Necktie Down the Ages
History of the most common gift of gratitude to Dad

Many events in the history of mankind eventually fade into oblivion, but others, leave their indelible marks for the entire world to see. More than 350 years ago, the Croats initiated one such influential occurrence. Although started in the 17th century in a small region on the Adriatic coast, the consequences of this event are still very much evident the world over. 600 million people now wear the ubiquitous symbol of Croatia around their necks, close to their hearts.

Believe it or not Croatia is the mother country of the modern necktie but archaeological evidence of the use of neckties goes back to the Chinese and the Romans almost two millenniums back.

China's First emperor.

The earliest known version of the necktie has been found in the massive mausoleum of China's first emperor, Shih Huang Ti, who was buried in 210 B.C. Desperately afraid of death, the emperor wanted to slaughter an entire to army to accompany him into the next world. His advisers ultimately persuaded him to take life-size replicas of the soldiers instead.

The result is one of the marvels of the ancient world. Unearthed in 1974 near the ancient capital city of Xian, the tomb contained an astonishing 7,500 life-size terracotta replicas of Shih Huang Ti's famed fighting force. Legions of officers, soldiers, archers and horsemen, all carved in meticulous detail, guard the emperor's sarcophagus. The armor, uniforms, hair, and facial expressions of the soldiers are reproduced in exquisite detail. Each figure is different - except in one respect: all wear neck cloths.

An ancient mystery

Historians say other records indicate the Chinese did not wear ties, so why the emperor's guards wore carefully wrapped silk cloths remains a mystery. Since silk was a great luxury, the cloths could indicate the ultimate honor Shih Huang Ti bestowed on his soldiers; they were trusted enough to guard him until the end of time. 

Did Roman Wear Ties

In 113 A.D., one of Rome's greatest Emperors, the military genius Trajan, erected a marble column to commemorate a triumphant victory over the Dacians, who lived in what is now Romania.
The 2,500 realistic figures on the column sport no less than three different styles of neckwear. These include shorter versions of the modern necktie; cloth wound around the neck and tucked into armor; and knotted kerchiefs reminiscent of cowboy bandannas.

While Roman orators often wore cloths to keep their throats warm, soldiers did not cover their necks. In fact, writers such as Horace and Seneca said only effeminate men covered their necks.

Skilled warriors

Trajan's column is the only representation of legionnaires with neckwear. Historians believe the legionnaires wore cloths for reasons similar to those of Shih Huang Ti's terracotta army. Truly great fighters must be visibly honored. And, the legionnaires were so skilled in battle that they were immune to perceptions of appearing feminine.

Croatian Cravats Dazzle a King

"… Around the year 1635, some six thousand soldiers and knights came to Paris to give their support to King Louis XlV and Cardinal Richelieu. Among them were a great number of Croatian mercenaries led by a ban, or Croatian viceroy.

The traditional outfit of these Croats aroused interest on account of the unusual and picturesque scarves distinctively tied about their necks. The scarves were made of various cloths, ranging from coarse material for common soldiers, to fine cotton and silk for officers. This elegant "Croatian style" immediately enamoured the French, who were delighted by the new article of clothing, which had been previously unknown in Europe.

For the gallant French officers in the thirty-year war, the advantage of the Croatian neck scarf was its enviable practicality. In contrast to the lace collar that had to be kept white and carefully starched, the scarf was simply and loosely tied around the neck without need for any additional care. Just as elegant as the stiff, high collars, the new scarves were less awkward, easier to wear and remained visible beneath the soldiers’ thick, long hair.

Around the year 1650, during the reign of Louis XIV, the Croatian scarf was accepted in France, above all in court, where military ornaments were much admired. The fashionable expression, ’a la croate’, soon evolved into a new French word, which still exists today: la cravate. Many experts believe the French word for tie, cravat, is a corruption of "Croat." In fact, French kings maintained an elite regiment, the Cravate Royale, until the French Revolution of 1789.

Other sources say cravat is derived from the Turkish word kyrabacs, or the Hungarian, korbacs, both meaning "whip" or "long, slender object." Researchers have also noted the word cravat appeared in French before the arrival of the Croatians. They suggest the term is a corruption of rabat, French for a hanging collar.

One thing is certain: the elegant French courtiers, and the military immediately began copying the Croatians. Ordinary soldiers began adorning their necks with lace, while officers sported muslin or silk, possibly trimmed with embroidery. Even poor people wore cotton cravats, sometimes of pleated black taffeta. 

