessories like charm bracelets.

Some common clasp styles I saw included letters, initials, and skulls, though in the States, you're more likely to see Native American-influenced patterns.

What's your bolo tie status?

Do you have a bolo tie?

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Have fun with them!

If you have some bolo ties tucked away in a drawer, now is the time to break them out! If you're a gal and never wore bolo tie before, consider nabbing some old favorites from your grandfather / dad / uncle / brother / husband! Nabbed accessories are infinitely more fun to wear.

I'm very curious to see if their popularity spreads from Japan to other areas of the world, including non-Western-style cities.

Only time will tell!

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Comments 11 comments

FloraBreenRobison profile image

FloraBreenRobison 5 years ago

I've never seen a woman wear one. I have these on tv when country singers where them.


Hyphenbird profile image

Hyphenbird 5 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

Well, I suppose what goes around comes back by way of Japan. Who woulda thunk it? They are cute but I wouldn't wear one. I am not an accessory or jewelry type of girl. Except my pearls. I love pearls. Maybe I can find a pearl bolo? Gotta go!


livelonger profile image

livelonger 5 years ago from San Francisco

I vaguely remember these being popular for a short while in the late 80s or early 90s. Of course, they never went out style for old men and women in the Southwest (as you say, "the Retired Texan"). Interesting that they've caught on in Japan. I have my doubts that they'll become a hit here, but let's be honest, stranger things have happened and I'm not exactly the biggest fashion aficionado. :)


leroy64 profile image

leroy64 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas (Oak Cliff)

There are too many bad memories from my childhood associated with bolo ties. You can wear them if you want to; but, I will skip this if it becomes a trend. To be fair, I don't like ties of any kind.


Attikos profile image

Attikos 5 years ago from East Cackalacky

I think I still have one somewhere around here, but it may have a Scout slide on it. If they become de rigeur, perhaps I could get away with it, though.


Movie Master profile image

Movie Master 5 years ago from United Kingdom

Hi Simone, these sound like a great fashion accessory for the ladies, I want one!


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

I used to be in the same camp as you, FloraBreenRobison! And then I saw them everywhere in Japan. I'm really curious to see whether or not that was just a locationally-fenced-in fluke!

Hahaa, you're so classy Hyphenbird!

Stranger things indeed have happened, livelonger, though I agree that it'll be much harder for bolo ties to catch on in the States than it is in Japan, since they have so much more of a legacy here.

That's a darn shame, leroy64! I an see why one wouldn't be huge on ties altogether, though. They are, after all, not at all practical, unless one wants to make some sort of statement.

You'll have to see which ones you might have on hand Attikos! Even if you don't think you would want to wear it, you might find some other folks who would love to borrow yours!

I'm glad you feel that way, Movie Master! It was really fun to see the new take they had on the old look in Japan- with more modern cords and clasps. I think this could be a really fun feminine accessory!


Angie 4 years ago

I have a couple of bolo ties that I made years ago, but have put away.

I'd be happy to wear them again, and make some new ones too.

Was actually thinking to make some for my on-line shop, and that's

how I happened to find your blog, I hope you're right :)


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 4 years ago from San Francisco Author

That's way cool, Angie! Here's hoping the trend spreads :D


Sabrian 3 years ago

This is for Susan, who wrote to me asking about liltte dogs with thinner collars and other sizes.Hi Susan!For a thinner collar I would simply make the back sleeve piece a liltte shorter (still 3 wide, but maybe only 2.5 or 2.75 tall.) OR you could simply place the tie wrap higher and hand stitch it into place so it doesn't slip down. Loki's collar (shown) is only 1/2 wide, and most tiny collars are 3/8 wide. So really, it should be fine, especially if you make the tie a liltte smaller!For a smaller dog, I would reduce the scale of the pattern when you print it. Maybe start at 80% and start there.Unfortunately, my only models are 6 12 pounds, and the only big dogs I know would be too embarrassed to wear a tie :) My experience is that dogs who aren't dressed on a regular basis do not put up with it for very long. If it would be just for a picture, you could maybe figure out how tall the dog is from neck to shoulders and maybe figure 1/2 to 1/3 of that. Loki is about 12 tall and the tie is about 6 long. Just figure out the length you want and print it at a larger scale or enlarge it on a copy machine. So if the tie is 6.5 long, and you want it to be 9 long, then enlarge it about 140%.I hope that helps!Erin


Terri 3 years ago

Ashley Hennerich - She really got some great selmis out of Adlie. I love the baby jeans:) They're all so cute of her it is hard to pick a favorite, I'm looking forward to seeing all of them!

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