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Dear Mr. Smith: Are bow ties really coming back?

I didn't believe it myself at first, either. I saw them last year on runways and in fashion magazines, then I saw youthful gay guys in the fashion industry wearing them, and I said, "This will never catch on."

The few straight hipsters I saw wearing them were doing it ironically, sometimes with a pre-tied bow tie hanging unclipped, to one side of the collar, like a sideshow magician on a smoke break, and I hated it. (I hate ironic dressing generally.) But in the past few weeks I've noticed bow ties surfacing in display cases at even business-oriented men's stores, and the odd dapper salesman in a mall flashing past in narrow jacket, jeans and genuinely tied, non-ironic butterfly knot. So I admit I may have been wrong: The fussy, 19th-century look may soon float down from the lofty heights of designers' apartments to an actual boardroom near you.

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Bow ties are tricky. They carry strong connotations: conservative, newspaperman, high-school principal. They are instant signs of nerddom in Hollywood movies. They look fastidious but not exactly sexy. I like them.

But I find that when I try them on, I don't look like the hip 23-year-old salesmen in Paul Smith jackets and Fidelity jeans. I look like a bachelor English teacher taking his niece out for tea. I experimented with it at brunch in a restaurant last weekend: I was wearing jeans, a tweedy blue sports jacket and a navy silk bow tie. I tried to catch the eye of a beautiful young woman when she entered. She looked right through me and over to the young guys in jeans and T-shirts. I was invisible to her in that tie.

But perhaps the context was a problem. I can see going to some dressy masculine event - I don't know, a Scotch tasting - in a sombre dark wool suit and bow tie, and being taken seriously. But that's just an old-fashioned look, not the height of contemporary fashion. The new bow tie is worn with more of a mix of clothes - black Prada jackets, skinny trousers, high boots. If you are going to wear it, it's best to pair it with some flashy item to show that you're not just a really square guy.

You can view the complete archive of Ask Mr. Smith questions by going to Russell Smith's online advisory service,

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