I started my research full of hope. Ready to uncover the past of the bolo tie. And why it’s found under the collar of so many queers.
I tried every search term I could think of.
Shocked at how difficult it was to find an answer, the American history was vague and mysterious. It’s queer connection even more cryptic.
So we will start with what I did find, and get to the surprises later…
3 Contentious Origins
The unsettling part is it’s American history. Like many other things, it appears it may have been stolen from those native to the land.
Its origins appear to be torn between three stories:
The bolos origins date back to the early 1900s, in the Western United States.
Functioning as a scarf slide, Zuni, Hopi and Navajo tribes of the Southweststring fastened the bandanas often worn around their necks with string, then shell-like structure.
Also functioning as jewelry, silver bolo slides inlaid with turquoise were created by the tribe's beautiful silversmiths.
Native American Silver Eagle Bolo Slide
Around the same time, a silversmith in Arizona, Victor Cedarstaff, almost lost his hat while chasing wild horses. Inspired to add a turquoise stone as an adjustable clasp to his hatband, to keep his hat securely on his head.
A compliment on the hat tie he sometimes wore around his neck, spurred him to finish the look by adding silver tips to the braided leather cord to keep it from fraying.
Making it official, he filed a patent for his “SLIDE FOR A NECKTIE”. A whole line of what he called ‘Bolas’ was born, the name taken from the boleaderos used by Argentinian cowboys.
Which brings us to the bolos third, more menacing, less glamorous past….
Dating back to the 1800’s, Gauchos were those Argentinean cowboys, the inspiration behind Cedarstaff’s hat tie naming.
Their boleaderos were often “braided leather cords with wooden balls or small leather sacks full of stones at the ends”.
The hunters, surviving mainly off beef, sported bolas around necks of their ponchos, used them to capture cattle.
Despite their intentions to kill, some were made with ivory and covered in precious metals and were considered works of art, putting them back into accessory territory.
Boleadoras By Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum
The Bolo Can’t Help But Be an Accessory
While many pictures can be found, even the co-author of a book on bolos, Diana Pardue, said there was little written about them.
With exact origins uncertain, we do know its emergence in the American Southwest served as a practical and artistic medium for southwestern Native Americans and silversmiths.
But curiously, not shortly after, the bolo found itself across the other side of the world.
Cross Continental Divide
Just to complicate the history, in come the Teddy Boys from Europe. A subculture popular with London teens in the 1950’s.
Calling it the ‘bootlace tie’, it was part of their classic ensemble, inspired by the Edwardian era.
Even though this was not long after the bolos creation, it is unlikely they can receive any recognition for a simultaneous creation.
Often featuring Native American designs, their version only really differed in name and cording material (a shoelace instead of leather, possibly due to their shoestring budget?!)
The bolos journey overseas is curious, but played a part in the imitation of an aristocratic lifestyle by post WWII British teens whose fashion was limited by poverty.
Teddy Boy Wearing a Bootlace Tie
The Bolos Resurgence
The bolo tie made its comeback in the 80’s in a big way. Spurred by a resurgence of cowboy culture, seen in movies like Urban Cowboy and Heavens Gate.
Country stars were crossing over into mainstream pop.
Galloping Back into Fashion
Bolo ties finished the look of Levis wearers sporting Stetson hats, cowboy boots, large belt buckles and bandanas.
Style icons like Eddie Rabbit, Crystal Gayle and Juice Newton (country pop stars) were blazing a path for bolos debut back into pop culture.
Rock n roll bad boys like Bon Jovi and Bruce Spingsteen asserted their influence.
New wave artists were rocking them in MTV music videos.
Even businessmen and politicians in the Southwest were wearing bolo ties to work in lieu of traditional neckties.
Which brings us to the bolos entrance into politics...
A Politicians Secret Weapon
The bolo makes another appearance as a weapon, although this time, not so grim.
Bolos became so big that politicians began to pander to voters by sporting the classic style.
According to the Washington Post, Bill Richarson, New Mexico Governor hoped to win over Sunbelt voters by signing a bill making the bolo tie the states’ official neckwear.
Despite trying to sway the vote, he wasn’t alone in this endeavor. New Mexico is one of three states that recognizes the bolo tie as the official state neckwear, along with Arizona and Texas.
