The bow tie guys: ISU students look to bring back the ‘classic’ bow tie trend

Sam Kammermeier, senior in nutritional science, and AJ Tjaden, junior in international business and marketing, display their bow ties on Wednesday, Oct. 22, at the Delta Upsilon fraternity house.

Kenzi Mongar

From flying pigs to polka dot patterns, the bow tie is making a comeback.

ISU students Aj Tjaden and Sam Kammermeier collectively have more than 50 bow ties. They can be seen two or three times a week sporting them around their necks on campus. Their uncommon fashion accessory has given them the nickname “the bow tie guys.”

Kammermeier, senior in nutritional science, had his own bow tie business during the summer. The business, Better Men Bow Ties, made just less than $500 in one month. He learned to sew for the purpose of making his own bow ties, which he sold for $15 each.

“I realized that was a lot of work. I was taking a lot of time to make bow ties that weren’t the best quality, so I stopped sewing them and started buying them,” Kammermeier said.

He registered his business and was able to purchase bow ties wholesale, but then he began an internship and didn’t have the time to do it anymore. 

Kammermeier and Tjaden met when they noticed each other wearing bow ties all of the time.

“Any guy that wears a bow tie can tell you it’s sort of an odd thing to wear, so when you see someone wearing a bow tie it’s like an instant connection,” Kammermeier said. 

Tjaden, junior in marketing, said his bow tie hobby was sparked in college when his friends brought back bow ties from their study abroad trips for him. Kammermeier started the hobby in high school at his prom because he wanted to be the unique kid with the bow tie.

The majority of Tjaden’s bow ties include patterns such as stripes, paisley and polka dots. He also likes collecting bow ties from different parts of the world. He has bow ties from London, China and Spain.

He calls one special tie his “late night bow tie.” It has four different sides of blue, orange, pink and green stripes.

“At night…I’ll switch the colors and see if anyone notices,” Tjaden said.  

In addition to his patterned bow ties, Kammermeier likes to collect conversational bow ties. A bow tie that makes a statement, similar to the one he was wearing at the time of the interview, which featured flying pigs.

The two prefer wearing bow ties to neck ties because bow ties are less intimidating and more laid back. The fun patterns on bow ties are hard to pull off with neck ties. Patterns on neck ties could look overwhelming and ridiculous, but they said bow ties can get away with patterns because they’re small. 

Their signature style has received a lot of attention. When people ask them why they wear bow ties, they ask the question, “Why not?” And when they’re seen wearing a regular neck tie, a rare occasion, friends ask, “What’s wrong?”

A good friend of theirs, Matt Brueggen, senior in finance, also wears bow ties as a unique accessory for different events.

And if there is a formal dinner, bow ties are the king, Kammermeier said.

“You’re not the guy who’s going to tuck it [the tie] into his shirt or flip it over his shoulder,” he said. 

Over the past few years, bow ties have become more mainstream and popular with the younger crowd, Brueggen said.

“It’s classic looking and something that’s more rare like actually knowing how to tie one,” he said.

The bow tie guys used YouTube videos in order to learn to tie the neckwear. It can seem difficult and usually takes around an hour to master, but once learned, bow ties can be easier to tie than a windsor knot, Kammermeier said.

Each bow tie in their collection has a background meaning. Tjaden’s favorite bow tie is from Vern Hawkins, the previous assistant director of enrollment services at Iowa State.

Hawkins retired after 40 years at Iowa State, and on his last day gave Tjaden his rare and old Iowa State bow tie. Tjaden won’t lend it out to many people, except for Jeff Johnson, president of the Alumni Association, who asked him to borrow it. 

Hawkins knew Tjaden would appreciate the bow tie and take good care of it, Tjaden said.

They can also be helpful during interviews, Kammermeier said. In one interview he spent 15 minutes just talking about bow ties.

“In an interview, how do you want to be remembered?” Tjaden asked. “As the seven other guys who wore ties? Or that one guy with a bow tie.”

People sometimes get nervous to wear them for no reason, but you’ll always get compliments for wearing one the first time, they said. 

“It’s more fun, but I think if you’re going to wear one just be ready to answer why you’re wearing one,” Kammermeier said.

Many people will ask that question, because it’s a unique accessory.

Everyone wears a tie, so be adventurous, Tjaden said.

“Yeah,” Kammermeier said. “Choose your adventure.”