Cravats Go to England

On his return to England from exile in 1660, Charles II reclaimed the throne that had been lost during the Puritan revolution and brought with him this new word in fashion "Cravat". Over the next ten years, this fashion novelty spread across Europe, as well as across the colonies on the American continent..." After nine years in exile, aristocrats flooded England, bringing with them a passion for the pleasures of the European courts. Weary of war, and tired of the austerity imposed by Oliver Cromwell; England wanted to have fun. Gambling, drinking, music, dancing, parties, theater, elaborate clothes, grand wigs, and yes, the stylish, new cravat, were suddenly all the rage. Soon no gentleman would have considered himself well-dressed without sporting some sort of cloth around his neck--the more decorative, the better. At times, cravats were worn so high that a man could not move his head without turning his whole body. There were even reports of cravats worn so thick that they stopped sword thrusts. The various styles knew no bounds, as cravats of tasseled strings, plaid scarves, tufts and bows of ribbon, lace, and embroidered linen all had their staunch adherents. Nearly one hundred different knots were recognized, and as a certain M. Le Blanc, who instructed men in the fine and sometimes complex art of tying a tie, noted, "The grossest insult that can be offered to a man comme il faut is to seize him by the cravat; in this place blood only can wash out the stain upon the honor of either party."

Real Men Wear Lace

Art museums throughout the U.S. and Europe are full of paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries showing generals, politicians, and aristocrats resplendent in their lace cravats. Lace was used for trimming, both men's and women's clothing, and also for decorating. Windows, beds, chairs, and tables were all festooned with lace.
Although England produced prodigious quantities of lace itself, lace from Flanders and Venice, considered the best, was imported in vast quantities. Because of strict trade regulations, lace smuggling became an international pastime.

For those who could afford it, no price was too costly. King Charles II is said to have once spent 20 pounds and 12 shillings on a single cravat. This was as much as five times an annual middle class salary.

Lace was not the only material used for cravats. Plaid scarves, ribbon, embroidered linen tasseled strings and ordinary cotton were all pulled into service. Some neckwear was so thick it was able to stop a sword thrust.

The Steinkirk

The eighteenth century brought unprecedented innovation in neckwear.  The Steinkirk, a loosely wrapped scarf like tie worn with the dangling end chastely tucked or pinned to the breast, began to take precedence over the lace cravat in the early part of the century.  So popular was the style, that women were soon attracted to wearing the more demure version of the necktie, only in more lively colours than the gent's basic white.  By the middle of the century, the feminine interlopers, in their crimson Steinkirks, had prompted tough young bucks to retrench their neckwear styles in something altogether more virile: the stock.

 The Stock

The stock was the most erect neckwear ever developed.  It was especially designed for foot‑soldiers in France and Germany in order to encourage the martial appearance of turgid necks and thrusting chins.  The stock also had the effect of increasing blood flow to the face, giving soldiers a ruddy, healthful appearance.  In fact, the effect of the stock was anything but healthful, as the officers obliged the men to tighten their stocks to the point that "caused the eyes almost to start from their spheres, and gave the wearers a supernatural appearance, often producing vertigo and faintings, or at least bleedings at the nose."  The excess of stiffness made it impossible for the soldiers to face left or right, never mind to stoop or to fight.  And these constraining effects were rendered even more severe as sparse military budgets ensured that the stocks came in only one size.  However, the stock, unlike the cravat, did not have to be tied, and its horsehair, whale bone, pig‑bristle, card, pasteboard, or wooden frame could be covered and recovered with satins, linens, cottons, muslins, silks, or calicos as the latest fads dictated.  Not only that, it was a practical military style, since it showed dirt less than the Steinkirk.

Softening of the Stock

As with the lace ruffs and millstone collars of nearly a century before, the stiff reign of the stock was gradually softened by changing men's hairstyles.  Republican ideas were spreading as the eighteenth century progressed, and the trends were toward shorter and shorter hair.  The most fashionable men began sporting a simple pigtail instead of a wig, with the trailing locks often tied or decorated with black ribbons.  The long ribbons came to be fastened around the neck with a knot in front and the free ends dangling over the chest.  This simple expedient led to the inevitable imitations and innovations, with coloured and multiple ribbons soon taking over from the basic black solitaire. 

