John Willson

In the early 1980s, I became one of six men in the Western World who knew how to tie a bow tie, all by myself, and I did not know who the other five were. I ceased wearing them after a colleague said to me, “John, you look like a…Liberal!”  Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. had made them popular in the early 1960s, which I had forgotten, and so was intimidated, appalled, and I wimped out.

Now my friend and partner and the Emperor of this site has adopted the style as the emblem of conservative cool. Winston Elliott has great wisdom about such things, and I am tempted to relearn the art. But first, I must insist that all realcons throw away their electric shavers, their Bic travelers, their Gillette super-fusions, and return to real shaving.

You can get a blade shave at Red’s Barber Shop in downtown Indianapolis. You can find websites that sell exotic shaving stuff of all kinds, but the important conservative point is this: Before you put on your bow tie, you must wet shave with a blade.

I wrote an essay years ago about organic gardening, about which I am still serious but not obsessive. It was called, “The $50 Tomato.” If you are really into gardens, and truly conservative in your conservationist sentiments, you will probably grow $50 green beans.

And so you can have $50 shaves. Every day. Here is what is required to do a good wet shave: pre-shaving soap, a good shaving cream, soap, or stick, an excellent razor equipped with blades that will not prevent you from putting on the bow tie, and a brush of consummate quality that will allow everything to work together. It is easy to find a brush at $300 or so, and not hard to find razors that cost over $200 (The Art of Shaving, Vintage Straight RazorWest Coast Shaving). The soaps and creams are less expensive, but you can pay up to $50 for a small tube, if you go to English websites. I have seen bow ties that cost even more.

Aristotle taught us that prudence is the first virtue of our life as political men. If we are to learn the art of prudence, it starts with getting up in the morning and preparing ourselves for the coming trials of managing our job of work. If that eventually means putting on a bow tie, it also means getting ready for the bow tie to signify virtue. Shave right, tie right, live right.

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore

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6 replies to this post
  1. Just so. Invest in quality kit, and it will last you for years, if not decades. And Dr. Willson certainly should relearn the art of tying a bow (it’s the same knot as tying your shoes!).

  2. John, in 1970s Hillsdale, two of the six were Madsen Pirie and I. He taught me a splendid adjustable knot that can be tugged into perfection every time, and in 40 years he has worn no other shape of tie. A third was George Will; I am unsure of the three others. You may have inspired me: living in near-pristine solitude in the Himalayas I’ve grown a full beard so I resemble an emperor of Byzantium, or either of the two fellows on the Smith Bros cough-drop box. (named Trade and Mark going by the caption beneath each portrait). Perhaps I should spruce up somewhat, or else join the Amish.

  3. When I turned 40, I decided that I was old enough to pull off wearing a bow tie. Since then, with the help of my wife and daughter, I have been building a collection of good bow ties, and wear them with pride every time the occasion calls for a suit. The ties are great conversation starters. Later, I grew a beard to help compensate for the increasing acreage above my eyebrows. The combined effect is startling. Women’s eyes light up, and lesser men look on with envy when the Bow Tie and Beard enter a room. 😉

    As to the shaving, just last year, my wife bought me a real shaving cup, brush, and soap (I keep the beard short and still shave my neck). There is something refreshingly masculine and very conservative about using them. I’ll be adding a straight razor to the collection this year. I’m sure I will enjoy it while it lasts. Look for my obituary soon under the headline “Man decapitates self while shaving”.

  4. I wear a (real) bow tie, and shave with a Merkur double-edge razor and Personna “lab blue” blades. Begin at the website “Badger and Blade” and go from there. If there isn’t a local shop near you, check for an “Art of Shaving” or go independent on Amazon. The wet shave DE nerds at B&B will point you in a good direction.

    Also, there seems to be a nice connection between DE shaving and home brewing…just noting a correlation…

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