architects and bowties

Why do architects wear bowties?

Does an architect have to be famous to carry it off?

arne jacobsen

charles eames


It’s a jaunty yet dignified look. Are architects aware that the bowtie is…. well, theatrical.


It seems to be the architect’s exclamation mark! Don’t they realize it is best used sparingly?

le corbusier - earned his bowtie and spectacles


These are questions people may well ask – in a parallel universe in which people are curious about architects and take an interest in their work. As things stand in this world, even architects’ wives may care little about what architects wear or don’t wear.

But let’s imagine there are some people, somewhere, who are interested enough to question this phenomenon of the bowtie.

How would you answer them? Does the bowtie help us to ‘crack the code’ of architects and architecture?


Some observations.

1.       The usual and most plausible explanation for this profession’s attachment to the bowtie is that the bowtie is practical for the architect working at the drawing board:  it does not dangle over the drawings (or keyboard).


2.       Like distinctive spectacles, the bowtie is standard dress code for the Architect who has proven his/her design talent.


3.       Architects must earn their bowties (and spectacles, and mutton chops) in the way that people in the military must earn their stripes.

Architect: Sir Charles Barry

4.       Bowtie = Cultural Capital. Particularly ‘design’ capital.

See Bourdieu on cultural capital:

5.       An architect may be outstanding at documentation, but this talent, without design acumen, does not entitle them to the bowtie.

6. In fact the bowtie may signify entitlement. Architects’ wives may know that the bowtie announces the architect’s sense of entitlement.


7. If this is so, then the bowtie is the most ironic of all sartorial flourishes, given that architects, however ‘entitled’ they may feel, operate in a world that pays them little heed.

8.       When a building, constructed with considerable ‘modifications’ to the architect’s considered design scheme, eventually collapses, the architect’s bowtie says I told you so.

9.       The bowtie may be chosen by the architect who wishes to remind others that he/she is a highly trained ‘professional’. Some might feel the need to assert this when surrounded by builders, contractors, tradesmen, governmentbureaucrats and clients who do not value such professional training and qualifications.

10.   The donning of a bowtie often signals that an architect has at last achieved considerable recognition in their field. This is no small feat as architects are harsh critics of each other and may demonstrate enthusiasm only for little known architects in faraway lands and/or dead architects . See  “A jealousy of architects” at

The next post will consider the paradoxes that the architect’s bowtie embodies. For some interesting commentary on architects and their bowties check out this site:



2 responses to “architects and bowties

  1. I am obsessed frankly with this topic! mostly through
    the lens of architectural writer / critics having fallen in line with the paradigm! Guy Pierce Wilson, etc.

    i am humbly entering the foray, but anticipate some
    reception beyond what i have bargained for, owing
    to the fortuitous convergence of my subject and
    material. In other words, at some point I may be
    tempted [expected?] to wear the bowtie, in deference,
    I suppose to a tradition i revere, but feel i probably have not earned.

    My friends already know if they see it appear, that
    it means i have been paid, in one form or another.
    What a life…

    • Hmm no need to be humble nor feel that the wearing of the bowtie will be deemed presumptuous. As an architectural writer you are enabling the great architectural project of modernity (and beyond). You will be welcomed with open arms for helping to translate and explain, even through critique, architectural work. I recall meeting architectural critic – Henry Russell Hitchcock – at a brunch in Amherst Ma. some years ago and he wore a bowtie (yes- for brunch!) and pulled it off with casual aplomb.

      Elizabeth Grosz, philosopher, was regularly invited to conferences such as Architecture New York to speak about architecture, to be tough and present rigorous critique of architecture. Architects and the professional organizations representing them crave informed engagement and discourse.
      I think there’s nothing worse (for architects) than the great yawning indifference and ignorance of the public to their work, the invisibility of the ‘back-end’ , as it were, of the built environment. Architects must surely welcome attempts by intellectuals, philosophers, artists who seek to engage with their work.
      The bow tie is a perfect emblem of that interconnection between inside and outside that is architecture and architectural writing.

      “Architecture’s best-kept secret is that it is not only knowledge of form, but also a form of knowledge. Elizabeth Grosz’s Architecture from the Outside explores that secret, revealing key contemporary concepts and ideas and opening new routes for spatial research and invention.”–
      Bernard Tschumi, Dean, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, Columbia University
      From Google books, entry for Architecture from the Outside, Elizabeth Grosz.

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