The Bolo Tie Is Arizona's Official Neckware

Bolo Ties
Danita Delimont/Getty Images

A special exhibit at The Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona held from November 2011 through September 2012 entitled Native American Bolo Ties: Vintage and Contemporary generated renewed interest in this uniquely American accessory.

Although one can create a bolo tie from any material, you will find that many in Arizona, especially the ones created by Native American artisans, are made from silver and use turquoise as the gemstone, both of which are naturally and abundantly found in Arizona.

Transform that silver or gemstone into a slide for a decorative braided string or leather rope and you have the makings of a bolo tie. It is worn under the collar like a necktie. The slide does not have to be tight up at the neck, but some men wear it that way.

Yes, as you might expect, you'll even find an entire collection of them for sale at Amazon.com! Some are simple designs with stones, others have eagles, letters of the alphabet for initials, Native American symbols, designs for cowboys and cowgirls, religious symbols, and more. Warning: don't expect a piece of jewelry for $12 to be of the highest quality!

History of the Bolo Tie

The Heard Museum graciously shared this short history of the bolo tie:

The distinctive tie originated in the Southwest, and its popularity quickly spread throughout the West and in many other parts of the country. The necktie has been made even more distinguished by contemporary American Indian artists in Arizona, who make bolo ties that are exquisite expressions of individuality and ingenuity.

Bolo ties, representing the casual nature and somewhat rugged milieu of the West, emerged as a form of men's neckwear in the 1940s. They directly countered business suits as well as the formality suits represented, and instead marked a different style and a different way of life. In particular, American Indian jewelers and silversmiths brought individuality and creativity to this art form, offering a broad range of unique and artistic options.

Western wear, including the bolo tie, was popularized through 1950s television shows and movies. Some TV and movie personalities who brought scarf slides and bolo ties into the everyday vernacular include the Cisco Kid, Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers. Bolo ties have been created by American Indian jewelers since the late 1940s and they continue to create them today.

The bolo tie's road to acquiring the status of Arizona's official neckwear took place over several years. KOOL Channel 10's anchor Bill Close and five other bolo tie enthusiasts met in 1966 at the Westward Ho Hotel in downtown Phoenix. From the beginning, their intent was to make the bolo tie a state emblem. Perhaps to help the cause, Arizona Highways Magazine devoted several pages of its October 1966 issue to Southwestern jewelry, including bolo ties. Help arrived when Governor Jack Williams proclaimed the first week of March 1969 as "Bolo Tie Week." After several unsuccessful attempts, a bill making the bolo tie the official state neckwear was finally passed on April 22, 1971. The bolo tie is also the official neckwear of New Mexico and Texas, although Arizona was the first state to designate it as such.

Who is wearing bolo ties? Both men and women, for one thing. While perusing some celebrity photographs, you'll notice bolo ties being worn at one time or another by Dwight D. Eisenhower, David Feinstein, Maria Sharapova, Patrick Swayze, Ansel Adams, Robin Williams, Viggo Mortensen, David Carradine, Val Kilmer, Richard Pryor, and Johnny Carson.

The Heard Museum has more than 170 bolo ties in the permanent collection. It is located near downtown Phoenix and is accessible by METRO Light Rail.