Bolo Tie History, Styling and Care
A Brief History
Legend has it that a fellow by the name of Victor Cedarstaff of Wickenburg, AZ ‘invented’ the bolo (or bola) tie in the late 1940s. “Wary of losing his silver-trimmed hatband, he slipped it around his neck.” His buddy teased him that it was a “fine lookin’ tie” & ol’ Vic was off to the races. A metalsmith himself, Cedarstaff even patented his own slide.
That’s the story I find most often on the internet... While I can believe Cedarstaff was instrumental in popularizing the accessory, at the end of the day (and after a lot of reading) it seems no one knows for absolute sure.
We also know Indigenous Americans were using a shell or metal slide to fasten bandanas around the neck prior to the slender leather cord now associated with bolos. Indigenous Americans are also inextricably linked to the fine artistry and silversmithing associated with bolo ties through the years to today. The “classic” sterling silver tips I offer are made by indigenous artisans in New Mexico.
All of that said, I'm not a historian. While I find bolos to be a "style of the Southwest" currently shared by more than one group of people, it is up to you to decide if it's a style for you.
Bolos have enjoyed popularity in a variety of decades and fashion movements:
- Western/southwestern styles (1940s–present day)
- Rockabilly (1950s U.K.)
- New wavers (late 1970s–early 1980s)
- Broad appeal in the 1980s (Ducky! Springsteen! Swayze! Heck, my 9-year-old-self even sported one once.)
- Hipsters of the 20-teens (to today?)
One thing I believe deep in my heart: fashion is the bits and pieces, but style is which you choose and what you do with it. Anything can "work", and I find that folks who choose to "go bolo" have a bit of an independent streak. They know themselves well and enjoy expressing themselves through how they dress.
For a casual look, wear your bolo loosened up, hitting a few inches below the clavicle. This styling works well for masculine and feminine looks, as well as with almost any neckline: collared, t-shirt, v-neck, tank.
To wear a bolo in the classic style (as a necktie), button the shirt all the up to the neck, then pull the ornament up to sit over the shirt's top button (or close to).
To style your bolo as more of a classic pendant necklace (versus a necktie), adjust the bolo ornament almost all the way down to the tips. Leave 1-2 inches between the bottom of the ornament and the top of the tips. Personally, I love this style and find it easy to wear with most of my closet. The pendant look also works well layered among several other necklaces of varying lengths, or over / under a scarf.
Take the bolo back to its (potential) roots, and style it as a hatband! Katie Kismet bolos with double-ring backs were specifically designed to be adapted into hatbands. See visuals and more ideas for your Lariat/ Hatband here.
Hatband Style 1: Bolo Style
Open your bolo cord so that the loop (that you would put over your head) is large enough to set over the crown of the hat, then tighten to secure. This style tends to work best with the ornament at the back of the hat and the cord and tips hanging out over the brim.
Hatband Style 2: Crossover Style
Open the clasp's two rings enough to slide the tips completely out of the clasp, then thread them back through with each tip entering from the opposite side. (They should cross each other through the clasp.) Loosen it enough to set it over the crown of the hat, then tighten to secure. For this style, the ornament is usually on the side of the hat. Get creative! Can you double the tips back through the clasp to make a bow? This approach can also be used to make a choker or wrist wrap.
Anatomy of a Bolo
Bolo ties are essentially an adjustable necktie / necklace. They consist of:
This is the decorative focus of the bolo. Mine are made of glass, but traditionally these are made of turquoise or other natural stones set in metal.
Tips are usually a metal cone shape that complements the style and materials in the ornament. For some metalsmiths, the tips are another opportunity for fanciful detail, but Katie Kismet tips are intentionally minimalist.
Bolo tie cord is traditionally thin leather. Katie Kismet uses minimalist smooth leather cord as well as non-leather alternatives on some styles (cork, elastic cord, chain).
The clasp is the piece behind the ornament through which the cord is threaded. It enables the ornament to slide up and down the cord, yet is also able to tighten once the ornament is in place.
Storage & Care
To keep your bolo cord looking its best, store it with the glass ornament pulled up (so the loop is smaller than your neck), and lying flat or hanging. Leather and cork cord can 'tan' with long term exposure to sunlight, so keep it in a space protected from daily sun.
Tips can tarnish... When not wearing your bolo, store it in a low-oxygen environment. The small plastic bag with an anti-tarnish tab that may have come with your bolo is meant to hold (just) the tips. Slide them in then seal as much as you can, around the cord. Tips can be polished with silver cloth, microfiber, or other soft, nonabrasive cloth.
Glass can be scratched by other hard items, so store your bolo tie in a protected environment. If you travel with your bolo, keep it protected by laying it flat within clothes. To clean the glass, wipe with any soft cloth.
Know Your Katie Kismet Bolo
Katie Kismet bolos feature three tip styles:
- Classic tips: Cone shapes with ball ends (sterling silver)
- Modern Katie Kismet tips: Cylindrical shapes with slanted ends (sterling silver or brass)
- Spike charms: These tips dangle and have a feminine-leaning look (silver plate)
Katie Kismet cords default to 38 inches long (about 39 inches with tips), but a person over 6 feet tall (1.8m) may want a 40-42 inch cord. I'm happy to custom cut cord for your bolo, just make a note at check out.
I'm *also* happy to make cord shorter, which would be appropriate for folks of smaller stature, including children and PETS! Measure the intended wearer using a tape measure, shoelace, or string, then note the desired length at checkout.
Natural leather is meant to age over time and will develop its own character. When not wearing your bolo, loosen the back clasp or pull the ornament high on the loop to avoid crimp marks in unwanted places.
Cork is amazing! It's more eco-friendly and sustainable than leather, yet is just as durable, wears like leather, and, of course, it's vegan. Cork's non-linear cellular structure makes it resistant to scratches, cracks, and water penetration.
Three clasp types can be found on Katie Kismet bolos:
Used on heavier ornaments, the tension back is sturdy and easy to use. It is not, however, the ideal clasp for adapting a bolo into a hatband.
While the idea of this back is not new, I refined the design to best suit Katie Kismet pieces. The wire is malleable enough to adjust, yet firm enough to hold the cord in place securely once set. The double-ring clasp is designed to allow for maximum adaptability, whether bolo, hatband, choker, wrist wrap... See styling ideas here. Most glass pieces can have the existing bolo back or ring band replaced with this back. Read more about this option here.
Bennett clasps have a lever that, when closed in a "down" position, holds the bolo ornament in place. Flip it up to adjust and to store. This clasp does not allow for adapting your bolo into a hatband.