Tied up in knots

'ARE THERE ANY CIRCUMSTANCES in which a man can wear a bow tie and not look an utter prat?' was my editor's query, betraying in his phrasing the strong feelings and grave misgivings that bow ties can cause. The answer to his question is a heavily qualified 'perhaps'.

Perhaps, if you were Frank Sinatra or Peter Crawford during their rat-pack prime. Just possibly, if you are a Cuban grandee, sitting on your balcony in tropical whites, mojito in hand. Maybe, if you're an old-school boxing referee or bookie. Under these implausible circumstances, you might pull it off. But most men in bow ties look like closet deviants or moustache-twirling cads.

The occasional sporting of a bow tie with business dress is wacky - and not in a good way. File alongside red-rimmed glasses and South Park socks. Consider your workplace to verify this. The guy in the bow tie is the bore no one wants to be stuck in the stationery room with.

The habitual wearing of a bow tie with business dress, on the other hand, is a matter for Chief Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's psychologist. We won't go there.

Ahlaia Yung, designer of the ultra-suave Missing Socks label, says: 'Usually a guy will look silly in a bow tie. I don't wear them myself, and while I design clothes that are luxuriously cut, I don't envisage anyone wearing a bow tie with them. If you are going to wear one, you'd better have lots of natural character. The guy I envisage looking great in a bow tie is an older gentleman, with a shock of white hair, who doesn't care about fashion.'

For most of us, the only time we'll wear a bow tie (best-man duties aside) is with a dinner jacket. Refusing to do so when asked is an elementary faux pas - even P.Diddy (left) does it. An open-necked dress shirt is acceptable at the following morning's recovery party, not at dinner. Tie-less modes of evening dress (such as the collarless dress shirt, fixed with a prominent gold stud) belong at suburban rugby club dinners or annual gatherings of Amway agents.

Ethnic dress may present acceptable alternatives,

but it had better be an ethnicity with which you have a living connection. Black mandarin jackets may have

been an innovation on the ball circuit five years ago,

but they are now overdone. Balls are starting to resemble plenary sessions of the North Korean politburo, or the Dr No fan club.

For evening dress, black is the only colour (well, white occasionally) for a bow tie. Maroon, scarlet, blue, green or gold variations are cringe-worthy insults to good taste. Joke bow ties, especially ones involving flashing lights, are babe repellent.

And of course, bow ties must be hand-tied. Ask an older male relative to show you how. In fact, one of the few times a man wearing a bow tie doesn't look a prat is when he deftly knots it before the mirror.