The bolos association with stuffy politicians, however, wasn’t a deterrent for being adopted by yet another community....
The Queer Connection
It was possibly the 80’s when the bolo also seeped it’s way into gay culture.
Not shy to adopt the aesthetic, it was a perfect complement to leather chaps imo.
But what about for queer women?
Uncovering the Truth
This connection was the tricky part.
Remember when I said the past was difficult to unravel?
I found very little hard evidence to say what makes the bolo so queer.
It wasn't just my imagination that the bolo is a form of flagging (using dress to indicate sexuality, in this case queerness), the bolo came up in several queer fashion blogs.
But it spoke more of the “dyke” or lesbian sterotype.
Westerns are for Women too
It’s still perhaps the lingering effects of 80’s cowboy culture...
IG fashion blogger Katie Gill-Harrison of @dykedigital, recently told Teen Vogue why Westerns still resonate with a lesbian audience:
“the sexualisation of the ‘cowgirl’ in publications like Playboy and films like The Outlaw, mak[e] it ripe for queer women to reclaim.”
Bolos, along with western belts and sequined cowboy hats, make the cut in her carefully curated account looking to “counter the lesbian sterotype of masculine dress”.
Dyke Digital Exploring Westerns in a “modern, nongendered way”
The bolo tie makes it’s way into the lesbian sterotype in ‘Not Your Mothers Lesbians’ by Kara Bolonik of The L Word Online blog.
“Just turn on the television and you’ll see [lesbians] decked out in fanny packs, tool belts, Birkenstocks, ear cuffs, and bolo ties”
The fact that Kara is looking to prove to the rest of the world that “not all lesbians wear bolo ties and Birkenstocks”, is evidence to me of their frequent occurrence in lesbian fashion.
Lord Violet’s PRAIRIE QUEER Bolo Tie Necklace
Then, on the other hand, we have queer fashion blogs giving the advice, that yes, throw a bolo tie under your collared shirt!
According to Qwear, the bolo is the answer to having what author Sean calls TOP-BUTTON SWAG.
I like it.
Call it what you want to call it though, my personal fav: collar bling.
Deemed less scandalous than a women wearing a tie, and more unisex and androgynous than masculine-coded attire, the bolo saves the day again.
The ideal neckwear if you “button the collar button of a shirt...especially for anything dressy” (5).
So my take away from this…
The frequency of which the collared shirt makes its appearance into the wardrobe of queers is enough to justify an accessory to adorn it. That accessory being the bolo.
Now for the bolo strangest entry into fashion.
Odd Findings Along the Trail
So the connection to prison I mentioned?
There’s no way to know if it’s true.
But the tale is, prisoners were executed by hanging. Occasionally the execution would fail when rope would break.
Since a second execution was against custom at the time, the offender was granted to live, but wore the piece of rope around his neck.
How this instigated the popularity of bolos ties is beyond me.
But where are they now?
The Bolo Rides off into the Sunset
That brings us to present day, where they have maintained their popularity.
Most recently surfacing on the necks of Bruno Mars, Snoop Dog, and my favorite, Orville Peck.
I have to admit, I was first smitten by his style, and more recently his music.
Bolos even made it into Pradas most recent collection of mens accessories.
BOLOS ARE EVERYWHERE!
I hope you found their resilience inspiring. They are one accessory that does not give up.
If you are feeling inspired to add one to your wardrobe, let Lord Violet’s selection of bolo ties help you out ;)
I hope you learnt a thing or two about the bolo, I know that I did. From its origins with Native American tribes, Cowboy Silversmiths and Argentinean hunters, it’s made a remarkable journey across the world and through time.
My favorite part of the research is coming across gems like @dykedigitals IG account. If you aren’t familiar, you gotta check out its incredible lesbian western fashion shoots.
As always, thanks for being here with me as I explore the new found world of blogging. Like I have mentioned, it’s a new challenge but the knowledge and info I come across is inspiring.
Please comment below with what you liked about this blog post, your questions, and how I can improve.
- https://www.thelwordonline.com/not_your_mothers_lesbians.shtml- But while the boys have been having circuit parties and doing ecstasy and poppers,” she says, laughing, “we’ve been having potlucks and making warm and nutritious foods.”