As undergrads at the University of Minnesota, Brad Wellman and Matt Brunnette shared a sense of style, both having a passion for menswear and dressing well, even being unofficial style advisers to friends during their college days.
After college they had been separately toying with ideas of getting into the menswear space, unbeknownst to each other. That is, until Brunnette purchased a few fabrics while on vacation in New York that would become the first set of Mill City Fineries bow ties. He taught himself how to make bow ties over the ensuing months, and he and Wellman conversed nearly daily on vision, operations, product, and distribution expansion. Now the duo has become a go-to stop for anyone looking for one-of-a-kind or custom bow ties.
Lucky for us, anyone can wear a bow tie. “To be honest, I don’t think face shape matters for tie selection the way it does for some things, like sunglasses,” Wellman says. “Whether you’re wearing a necktie, bow tie, bolo, or ascot, what really matters most is how you pair it with the rest of your outfit, and wearing it with confidence.”
This is a sentiment that Renee Larson, owner of The Bow Tie Shoppe, can agree with. “I believe anyone can wear a bow tie!” she says. “If you are of larger stature you will just want your bow tie to be proportioned to your size.”
The Bow Tie Shoppe started in 2013 by artist and designer, Renee Larson. Her love of the ’50s and ’60s comes through in the fabrics and prints she combines. She hunts local and far away places for vintage fabrics and inspiration for her creations, making each bow tie limited in quantity or truly one-of-a-kind.
People who are interested in wearing a bow tie for the first time can be a bit intimidated by the thought of learning to tie one. But first-time wearers need not despair, Larson offers a video tutorial on how to tie a bow tie on her website. With a little practice, you’ll have it in no time.
“Like picking out your first suit, start with a tie that will prove to be versatile in terms of the range of shirts you’ll be able to wear it with,” Wellman says. “I’d opt for one in the blue or gray color family, with a subtle pattern (if any), which will allow you to dress it up or down with relative ease.”
Mill City Fineries also offers two bow tie styles — traditional and diamond-point — to help find your preferred style. The fact of the matter is, bow ties come in a variety of silhouettes: diamond tip, butterfly tip, straight, or, if you’re daring, batwing! Larson notes that many are also reversible, changing the look depending on how you tie it.
“What I love about bow ties is you’re generally less likely to see someone wearing one in a given situation, compared to neckties,” Wellman adds. “This not only allows you to stand out, but exudes a sense of confidence and pride in who you are.”
For anyone looking for a custom and unique look for a wedding, some other event, or just everyday style, you can customize your bow tie by choosing fabrics, colors, and silhouettes. Both shops can also use fabric from something that has meaning to you, like Grandpa’s favorite flannel or Dad’s old necktie.
“Bow ties are particularly fun for creating a customized look for weddings because they’re a bit more non-traditional,” Wellman says. “They innately express an air of fun, and you can get really creative with varying fabric patterns and colors. And they look really great on dogs and ring-bearers.”
Of course, any kind of customization at Mill City Fineries or The Bow Tie Shoppe will start with a conversation about the wedding color palette, outfits, and your personal style as to what you’re looking for. Only then can couples begin looking at fabric options and refining the selections down to a final set. “This is my favorite part of the business: working with couples to make the perfect bow tie for their occasion,” Larson says. “Making your bow tie from Grandpa’s shirt or Dad’s old necktie is a great way to keep their memory alive. I’ve even made one from fabric from Mom’s wedding dress.”
For Wellman and Brunnette, fabrics available at Mill City Fineries comes down to patterns they personally like and think would work well for a particular tie style, but what they really look for are fabric styles that are generally not seen as often in the marketplace. “While silk is ever-present for neckties, we use a lot of cottons, including linen, chambray, and seersucker, as well as heavy and suiting-grade wools, and tweeds,” Wellman says. “We search high and low for antique, vintage fabrics, and love creating small-batch bow ties from fabrics as old as the 1940s!”
Larson has a similar process for selecting fabrics to offer in her shop. She says, “I scour the States for unique, often vintage, fabrics with great patterns and prints. I’ve been told I have a great eye for curating unique fabric pairings.”
After the fabric is chosen, then comes the hard part: sewing. Each shop creates ties in small batches, so you won’t see the same fabric pairings everywhere. These are unique pieces sewn in Minneapolis studios.
It should go without saying, but Mill City Fineries and The Bow Tie Shoppe only offer the self-tie option. No pre-tied bows here! Wellman adds, “We use adjustment ribbon, so as long as you know your dress shirt neck size, you’ll have a perfectly sized bow tie every time.”
Now comes the fun part: styling the bow tie you’ve diligently picked out. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference and style.
For Wellman, it’s as easy as getting dressed in the morning. “I approach my bow tie selection much the way I approach my necktie selection,” he says. “Avoid conflicting colors or patterns between the shirt, tie, and jacket [if you’re wearing one]. And my personal style is fairly understated, so I might look for my tie to have subtle details that stand out — whether that be through a small pop of color or a unique texture.”
Larson says, “The great thing about bow ties is you can wear them with a suit or jeans and your favorite oxford.”
Mill City Fineries
2400 N. 2nd St., Suite 406, Minneapolis
The Bow Tie Shoppe
8007 Xerxes Ave. S., Suite 103, Minneapolis