The bolo or bola tie, as it’s variously known, is a fairly recent addition to men’s formal clothing, invented some time in the 1940s by a Wickenburg, Arizona, silversmith named Victor Cedarstaff. Taking its name from a type of Argentinian rope called the boleadora, the bolo tie consists a small braided lariat-like cord that’s secured around the neck by a decorative clasp.
Silver usually decorates the tips of the cord, and the braids are often made of multicolored strands, but it’s the clasp that captures most of the attention of artisans and jewelers. In keeping with its Southwest origins, Native American jewelers make bolos out of sterling silver set with blue turquoise, red coral, and other semi-precious stones. Agates and beads are also used.
Some men’s-clothing purists question whether the bolo tie is a tie at all. In 2005, for example, a 17-year-old high school senior in Montana was denied his diploma because he wore a bolo tie to his graduation ceremony rather than a tradition cravat made of silk or (shudder) polyester. The state’s governor rushed to the lad’s defense, declaring, “In Montana and anyplace in Indian country, a bolo tie is dressed up... a tie is a tie." In fact, in 1971, the state of Arizona had already made the bola tie (as it’s spelled there) its official state neckwear. New Mexico followed suit in 2007.