Some spell it bolo. Some spell it bola. It's been on cowboy's necks and in art museums. It may be a Native American tradition, a British invention, or a local's trick to avoid losing his special hatband. And though its history is murky, one thing is certain: The bola tie is Arizona's official state neckwear, and if history tells us anything, it won't be going out of fashion here anytime soon.
The bola tie is a rather simple invention. A cord, often made of braided leather, is secured around the neck with a decorative metal slide. There's some debate, but most seem to agree that historically speaking, bola, not bolo, is the proper spelling. A boleadora, or bola for short, is a type of South American lasso used in ranching.
In a bill passed in 1973, the Arizona Legislature (with a push from U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater) made the bola Arizona's official neckwear. New Mexico and Texas later enacted similar legislation.
The first patent on the bola tie — for an improved slide device that would stay in place better — was granted in 1959 to a Wickenburg man named Victor Emmanuel Cedarstaff. Cedarstaff claimed to have invented the bola in the late 1940s. Legend has it that he placed his special hatband around his neck one day while horseback riding to avoid losing it to the wind, and the rest is history.
Others say a dentist out of Kingman was actually the original creator. But others think the bola's roots go even deeper. Some say the tie, often made of silver and turquoise, was invented by Native Americans. Some link it to early pioneers in the late 19th century. Some even say King Henry IV of England created it.
Another common theory has Mark Hickok as the originator of the bola trend. Hickok's New York and Texas-based company advertised sales of the bola the same year Cedarstaff patented it (some say even before). "The solution to your sport shirt-necktie problem. Hickok designed and approved for dining by the finest hotels and restaurants," read one ad.
Many think this use is just why the bola took off as a trend.
As restaurants began requiring ties on men in the 1950s, the bola was a simple path to get inside (no knotting skills required!). Bola ties later became a rockabilly standard as well as a cowboy staple. And the bola has even gone high brow. Northern Arizona University donated its large collection of ties to the Desert Caballeros Museum in the bola's (maybe) hometown of Wickenburg. NAU's collection was largely donated by a local television personality named Bill Close, whose fans had sent him bola ties to wear on the air for years. And in 2011, the Heard Museum in Phoenix hosted a large-scale exhibit of bola ties.
The tie has remained popular with politicians and athletes (and now, even hipsters) ever since. For many, the tie is a way to showcase Southwestern pride or roots. Its origins may be a bit mysterious, but we think it's fair to claim the bola's heart (and biggest fan base) is here in the desert of Arizona.