There are a number of timeless looks one expects to see at the Conservative Political Action Conference: pearl earrings, Rand Paul stickers, Lily Pulitzer, and stars and stripes. But bow ties are an unexpectedly ubiquitous presence among male young conservative wearing a uniform of chinos and a navy blue, brass buttoned blazer. At CPAC on Thursday, they adorned the necks of many a rosy-cheeked wonk.
Tucker Carlson, the conservative pundit and founder of the Daily Caller, was one of the most cited bow tie influences among young CPAC attendees, but The Imaginative Conservative points to Winston Churchill and George Will — who spoke at CPAC Thursday — as other champions.
But Carlson dumped the look, telling the Daily Caller last year that it was the reason people “despised” him. To be truly cutting-edge, Carlson said, wear white gloves. None have been spotted yet. And not everyone is on board with the idea. Kevin Williams, a journalist and director of the film Fear of a Black Republican, said that he would never wear a bow tie in a million years, despite their growth in popularity.
“I went to Joseph A. Bank last night because I forgot to bring a tie, and they’re selling bow ties for like $80,” Williams said.
Dominic Barceleau, 20, caused a stir early this morning by pairing his red, white, and blue bow tie with a pair of Star Spangled Banner shorts, despite the freezing weather.
“It’s more of a classic style statement. You know bow ties, they go way back,” Barceleau, a political science and legal studies major at Franciscan University, said. “Conservative political movements are more sticking with principled political statements and bow ties coincide with that.” Barceleau is at CPAC for his second year and is looking forward to listening to Rand Paul and Dr. Ben Carson deliver their remarks.
Clutching a swag bag emblazoned with “Liber-ties,” Levi Gourdie, 20, is "the guy you talk to if you wanna know about bow ties."
“Usually it’s just the libertarians that [wear bow ties]. I’ve never seen the conservative movement do it, but it’s cool," Gourdie, a sophomore at Butler University, said. “I like them because they stand out a lot, and it’s also more of a practical thing, when I’m eating it doesn’t dip into my food. But they’ve definitely distinctive and I like them a lot.”
Gourdie is at CPAC representing Turning Point USA, a youth movement for the free market. I told him about the guys wearing bow ties for their "classy" connotations.
“Something tells me they’re probably in a fraternity,” Gourdie said.
The Southern Gentleman
Chandler Lasser, 19, wore a bow tie and matching pocket square bedecked with the GOP elephant.
“It’s a long-standing southern tradition for men to wear bow ties,” Lasser said.
The University of South Carolina business management student bought his bow tie from Butler's Fine Men's Clothing in Florence, South Carolina, but insists that tradition trumps political identity in his decision to wear it.
Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation and on the board of directors for the ACU, claims he started the trend.
“I’ve worn a bow tie now for about 30 years, I’ve done it for a long period of time. It’s become a trademark,” Gottlieb said.
“A lot of the young men here are wearing bow ties, a lot of them are doing it and copying me because I started the trend 30 years ago. So it’s been sort of fun to watch myself in the mirror but with people who have hair now that I don’t.”
Asked why he is wearing a bow tie, Frank Beach, 17, simply said, "Because I look amazing in it." Beach, who is homeschooled in Forest Junction, Wisconsin, got his first bow tie for Christmas and brought four with him to CPAC. Once he started buying them, he never stopped.
“It’s my new style, I just started it this year,” Beach said. “I have 10 bow ties at home and I’m going to get some suspenders to go with it.”
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.