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What is it with the bow-tie?

Patient Eye

Jo Carlowe

Thursday, 10 September 2009

bow-tie.jpgYou see them at medical conferences and the offices of the Royal Colleges. They come in all colours and sizes and are occasionally crooked but always perky.

The consultant that I saw the other week was sporting one - it had polka dots on it. And I found it distracting, which was probably a good thing as it took my mind off the medical procedure itself.

There’s that part in the Hippocratic Oath that deems them acceptable: “If I fulfil this oath and do not violate it, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and art, and to unselfconsciously wear a bow-tie.”

The men at Tie Warehouse, a leading UK tie-retailer, recently revealed that demand for bow-ties has risen by 30%. This figure is staggering as it completely bucks current trends.

Last year the unwieldy sounding Men’s Dress Furnishing Association - representing tie-makers in the USA, announced it was to shut. Its membership had dropped to almost nothing because men preferred to be unencumbered, wanting instead to feel the breeze against their bare necks.

A Gallup Poll confirms the same - its newest figures show that the number of men wearing ties everyday has dropped to a record low of 6% down from 10% in 2002.

So how come Tie Warehouse can boast such good sells of bow ties? Well, a little probing reveals the answer. Most popular amongst its range are its medically themed bow ties, popular with…..yes, you’ve guessed it….doctors. Anecdotally, even younger doctors have been said to be switching from regular neckties to bow ties.

So as a patient, I’m left to ponder: why it is that the lesser-spotted bow-tie, rare in most social and professional circles, remains a mainstay of the medical fraternity?

The obvious answer is good hygiene. There have been several studies and a number of trusts producing guidelines around tie-usage, linking it to the spread of MRSA and other infections. Bow-ties are less obtrusive - they don’t dangle into things.

Bow- ties are also advantageous because, as patients, we’ve come to associate them with doctors and the positive attributes allied with that such as high social status, professionalism and seniority. You could argue that a bow-tie is a non-verbal way of saying: “I am a doctor, you can trust me.”

But while all these explanations may hold true, I rather suspect that there is something else going on here. Something that involves penetrating a little deeper into the psyche of the average bow-tie-clad medic.

We all know that doctors had to swot like crazy at medical school and work around the clock in their junior years. We know too, that the medical profession is a hierarchical business with rigid rules and few outlets for flamboyancy. And yet, I imagine, the system masks a whole community of eccentric dressers - men just waiting to let rip. The bow-tie is the vehicle through which this can happen.

Wearing a Bow-tie reveals the rebel within - it’s a way of saying: “I have earned my right to wear what I like. And this is what I like.”

Author's Image

Jo Carlowe

Jo Carlowe is a freelance journalist specialising in health and psychology. She writes for national newspapers including The Times, The Daily Mail, and The Observer and for specialist medical journals, health websites and women's magazines. When not working, she is a self-confessed scrabble nerd, a reluctant runner (one who is still waiting for that elusive runners' high) and a lover of live music, fine food and single malt whisky. She lives in London with her four-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter.
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