Bowtie Behavior is a QPOC Femme-owned bow-tie and accessories company established in New York by Robin “Robbie” Williams. Robbie is a self taught designer with no formal training in fashion. In fact, she didn’t know how to sew when she attempted to make her first bow-tie back in 2014. But, she did know that she wanted to create bold, flavorful, pieces that would take the intimidation out of wearing bow-ties and make everyday styling fun and accessible. Today, each piece is handmade by Robbie. The Bowtie Behavior motto is “Everyday is a Fly Day.” She states that this particular message is important to our communities because “Queer People of Color step out into the world dressed in an invisible armor, an added layer of protection shielding us. Unable to remove it, we’ve learned to dress the shit up, shine it up real good, and let our fashion be our mouthpiece.” We caught up with Robbie to learn more about her bold bow-ties, what inspires her designs, what what to expect next from Bowtie Behavior.
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dapperQ: Can you tell us a bit about the history and evolution of Bowtie Behavior? What motivated you to start the brand?
Robbie: Honestly, I made my very first Bowtie Behavior bow-tie on the living room floor of my ex’s small apartment in Far Rockaway. I had come up with the name of the company just a day earlier in the kitchen. The premise behind the name was that it takes a special kind of person to rock a bow tie. A fly person, a confident person, someone who can hold conversations, energy shifters. I thought of bow-ties as more than an object; I thought of it as a behavior, hence the name Bowtie Behavior. I began making bow-ties once my best friend got engaged. As the maid of honor, I was in charge of planning the bridal shower, which had been decided by the sisters of the bride, would be a bow-tie themed party. Having never worn a bow-tie before, I went shopping and could not find one that fit my style or was affordable, so I decided to make one. Everyone ended up loving it, so I decided to continue. Realizing that I had a knack for choosing fabrics, I became motivated by the reactions of my customers when they saw their bow-ties for the first time. It was like magic to me. In 2015, I left my career as a college basketball coach and athletic director to take on the business full time and ended up being chosen by Wix.com to have Bowtie Behavior featured in a commercial that ran for an entire year on national television. That experience was extremely validating and let me know that people love my brand and believe in it. Now, at almost 5 years old, Bowtie Behavior has sold over 900 pieces.
dapperQ: How would you describe the Bow-Tie Behavior aesthetic?
Robbie: The Bowtie Behavior aesthetic is gender non conforming, bold, queer, Caribbean. It is the confidence we all have in our fantasies, except it’s real.
dapperQ: What inspires your designs?
Robbie: New York City, the feel of it, the smell, the colors, noises, and people have always been an inspiration for me. I was born in Harlem to Jamaican parents and raised in the Bronx so my heritage has always been a major influence. I am inspired by brightness, life, movement, and balance.
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dapperQ: About a decade ago, we saw bow-ties come back strong as a mainstream trend in many “menswear” magazines. It also took hold of queer style as a sort of queer signifier. But, today, I hear a lot of people saying that bow-ties are “so over.” This is interesting to me, because many mainstream trends co-opt staples from minority communities, later calling these appropriated mainstays in those communities “trends.” The bow-tie has been such an important accessory in the Black Dandy movement. Can you discuss how Bowtie Behavior reflects and honors that movement from an intersectional, queer feminist lens?
Robbie: In creating Bowtie Behavior, I drew inspiration from my elders, my grandparents who migrated from Jamaica. I’d remember old photos of my grandfather in his younger days dressed to a tea in a 3-piece-suit, with the matching hat and shoes and reflected on memories of my grandmothers who designed and sewed their own outfits, head-to-toe, sometimes even with matching gloves! It was my mission to bring that attention to detail, liveliness, color, and stylish bravado to my brand. With each bow tie I make, I honor them. Black people, Queer people, have always been the real starters and influencers of fashion and as someone who, to the outside world, presents as ultra femme (and sometimes androgynous), but on the inside feels very masculine at times, I have watched myself grow into my own identity alongside Bowtie Behavior. It took me a little while to begin wearing my own bow ties because I struggled with the perception of it so to now be completely comfortable being the face of the brand, and have female identifying individuals also at the forefront of a lot of the brand’s messaging, I feel my growth and acceptance of my identity come full circle. I am grateful for the fact that I, a queer femme presenting woman, can help another queer woman, GNC, or trans person pick out a tie for themselves, put it on, look themselves in the mirror and feel as beautiful or handsome as they want to feel. To me that process is sacred. That is my church.
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dapperQ: How would you describe your personal everyday style?
Robbie: I would say my personal style is effortless, edgy! I love loose fitting clothing, oversized tops paired with a heel. I love to shop in the men’s section and find pieces that can be worn multiple ways. I am a huge fan of thrifting and finding that one of a kind conversation piece.
dapperQ: Has it been a journey defining your own personal style?
Robbie: Defining my style has been an interesting journey because it has always been a constant tug of war between masculine and feminine. I’ve always been an athlete, in high school and college I was a 2-sport athlete so growing up I was the one climbing trees, finding things to jump over, racing all the fastest boys on my block, then hours later I’m in the house wrapping stickers around my fingertips to give myself fake acrylics. All through high school it was mainly loose fitting basketball shorts, sweats, jeans and t shirts, but I also found great joy in wearing frilly, poofy dresses and form fitting tops, which I was forbidden from wearing until well into high school. As I started buying my own clothes in college, I really didn’t venture into too much form fitting clothing like I thought I would, I didn’t feel all that confident really. I honestly did not feel feminine enough to pull of some of the outfits I saw other girls wearing so i kept it really basic. It wasn’t until after college, really after I cut my hair and went natural in 2011, that I began to come into my current style aesthetic. That was also the year that I came out so it was a pivotal transition for me and my style. My confidence shifted, and along with that came a more daring style and edginess.
dapperQ: Who or what has most influenced your personal style?
Robbie: I would have to say that my hair has had the most influence on my personal style. I did the big chop in 2011, by 2013 I started wearing my hair in a fade and the higher it grows, the more daring, expressive, and carefree I have become with my style.
dapperQ: Who are your fashion icons?
Robbie: My fashion icons are Grace Jones, Solange, and Lisa Bonet circa 1990.
dapperQ: What is the one article of clothing you cannot live without?
Robbie: My Black jeans.
dapperQ: What can we expect next from Bowtie Behavior?
Robbie: Next on the agenda for Bowtie Behavior is celebrating the 5 year anniversary in July! So look out for some really cool deals during that month, and possibly an intimate customer experience event. I will also be boosting the monthly subscription style box as well and getting my pieces in the hands of style influencers and large media outlets such as Nylon, Teen Vogue, and Essence.