Royalty and landed gentry continued to elaborate their neckwear, to the point that a club of English dandies, called the Macaronis, dedicated themselves to reviving the frilly lace excesses of centuries past.  In 1776, The Town and Country Magazine described the Macaroni as a "most ridiculous figure ... Such a figure, essenced and perfumed, with a bunch of lace sticking out under its chin, puzzles the common passenger to determine the thing's sex."  With revolution in the air on both sides of the Atlantic, such effeminate excesses could not go unchallenged by real men for very long, and soon plain handkerchiefs, the very antithesis of frilly lace, were being tied into a distinctive common man's neckwear: the bandanna.


Cowboy Bandannas from India

For workingclass Europeans, the bandanna at last provided a mark of masculine respectability at an affordable price.  Of brightly coloured and robust material, the bandanna did not easily show the dirt, and was quite washable when it did.  In addition, the material could be used to form a basket, lead an animal, or mop the sweat from a working brow when not being used to project the owner's dignity.  Prohibited in England by the Calico Acts of 1700 and 1702, the lowly bandanna even acquired something of the cachet of the forbidden, as well as another name - "the Kingsman" for the King's man or customs officer who would normally seize the forbidden cloth.  Soon, however, European industrialists began to cash in on the craze, and knock‑offs of the Bengali silk prints were being manufactured at home.  Over the water, in North America, the cotton bandanna became an extremely popular and affordable common sense form of neckwear for those colonists who could not wholly abandon the urbane fashions of the Old Countries. 

Sanskrit origins

Derived from the Sanskrit word, bandhna, or bandhana, meaning "tying", bandannas were first imported from India around 1700. The original bandannas were silk and came in an array of colors, including red, blue, green, brown, black and white, pink, and yellow. Bandannas could also be hand printed or tie-dyed with flowers or bird's eye patterns.

Cowboy uniform

Cowboys used red or blue bandanna to keep dust from the face. Bandits also used bandannas as masks. Bandannas today are an integral part of western style, and are often worn square dancing. 

The Incroyable

As interest in the bandanna necktie became ever more general, the time worn urge of a certain power elite to distinguish themselves from common men soon provoked the flourishing of yet another style of neckwear: the Incroyable neckcloth.  Partisan politics were again at the root of fashion, and the Incroyables - literally the Unbelievables - were a dandy group of young French nonconformists who expressed sympathy with Republican ideals by revolutionary sartorial excesses.  They wore strange cravats of an almost inconceivable size: "The shirt collar rose to the sides of the ears, and the top of the cravat covered the mouth and the lower part of the nose, so that the face (with the exception of the nose) was concealed by the cravat and a forest of whiskers; these rose on each side of the hair, which was combed down over the eyes.  In this costume, the elegans bore a greater resemblance to beasts then men, and the fashion gave rise to many laughable caricatures.  They were compelled to look straight before them, as the head could only be turned by the general consent of all the members, and the tout ensemble was that of an unfinished statue."  Royalists countered the excesses of the Incroyables with more sober green neckcloths, which in turn prompted even more extravagance on the part of the Republicans: two sheets of muslin, one white and one black, wrapped around the neck, chin, and face, finished with floppy bows drooped across the shoulders.

Sailing the Seven Seas

In the 18th and 19th centuries, British sailors often wore white and blue uniforms, complete with a silk or cotton bandanna, or scarf, usually blue.

The sailor suit began to be worn in the mid 1800s as yachting became popular. This has had its greatest impact on clothing for women and children. The modern sailor's suit was introduced for boys around 1860 and became an instant success. Still worn today, the white and blue outfit also comes with a dress for girls.

The Modern Business Suit Takes Shape

The well-dressed man about town should wear clothes that are simple, functional and discreet, George Bryan "Beau" Brummell commanded in the early 19th century. By advocating well-cut, tailored clothes, Brummell essentially invented what has come to be known as the "British look."
Brummell rejected 18th century frills. His mandate, a dark blue coat, buff-colored pantaloons and waistcoat, black boots and a clean white neck cloth, survives today as the dark business suit and white shirt, and as crisp white sportswear.

Whiter than white cravats

He was particularly adamant about the whiteness of his cravats. As he made his daily rounds from the park, various gentleman's clubs and fashionable homes, Brummell would stop and change his cravat as often as three times a day. He preferred neck cloths that were lightly starched and carefully folded.

