Bow Ties and Other Signatures

A good signature starts a conversation, not ends it.

Posted Sep 09, 2011

Wearing a bow tie is a statement. Almost an act of defiance. - Rick Kaplan

I was surfing around this morning and found several websites devoted to well-known men who wear bow ties, from Aaron Beck and George Will to Pee Wee Herman and Donald Duck.

I started thinking about bow ties and what they might mean. My thesis is that they are a signature. If everyone wore a bow tie, it would not be special to do so one's self. Moreover, signatures are fun, and they are harmless, even if they result in being teased. Indeed, being teased, at least in a good-natured way*, is probably proof positive that one has successfully achieved a signature.

So, do you have a signature that represents harmless fun? You probably do, and I encourage you to enjoy it even more than you already do.

Maybe it is your argyle socks, or your turquoise jewelry, or the feather in your hair. And although I am too old for tattoos, I assume that these are signatures as well among those of a younger generation so inclined.

A signature is not just something you do with your appearance, although appearance signatures are of course common. It could be a personal interest or passion that you make obvious to others, like crossword puzzles, or the Oakland Raiders, or NPR. Maybe your signature is the ringtone on your cell phone. Maybe it is the imported car you drive or the Smurfs lunchbox you carry to work.  Maybe you have a bicycle built for two or a pet lizard. I assume you don't ride the bicycle with the lizard, although that would be quite a signature if the two of you could pull it off.

When I go to my local gym, I use the same combination lock I first acquired in 1964 when I began high school . Someone next to me in the locker room who is doing the "don't look directly at the naked guy" thing may see the lock and comment on it, because it does not look like today's locks, even those made by the same company. It is always fun to chatter away for a few minutes about my antique lock and about high school in a bye gone era. The next time we see each other, we talk about other things.

My combination lock has become a signature of sorts, at least in the locker room, and I hope to have it forever. Maybe it can be used to lock up my casket someday as I go off to the ultimate workout.

Signatures require some caution. Sometimes they are simply weird and an obvious affectation, the only purpose of which is to attract attention. These can backfire when they attract too much attention.

From years ago, I remember a student who wore shorts year round, 365 days a year. Mind you, this was in Ann Arbor, MI, which has a real winter, meaning  temperatures often below freezing and snow that accumulates. He had a rationale for why he wore shorts which he told everyone who asked, and everyone did, at least in the winter and at least the first time someone met him. But I don't remember his rationale. I also don't remember his name or what he was studying. I just remember the shorts. Whatever his real purpose in wearing shorts year round might have been, I think it was not achieved, unless it was to be "that guy" who wore shorts year round but to leave no other impression.

A good signature, besides being fun, starts a conversation, not ends it. It allows someone to learn that you are interesting, and not just because of your signature.

*Political pundit Tucker Carlson reportedly stopped wearing his signature bow tie after Jon Stewart made fun of him on a television show for doing so.