- Associated Press - Sunday, February 14, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - It has been a style choice of superstars and politicians, with singing cowboy Roy Rogers, rapping “Thrift Shop” customer Macklemore and former President Ronald Reagan among the famous faces - or rather, necks - known to boast one.

For such a simple, distinctly Western adornment, the bolo tie - a length of braided leather or cord decorated with metal tips and fastened with an ornamental clasp or slide - has become not only a fashion accessory with international appeal but also a clever canvas for many skilled artists.

“They do pop up in interesting places,” said Chicago collector Norman Sandfield, whose collection consists of more than 1,000 bolo ties, scarf slides and ephemera. “If nothing else, they’re beautiful works of art that you can wear.”

The Oklahoman (https://bit.ly/1O5fHLI ) reports that about 370 bolo ties and materials associated with them are being featured at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in “Native American Bolo Ties: Vintage and Contemporary Artistry,” a traveling exhibition organized by Sandfield and the Heard Museum in Phoenix. While showcasing a wide variety of bolo ties, the exhibit also explores the history of the singularly Western adornment.

“It’s a perfect fit for our institution because so many people equate the bolo tie with cowboys, and yet many people don’t realize that most bolo ties are made by Native Americans, skilled American Indian jewelers, primarily from the Southwest,” said Steven Karr, National Cowboy Museum president and CEO.

“The bolo tie is so much a part of the culture of the American West, particularly (in) places like Oklahoma, like Texas, like New Mexico and Arizona and parts of California. …It is a shared cultural attribute among not just Native Americans but also Anglo-Americans and Hispanic Americans.

“It is really one of those things that binds the West together. And so many people wear them, but they don’t know the history behind them.”

Bolo ties first made the fashion scene in the 1940s, derived from the slide necklaces of the Victorian era and the scarf slides favored by cowboys and later by Boy Scouts.

“There were some Victorian-era jewelry accessories that really look very similar to the bolo tie and actually hung a bit lower,” said Eric Singleton, the National Cowboy Museum’s curator of ethnology, the field of anthropology dealing with the comparative study of cultures. “It wasn’t really until the 1940s that you see kind of that same ornament rise up and become an official kind of neckwear, which was kind of counter to the traditional element of the suit. It was a little bit more relaxed and I think. .really embraced Western style more.”

The exact origins of bolo ties are shrouded in myth and mystery. In the 1940s, Victor Cedarstaff, of Wickenburg, Arizona, claimed to have invented the bolo, and in the ‘50s, he patented his design. Legend has it he was out riding his horse one day when he dropped his cowboy hat in the mud. Afraid he would get his silver-trimmed hatband dirty, he slung it around his neck, prompting a pal to comment “nice tie you got there, Vic,” and inspiring him to create the bolo.

“The real story is probably more complicated,” Sandfield said. “Like a lot of objects. …the first ones were made and sold without catalogs, without advertising, without hallmarks. The best we can date the earliest pieces to is around 1947.”

But the accessory clearly caught on: It has since become the official neckwear of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Gov. Mary Fallin has officially proclaimed “Bolo Tie Days” in Oklahoma through May in honor of the exhibit.

The exhibit includes silver and turquoise examples made by artists of the Hopi, Navajo and other Southwestern tribes, intricately beaded pieces in the Lakota style of the Great Plains and animal symbols carved from fossilized walrus ivory or whale bone by Alaskan and Inupiat artisans. The designs range from relatively small and simple slides to ornately carved clasps almost as big as belt buckles.

“There are a wide variety of bolo ties, the vast majority created by Native Americans, but there are bolo ties that were created all over the world,” Singleton said. “This is an art form that you’re able to actually wear. And it expresses not only, I think, your personal West, but it kind of shows off your own personality as well.”

The bolo tie has made its mark on fashion many times since its conception. The most recent resurgence took place in 2014, when various designers added bolos to their runway collections, Johnny Depp sported them on red carpets, San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers made them his go-to postgame neckwear, and both Bruno Mars and Macklemore wore them to the Grammy Awards.

The distinctive neck pieces periodically pop up in pop culture: Macklemore also made a bolo one of his economical fashion choices in his 2012 “Thrift Shop” music video. Roy Rogers (1973’s “In the Sweet By and By”), Bruce Springsteen (1987’s “Tunnel of Love”) and Oklahoman Toby Keith (1993’s “Toby Keith”) have all donned bolos for album covers. In the movies, Clint Eastwood sexily slipped one on to play an Arizona deputy in the 1968 crime-thriller “Coogan’s Bluff,” John Cryer’s Duckie made bolos the ultimate in geek-chic in the 1986 cult favorite “Pretty in Pink,” and Efron Ramirez’s Mexican exchange student Pedro Sanchez used them to drum up votes in his class presidential bid in the 2004 comedy “Napoleon Dynamite.”

The bolo tie’s appeal isn’t confined to the United States. The exhibit features striking examples created in Mexico, Peru, Denmark and Japan, as well as a photograph of British Teddy Boys dancing in their snazzy suits and bolo ties at a London rock ‘n’ roll revival show in 1972.

“Western history, Western mythology, I think is something that the world is captivated by, particularly in Japan, in Europe,” Singleton said.

A bolo tie is a simple, stylish way to add Western flair to a suit or dress up a button-down shirt without the formality - and constriction - of a necktie. They are as varied in sizes, colors and designs as the more traditional neckties, and like their cloth counterparts, can be worn by women as well as men.

“It’s tied more to men, but women wear them, too,” Sandfield said. “I see a lot of women who are wearing bolo ties.”

Since they are less common than neckties, the collector said bolo ties often attract attention.

“You have to have confidence to wear them,” he said. “It’s a conversation starter.”

A bolo tie also can be an accessory that says a lot about the person who wears it.

“The tie, in some respects, tells us much about the individual, and bolo ties are no different,” Karr said. “It’s a window into people’s personalities in many respects.”


Information from: The Oklahoman, https://www.newsok.com

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