Wednesday, September 05, 2007

How To Make $2000 On A Weekend Selling Bowties

Kevin Greene begins every day the same way — standing in front of a mirror, collar popped, with a swath of silk around his neck.

He stares intently at his reflection.

The navy blue fabric, with red-and-white diagonal stripes, lies boldly against his white button-down shirt.

He crosses the ends, slips one end over and under the other, and pulls down firmly.

His fingers then begin a well-rehearsed dance with the silk strip — nimbly tying, tucking and tightening — until a shape begins to form.

Within minutes, he drops his hands to his sides and the deed is done.

A bow tie now perches below his chin.

Greene cocks his head slightly to the right and left, regarding his reflection.

Finally, he smiles.

“I can live with that,” he says.

While many men wouldn’t dare wear a bow tie outside a formal event, Greene has made and worn the unusual neckwear almost every day for more than 20 years.

“To me, it’s a signature,” he said. “[A person has] no choice but to think, ‘OK, that’s different.’”

Greene, 36, lives in Anniston with his wife, four daughters, and more than 100 bow ties. They moved to the city after Hurricane Katrina destroyed Greene’s water filtration business in New Orleans. He now works as an office manger for Verizon in Oxford.

“The way I see it, I’m your Verizon guy, but I still keep it sharp,” Greene said.

Greene’s fascination with the truncated neckwear began during his childhood in Charleston, S.C.

As Greene tells it, he and his friends would stand in the city market, watching doctors and lawyers bicycle to work in seersucker suits, straw hats and bow ties.

In their eyes, the sealed-with-a-bow-tie look became synonymous with professionalism and success.

Their youthful perceptions are not altogether surprising, considering the pristine reputation of the cravat — popularly held to be the bow tie’s European predecessor.

Even in 17th century France, the cravat was seen as a mark of skill and elegance, according to Farid Chenoune in “A History of Men’s Fashion.”

In 1830, the prolific French writer, Honore de Balzac, apparently took the matter so seriously he decided to write a treatise on ties. In that work, he made the bold statement, “La cravate c’est l’homme.” “The tie is the man.”

Clearly, the cravat-wearing aristocrats were not fooling around. They wanted to be taken seriously, and meant to say something with their neck decorations.

More than a century later, Greene and his friends embarked on a similar mission with the cravat’s diminutive relative.

The bow tie is a piece of fashion that senators and presidents have hung their reputations on.

“The bow tie is worn by men of distinction,” said Greene. “[People] see it. It is not the norm.”

Greene started making bow ties after taking a 10th-grade sewing class. He says he originally enrolled in the class because of all the girls.

But his teacher, Miss Moody, had other plans for him.

“She was like, ‘I know why you’re in here and it’s not going down like that. You are going to learn how to sew.’”

A faded picture that now stands in Greene’s home office proves Miss Moody right. In the picture, a teenage Greene smiles for the camera, wearing a maroon bow tie he sewed in her class.


At the time, Greene’s friends were still wearing regular ties, but that wouldn’t last long.

College brought bow ties to a new level in their lives. Greene said he and his friends wanted to live in a better apartment, but couldn’t afford the rent.

So, with his sister’s sewing machine, Greene began making bow ties for the masses.

He would spend hours researching patterns and materials.

“The main factor was finding the material,” he said. “We couldn’t just run to Wal-Mart, grab some fabric, and say ‘Let’s make some bow ties.’”

On weekends, Greene and his friends would tote their silk creations to Atlanta, where they would sell them to the city’s businessmen for $85 to $120 a bow tie.

Some weekends brought the young men up to $2,000.

“That’s how we paid the bills,” he said.

Travis Oliver, who was part of the college bow tie business, said Greene was instrumental to the whole enterprise.

“He was the nucleus behind everything,” said Oliver, who is now a real estate agent in Texas and also wears a bow tie every day.

Greene’s college crew — known collectively as “Charleston” by the rest of the campus — usually partnered their bow ties with plaid pants, Polo shirts and matching caps to create a hyper-preppy look.

Greene said the look defined their group because no one else dressed the same.

The Kennedy era had largely ushered out the hat and bow tie look for a sleeker long-tie appearance, according to GQ creative director Jim Moore. “It was like a line in the sand,” he said.

While the bow tie has waxed and waned in popularity, without ever becoming completely mainstream, its effect remains fairly constant.

If done right, it bestows an air of erudition and style on its wearer, Moore said.

“I just think that people who wear bowties have an inner-peacock that comes out when they [put them on],” he said.

And yet, even with the best of intentions, the bow tie can go disastrously wrong at any turn.

“People who try to pull off a bow tie, who don’t quite have the gusto, can be spotted from a mile away,” Moore said. “It takes a lot of guts. It takes a better man to wear a bow tie.”

When donning a bow tie, the line between regality and ridiculousness can be subtle.

Any look worn by both Winston Churchill and Pee Wee Herman can present difficulties for the average man.

Tying the bow tie

Part of the risk may be that the bow tie will inevitably be noticed — whether perfectly tied or sloppily fashioned — and an impression will be made accordingly.

Many men may not want to put up with the extra time and worry.

Even Greene has had difficulties shaping pure silk ties into an acceptable appearance.

“The one hundred percent silk ties are like a nightmare,” he said. “It’s so soft that when you try to tie it, it’s like playing with a wet noodle.”

While the bow tie may not be for the faint of fashion, when done right, it hangs like a sign of confidence around the wearer’s neck, Moore said.

“[They say] man’s best friend is his dog,” said Oliver, who now owns 387 bow ties. “My best friend is my bow tie…I just think that a bow tie defines the essence of a man.”

Greene, however, sees it the other way around.

“My view point is, it’s your character, it’s who you are, no matter what you’re wearing,” Greene said.

These days, the bow tie has become particularly popular among young people, who are wearing it with the collar of their polo shirts flipped up in a “prep meets punk” style, said Moore.

But when that look evaporates, as Moore predicts it most certainly will, the true bow tie wearers will still remain.

“I’m not a fad or trend person. If everyone is wearing backless shirts, I am not gong to be that cat wearing a backless shirt. I am a simple man,” Greene said. “There are some things that don’t go away.”

As Greene’s day begins with the tying of his bow tie, it ends with a loosening of the knot. The butterfly shape unravels between his fingers and once again becomes an unassuming strip of silk hanging loosely around his neck.

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