The Internet is good for something. I used it the other day to learn how to tie a bowtie.
I was going to an affair that required me to wear a tuxedo ... well, more precisely, it was "black tie optional," but I didn't want anyone to think I don't have my own tuxedo.
I do, actually. In fact I have a tuxedo coat, two pairs of tuxedo pants, and a few tuxedo shirts -- all purchased second-hand. My cummerbund, studs and tie were inherited, passed down from my father's uncle and used at different times in our lives by my brothers and me.
When I needed them the other day, however, the cummerbund and tie were nowhere to be found. I wear a tuxedo so infrequently that it's hard to remember where I've put the different parts when I need them.
Anyway, I had to borrow the cummerbund and tie from a neighbor. The tie, however, was not a clip-on but one that had to be tied. My friend's wife, in a fit of helpfulness, tied it for me, but unfortunately this was hours before the party and I was wearing a sweat shirt. Unless I could figure out a way to put on my tuxedo shirt under the tie, this wasn't going to work.
Instead, I decided to learn how to tie a bowtie and turned to the Internet for help. When I did a search for "how to tie a bowtie," I got nearly 4.5 million results. I decided to try the first one, a video demonstration.
I was encouraged by the fact that my video guide was an English twit. The English have been tying bowties for centuries, I reasoned, and they ought to know what they're doing.
Well, the technique, which included holding one end of the tie in your teeth while wrapping the other part around your thumb and then sticking the folded part through a loop ... let's just say, it might work for the English, but it didn't for me. The result was a balled-up mess hanging below my Adam's apple. It looked like my cat had tied it.
I tried the next site, another video demonstration. This time, the teacher was from Columbia, a good omen if ever there was one. This site had been judged a very popular link, and I soon found out why. There was, for starters, no putting the tie in your mouth.
The instructions were, in fact, the opposite of the Anglo-mumbo-jumbo I had just watched. They went something like this: "Pull down here; cross the ends over; make a bow; snap these two parts together; put this through here; tighten it up, and there you are!"
Quite amazingly, it worked. It took some practice, of course, but when I had done it a few times, it actually looked like a bowtie. The trick would be to make it work with the rest of the tuxedo.
I'm not sure who invented tuxedoes (probably the English), but they have to rank among the world's most awkward costumes. We are conditioned to think of them as elegant and flattering -- think James Bond off to play a little chemin de fer in Monaco.
But putting together all the bits and pieces is an absolute pain. It's not just the bowtie; it's also the studs, the cufflinks, the suspenders, the little thingy that attaches the cummerbund in the back.
If you want to dress up, what's wrong, may I ask, with khakis, loafers, a button-down shirt, a long tie and a blue blazer?
Anyway, I hauled out the tuxedo and used a black felt tip pen to cover up some small moth holes. Then, after a few false starts, I finally managed to get all the studs and cufflinks on, fasten the cummerbund (pleats up or down? Up, my wife told me, to catch crumbs), climb into shiny black shoes (also second-hand) and, ta-da, tie the bowtie. I can see why the rich hire butlers to do all this for them.
OK, so the moment had come. It was time to check out the results in the full-length mirror.
I can say only this: Bond, James Bond.