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Bowing to tradition

It’s no exaggeration to say Coupeville resident Marshall Bronson is never without a bow tie.

“I wear one all day every day,” he said. “... when I’m working in the yard, crawling under the house, riding the tractor, painting ...”

He continues to name a few more instances before trailing off.

“Not when I’m sleeping,” he said. “That’d be a bit much.”

A peek inside the closet of the former town council member now turned port commissioner and you’ll find an overstuffed tie rack boasting at least 60 bow ties.

“They’re divine,” said Bronson’s wife, Jan.

Apparently she’s not the only one with that sentiment. In years of late, men’s clothing companies are reporting neck wear taking a retro approach with tie widths shrinking and bow ties popping up on necks young and old.

“When we began running the bed and breakfast I soon learned wearing a long tie was out of the question,” he said. “Neckties get in the way when you’re cooking and serving guests. That’s when I started putting on bow ties and haven’t gone back since.”

John Pendleton — along with his wife Kathleen — came to Oak Harbor five years ago from Maryland. He first picked up a bow tie in the late 1990s as a way to freshen his wardrobe.

“I wanted something new and a friend said, ‘Why not a bow tie?’”

At first, two bow ties joined his ensemble, and now his collection is around 20.

“You hardly ever find bow ties on sale and quality ones aren’t cheap,” Pendleton said. “That says a lot about them.”

The ties have become an unofficial branding of sorts for Pendleton and his photography business.

“It’s hard to get people to remember you,” he said, “but they always remember my bow tie.”

Coupeville resident William Thurman has long been ahead of the trend. He first wore bow ties in the 1950s. At that time he was just entering a career in pediatric medicine and the long-time necktie wearer made the switch out of unforgiving occupational necessity.

“When you’re treating sick children there’s often vomit and urine involved,” he said. “It doesn’t take long to figure out long neck ties are not the best things to wear when you’re a doctor.”

Now retired from active medical practice, Dr. Thurman instead travels the nation and world as a pediatric medicine education consultant to medical schools and facilities in the U.S. and Third World nations.

He’s still wearing bow ties — albeit with a collection greatly downsized from his more than 100 ties he once owned.

“As they wore out I haven’t replaced them,” Thurman said. “Now I have 35 to 40.”

Bronson and Pendleton covet the ties crafted by companies like Beau Ties Ltd. of Vermont, but with retail prices for quality bow ties hovering around $40 both prefer to hunt for their neckwear.

Last summer, Pendleton scored a major find: six bow ties at Island Thrift. It was a discovery that brought a somber thought.

“If you find at least three bow ties at the same time it means a noble man has passed away,” he said.

Pendleton said that men who wear bow ties are distinctly different from the average tie wearer.

“Men who wear a neck tie do so because they have to,” he said. “A man who wears a bow tie wears it because he wants to and it’s a part of who he is.”

Pendleton’s wife doesn’t share his affinity for bow ties.

“She hates them,” he said. “She says they’re too old-fashioned.”

Thurman’s wife Gabriel, however, supports his tie habit — but this admittingly conservative man who favors dark colors and simple patterns has yet to accept her tie suggestions.

“I like polka dots,” he said. “My wife thinks I should have more flowery ones.”

While he doesn’t plan to don a rosie tie any time soon, Thurman does cut loose and don the fuller “batwing” style of ties.

“They just have a real nice look,” he said.

Pendleton’s rules about his bow ties are few, too.

“I won’t wear cows or chickens or any novelty ties,” he said.

Bronson shares the conservative nature. His favorite tie is an M.C. Escher eye-catcher with fish in subdued hues.

“Someone gave me a Pucci tie once,” he said. “It was bright purple and white. It was a nice gift, but I couldn’t wear it.”

No matter what the pattern, it doesn’t seem like these bow tie wearers are going to convert back to long neck ties any time soon. It’s been so many years since Thurman has owned a traditional necktie that he was a little dumbfounded when needing one on a recent business trip.

“The bow tie I was wearing became ripped and all I could find in the airports to buy was a necktie,” he said. “I had to ask someone to help me because I couldn’t remember how to tie it.”

He’s not the only one making a connection.

“I’ve had women tell me how much my ties remind them of their father or grandfather,” Pendleton said, “and before you know it they’re up close to you straightening your tie.”

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