Extracurricular Activities – Robin Rowland, bow tie aficionado

Robin Rowland is a professor in and Director of Graduate Studies of communication studies and a bow tie aficionado.  

The bow tie is a unique fashion statement, one only a select few decide to sport. On campus, Robin Rowland is known for his debate prowess, his research on how symbols shape society, and his extensive bow tie collection.

We caught up with Rowland and asked him a few questions about the bow ties he’s so well-known for.

  • When did you start collecting fabric and creating these bow ties?

I’ve been collecting bow ties for about twenty years.  My wife has been making them for me for the last 7 or 8.  She had the idea and that has led to some really neat ties.  In addition to finding new fabric, she has refashioned perhaps 10 regular ties into bowties.

  • Where are some of the most interesting places you’ve collected fabric?130

The two best places for fabric that we have found are London and Chicago.  There is a rule of thumb that nothing is cheap in London.  Well, that is not quite right. Silk for bow ties is remarkably reasonable because they have a number of good shops that specialize in fabric for ties and suits and will sell you as little as 1/3rd of a yard of silk for a bow tie.  Chicago also has great fabric.  In most shops outside major cities, fabric stores have vast selections that would make great curtains or recover furniture and such, but alas one does not want a bowtie to look like it otherwise would have grown up to be a couch.

  • What are some of your favorite ties?

First, any tie that my wife makes is automatically a favorite.  Second, I’ve been given a few ties by former students; that automatically makes them favorites.  My doctoral advisees started a tradition a number of years ago that at the doctoral hooding ceremony they wear bow ties.  One year, I had five students complete their degree and we made quite a little group of bow tie wearers as we went across the stage one by one.

  • Why did you and your wife decide to create bow ties with the fabric? Why not regular ties or other craft items?

I always explain to people that I wear bow ties because if I spill, the stain will fall on my shirt not the tie.  More seriously, in my experience people who wear bow ties often have a lot of personality like Professor Don Stull in Anthropology or Vice-Chancellor Tim Caboni or former Illinois Senator Paul Simon.  When Don and I were chairs at the same time, we even had a bow tie tying contest at a chairs meeting for the social sciences. Naturally, it was a tie!

  • A lot of people would say you have to have chutzpah or a certain personality to wear bow ties. Do you think this is true? What is it about the bow tie that makes it so unique?

I’m not sure why it is true, but in my experience it is.  Perhaps it is because we associate bow ties with formal wear and those of us who wear bow ties see much to celebrate every day.  Or perhaps I just want to look like the way a student imagines a professor in 1937—in a bow tie, a sportcoat and a fedora.  The great running back Marcus Allen has a wonderful aphorism—“when you get to the end zone you should act like you’ve been there before.”  One way that I try to enact that message is by getting up every day and trying to look like I’ve been here before.