What is it about bow ties and my coming of age in the 1980s? It's strange that many of the gentlemen who really made an impact on me back then wore bow ties. Probably my first exposure to bow ties was in high school watching George Will on Agronsky And Company. He appeared on the political pundit TV show in the late 70s through early the 80s and I remember being really impressed with his intellect and sense of humor.
Then there were the bow ties worn in the movies in those days. Professor of Archeology Dr. Henry Jones Jr. wore a spiffy tweed suit and bow tie combo in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Note that none of the Nazis were bow ties. Then there was Delta Tau Chi (ΔΤΧ) chapter president Robert Hoover who rocked the ultra-serious skinny bow tie at discipline hearings. Note that none of the Omega Theta Pi (ΩΘΠ) members wore bow ties. These guys wore bow ties and wore them before they were cool.
Before then, I thought that bow ties were symbols of old-fashioned corniness like those worn by Orville Redenbacher (or, God help us, Dr. C. Everette Coop) or of goofiness like those big ones worn by film critic Gene Shalit or of geekiness like those worn by Pee Wee Herman or Steve Irkel.
No. What a leather jacket was for Marlon Brando, a bow tie would be for me in the Age of Reagan. A bow tie was not for clowns or geeks but for someone wishing to go against the tide who had something to say. Maybe the key lies in when I was born. I'm a (borderline) Generation Xer. And, as such, I think I gravitated to the seriousness of the bow tie. The disillusionment of the Late 1970s didn't manifest itself in showy 'OWS' style rebellion. To us, life was not a frivilious, narcissicistic joke as it seemed to be for many of the Woodstock Generation. The worse the economy got, the more we seemed to gravitate to loafers and shetland sweaters.
Perhaps this is why Winston Churchill's bow tie seems so fitting. Robert Hardy's portrayal of Winston in the 1980's 'The Wilderness Years' accentuates my point because that BBC production dramatized the struggles of Churchill during the 30's leading up to World War Two. Churchill railed in vein against popular sentiment while standing alone with only his beliefs and that iconic polka dot bow tie for company in Parliment.
Then there was that curmudgeon of curmudgeons the great John Houseman of Paper Chase, Smith Barney, etc. fame. Maybe I was a geek. I was entralled by the powerful performances of John Houseman. This was a character that a cynical, conservative 17 year old could relate to! He refused to suffer fools lightly while never losing his sense of humor or humanity.
In years gone by, wearing a bow tie was for lone, gentlemanly rebels fighting for lost causes. Is it just a coincidence that bow ties resemble windmills?