John Carlson: Bolos Are Ties That Bind

Gotta wear a tie? Bolo’s the way to golo. Photo by: Nancy CarlsonGotta wear a tie? Bolo’s the way to golo. Photo by: Nancy Carlson

By: John Carlson—

If it’s true, as some say, that you are what you wear, then at heart I am a square-dance caller.

It’s not that I like square dancing. I don’t. Like most guys, when it comes to any form of dancing, if I were given the choice of doing that or pulling out my own toenails with pliers, I would really have to think about it.

But I do have this odd fascination with bolo ties. Those ties being so down-home and countrified, yet showy and decorative, it seems square-dance callers get to wear them all the time.

My fascination was renewed when Nancy discovered a box left unpacked from our move a couple years ago. Inside it were my two bolo ties. They are made of black braided leather, with silver doo-dads attached to their ends. The slide on one is shiny metal with an eagle’s head in silhouette; the other looks more artsy, kind of like a porcelain domino in which the markings have tumbled to the bottom.

Both, for lack of a better word, are beautiful.

However, my first thought upon seeing them wasn’t, “Hooray! My beautiful bolo ties are back!”

It was, “Hooray! Now at parties when my tie dangles in the chip dip while I’m reaching across the serving table for some more cocktail wieners, simply pulling it through the wide gap between my lower front teeth in a flossing motion will scrape the dip into my mouth and nobody will be the wiser!”

That’ll only work with a bolo, which is a good reason to wear them.

Another? Bolo ties also make great tourniquets. This is why you seldom hear of rookie square dancers bleeding to death out in the barn during hoedowns after suffering compound fractures trying to perform their first allemande lefts.

Beyond all this, the thing I like most about bolo ties is what they say about the wearer, that being: I am NOT some uptight conformist who worries about what the rest of the fashion world thinks.

Not about neckwear, anyway.

Sure, there is undoubtedly a segment of the fashion establishment that equates bolos with bozos. But I’d argue they’re for cool bozos.

Tying regular ties, after all, is a literal lesson in jumping through hoops, or at least poking fabric through hoops. To tie a regular tie is to follow the crowd, to accede to convention, to pay homage to The Man. This despite the fact the knots always come out too big or too small. That or the tie’s front part ends up short as a baby’s bib, or long enough to get snagged in your zipper, so you always have to tie it again.

And for what?

To make you feel like some kind of “classy dresser”? I’ve got news for you, dude. You want a classy dresser?

That was The Lone Ranger.

And one more thing. What other notable group of uptight people who think they are the proverbial cat’s meow are also regular tie wearers?

Politicians, that’s who.

Anymore that word rolls off the tongue like an epithet. But that’s mostly because they have no sense of adventure in neckwear anymore!  When Santa Ana was breaking down the door at the Alamo, Jim Bowie didn’t holler, “Give me a minute, general! I’m right in the middle of tying a Windsor knot!”

No. He threw on a bolo and grabbed his Bowie knife!

Of course, then he got killed.

The point is this. It seems to me that bolo tie wearers have always been your truest Americans, the folks who make this country great, the quiet people who believe action speaks louder than words. It seems pretty obvious, therefore, that if Congress were run by bolo tie wearers, there’d be far fewer pissy partisan political spats.

Admittedly, the bolo boys being your more hard-core sort of fellows, there would probably be a lot more eye-gouging, ear-biting and testicle kicking. Or eye-biting, ear-kicking and testicle-gouging. For that matter, it’s conceivable there could even be more eye-kicking, ear-gouging and testicle-biting.

Guess that’d be OK, though.

But I have a confession to make. Despite owning two bolo ties, I have rarely worn one outside my house. Wear a regular tie long enough, and it can be a hard habit to break. Or maybe I thought real bolo tie wearers would laugh at me, thinking, “Ha! That citified little chunk-butt? He’s nowhere near cool enough to be a bolo tie guy.”

But no more.

After careful consideration, from here on out I’m casting my lot with the bolo tie guys. Including, of course, all those intrepid square-dance callers who, at least in terms of neckwear, definitely have the right idea.


A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.