By LANDON WOODROOF
If anyone was meant to write a book called “The Bow Tie Bible,” that person is Chuck Blackburn.
An inveterate, ardent aficionado of the bow tie, and a loquacious, engaging conversationalist, Blackburn is the man you would want to get bow tie advice from.
Blackburn will likely share some of his deep knowledge about his favorite clothing article at the Rotary Club of Brentwood’s noon meeting on Feb. 17, where he is the featured speaker.
Of course, then again, he may not. He doesn’t like to over-prepare for such things, and if the mood strikes him Blackburn may venture into some other intriguing digression about, for instance, the correct way to eat a banana (hold the stem, peel the other end), which in turn could lead to a diverting tangent about proper shoe-tying techniques (square knots are the way to go). It’s just the way his mind works, although there is method behind Blackburn’s wandering flights of fancy.
“Most people never think about these things,” he says in a phone interview in advance of Friday’s Rotary meeting. “I started talking about those things because it gets people to think and open their minds.”
And open minds are important. Whether it’s bow ties or bananas or, one gets the sense, anything, Blackburn believes a message is most powerfully conveyed if it is suggested and not crammed down people’s throats.
“[People] don’t like being preached to,” he says. “They like to make their own decisions.”
Yet, what decisions they make! Long ties, for instance. Blackburn is certain that if people could see them for what they were, long ties would soon be about as much a part of your average person’s attire as pantaloons.
“The reason most men don’t wear ties at all is because the only tie they know about is a long tie,” Blackburn says. “It’s not practical. It’s uncomfortable. It gets in the way. It’s unsanitary. It’s expensive. It doesn’t last that long. And it really has no purpose.”
The only reason long ties ever became so popular, Blackburn maintains, is because big business saw you could fit more dollar signs in something that slung all the way down a person’s front rather than something that just tied neatly around the neck.
“As soon as the neckwear industry realized that they made twice as much money on long ties as they would ever make on bow ties” the game was up, Blackburn says. No matter their long list of odious qualities, long ties won the day.
But it doesn’t have to be this way forever, Blackburn argues. Hence “The Bow Tie Bible.” If people could only see the error of their ways and repent from their long-tie-wearing, then they could lead more comfortable, better-looking, cleaner, even more meaningful, lives.
“After a person reads it, they’ll never wear a long tie again if they read it in earnest,” he says.
The problem is, most folks just don’t know any better.
Blackburn worked in the men’s clothing world for a number of years and saw firsthand how blinkered people’s perceptions were when it came to bow ties.
“Only one percent of men knew how to tie a bow tie, and that’s because about 99 percent of men didn’t know how to wear a bow tie so that it looked good,” he says.
One very common problem is that men didn’t know the proper size bow tie to get. A too-big tie can make you look like you’re half-way to putting a red nose on your face and heading over to the circus.
“It doesn’t fit your face if it’s bigger than your eye sockets or wider than your neck,” Blackburn cautions.
People also don’t realize how easy it is to tie a bow tie.
“It’s the easiest thing in the world to tie if you know how, but most people don’t take the half-hour it takes to get proficient at it,” he says.
For all of, as Blackburn sees it, bow ties’ practical advantages over long ties, however, there are other, deeper reasons he favors bow ties. Reasons that have to do with fundamental issues of identity. Blackburn doesn’t just prefer bow ties, he feels a personal connectedness to them.
“I’m a great believer in the bow tie,” he says. “I think it’s a matter of style and individuality. I’m a non-conformist, and I believe most great things came from non-conformists.”
Blackburn is confident there are other non-conformists out there, too, who will be receptive to his message.
“Bow ties are not a religion, but we do have a Bible,” he says. “It says that bow ties are not just a fashion option. They’re a lifestyle statement of individuality and confidence.”
Chuck Blackburn has been married to Rep. Marsha Blackburn for more than 40 years and has been a member of the Rotary Club of Brentwood for over 30 years. Despite his long tenure with the organization, this will be Blackburn’s first time addressing the Rotary Club of Brentwood. He will do so Friday at noon at the FiftyForward Martin Center.