Along the wall at Chelsea hot spot Avenue one recent late-winter evening, a nattily dressed man stood with a cocktail in hand and a vague, far-off look in his eyes—the look of someone standing alone at a party trying very hard not to look like he is standing alone at a party. Thankfully, his gaze soon caught on another nattily dressed man squeezing through the crowd. The man was holding something in his hands.
“Bow ties!” exclaimed the first man, yelling to be heard over the loud music.
“I don’t know how to tie them!” shouted the second man.
“Neither do I!” the first man replied, with obvious delight at their shared sartorial shortcoming.
Evidently, the men had received some assistance earlier that night, as they—like everyone else in the room—were wearing jaunty silken knots at their throats.
Despite the abundance of bow ties (and several pairs of suspenders), it was immediately clear that The Observer was not at a conference of Southern lawyers or college Republicans. Rachel Dratch was reclining on a banquette in an electric blue dress, a little checkered number covering her clavicle, and ridiculously good-looking men and women were roaming the room with trays of ties lashed to their bow-tie-adorned necks.
Instead, it was a celebration for Tie the Knot’s spring bow tie collection, a line of 20 specialty ties designed by Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson and his fiancé Justin Mikita, who founded Tie the Knot to raise funds for gay and lesbian civil rights. The real purpose of the $25 ties, fashionable though they were, was to support marriage equality. Helping badly dressed men is a secondary, though no less noble, goal of the nonprofit. That explains why the couple has not extended their line to ascots or bolos.
We found Mr. Ferguson in the center of the room, swarmed by well-wishers greeting him with hugs, their ties pressing against his as they cooed congratulations. We checked out his neckwear as we ducked in for a quick chat: a burgundy beauty patterned with little owls that complemented his checked blue shirt.
Mr. Ferguson confessed that the tie was not his favorite, even though the owl, being both wise and cute, is Tie the Knot’s signature print.
“It’s a green feathered bow tie custom-made for me by [Project Runway contestant] Viktor Luna,” Mr. Ferguson said of his favorite, adding that he is also partial to the Isaac Mizrahi-designed tie in this year’s collection—a black, pink and gray plaid.
Was looking good an important part of advocacy, we wondered?
“Have you been to Washington, D.C.?” Mr. Ferguson quipped, then turned serious. “It’s great to look good, but it’s most important to get your voice heard. There are a lot of people who are way smarter than me who are very sloppy dressers. And we still appreciate them.”
We spotted nary a sloppy dresser at Avenue, though a few iconoclasts had shunned the bow tie, opting either for the common necktie or leaving their necks awkwardly exposed—an everyday sight rendered temporarily strange, like the freshly shaven chin of a bearded friend. The Observer was, sadly, among the bow-tie-less. We had missed the memo, as had comedian David Cross. At least everyone had the chance to be try out the look, thanks to bow ties on sticks, with which guests posed for gag shots.
And indeed, bow ties have a way of growing on a person. At least so says Greg Shugar, founder of The Tie Bar, the company that makes all of Tie the Knot’s bow ties.
Mr. Shugar, then an attorney and bow tie aficionado, started The Tie Bar with his wife in 2004 because he felt that his beloved ties should, and could, cost less money. (The Tie The Knot collection is priced at $25, but Tie Bar’s other ties run $15, less than half the cost of a department-store bow tie.) Before Mr. Shugar knew it, he was a former attorney and a full-time bow tie manufacturer.
“I stopped practicing in 2005,” Mr. Shugar explained. “It was clear that my eyes were on bow ties and not on the law. My boss saw that and canned me.”
“Bow ties are so much fun,” he continued, sipping his cosmo reflectively. “It’s like, you’re not the nerdy guy on CNN anymore. You’re the cool guy who walks through Brooklyn in skinny jeans. It’s just a great time to be in the neckwear industry.”
* An earlier version of this story misstated the price of The Tie Bar’s average ties as $25. It is $15. The Observer regrets the error.