The simplicity of Brummell's uniform was adopted by everyone from many working men to his friend, the Prince Regent, later King George IV. For the first time, poorer men hoping to make their way in the world could easily imitate upper class fashion.


Cambridge & Oxford School Ties

The I Zingari Cricket Club, founded by a group of Cambridge University students in 1845 is believed to have created the first sporting colors. They designed a flag of black, bright, orange-red, and gold, symbolizing "out of darkness, through fire, into light." Blazers, caps, and ties were eventually created in these colors.
Rowing colors

In 1880, the rowing club at Oxford University's Exeter College One men's club, invented the first school tie by removing their ribbon hat bands from their boater hats and tying them, four-in-hand. When they ordered a set of ties, with the colors from their hatbands, they had created the modern school tie. School, club, and athletic ties appeared in abundance. Some schools had different ties for various grades, levels of achievement, and for graduates.

Middle class pretensions

Such ties had enormous appeal to the vast Victorian middle class. As industrialization allowed for mass consumption of material goods, men wanted to stand out, to assert their social superiority, or to proclaim their allegiance to a group.

Today four-in-hand refers to both the standard necktie and the most common knot used to tie it.

Ties Fit for Officers and Gentlemen

In the 1880s the British military finally decided abandon its array of brightly colored uniforms that had always made such good targets. But they retained the beloved old military colors on the stripes of the neckties each regiment would come to adopt. These ties not only preserved the traditional colors, they provided the only creativity for the drab new uniforms.
The Royal Rifle Corps sported rifle green and scarlet ties, while the stripes of the Artists' Rifles were black, gray, and red; the Inns of Court wore green and blue stripes.

Exclusivity remains

Rules on who may wear the more than 200 regimental ties can be quite strict. Some of the prestigious London stores sometimes ask customers to indicate they have the right to wear a particular tie. This pushes up the price collectors are willing to pay for an especially rare tie. Some unusual or rare ties will change hands for thousands of dollars.

Bow Ties Take Center Stage

The bow tie gets is name from the French, jabot, (pronounced ja-bow), a type of readymade 17th century lace cravat. In the 18th and 19th centuries, bow ties came in various materials and styles.

White bow ties were formal, but others were colored. For example, 19th century Irish immigrants to America favored brown, green, or red bow ties.

Tuxedo Park, New York

The enduring popularity of the black bow tie dates to 1886, when Pierre Lorillard V invented the tuxedo as an alternative to the tailcoats worn with white bow ties. The new dinner jacket got its name from the resort of Tuxedo Park, New York, where it was first worn.

Black bow ties and tuxedo are now standard at high school proms and weddings. But bow ties have lost favor for business because they are complicated to tie and must be made in the correct collar size.

A Tie Singing Dixie

It was too hot in the American south to wear lace or silk cravats. However, in the early 1800s plantation owners displayed their social superiority by wearing wide ribbons tied in bows. Worn with a low-collared shirt, the plantation tie was the first American neckwear.
River gamblers galore

The tie went west, becoming part of Mississippi River boat culture. Mark Twain himself was painted wearing a plantation tie. It is also part of the uniform, along with a fancy white shirt and a light suit, of the riverboat gambler. The leading proponent of the plantation tie nowadays is Colonel Sanders of chicken fame, who is never pictured without one.

Country music singers and square dancers occasionally sport plantation ties as well.


Lord Byron's Legacy

Ironically several ties have been named after the romantic poet, Lord Byron, who seldom wore any sort of neck cloth. The first Byron was a big floppy bow in white, brown or black appeared in the 1820s. In the 1840s, a Byron was made of string or narrow ribbon, while after the 1860s it was a large, often readymade bow.

Paris Presents Designer Ties

In the 1920s a pioneering Paris fashion designer, Jean Patou, invented the designer tie. He made ties from women's clothing material including patterns inspired by the latest art movements of the day, Cubism and Art Deco.
Targeted toward women purchasers, his expensive ties were highly successful. Today women buy 80 percent of ties sold in the US. Therefore ties are often displayed near the perfume or women's clothing departments.

Designer ties made quite a splash in the 1960s, when designers from London's Carnaby Street devised the Peacock Look and churned out wide, colorful ties in a variety of flowered, abstract and psychedelic patterns. Know mod (for modern) styles were the forerunners of the hippie movement, which often dispensed with neckties altogether, often favoring colorful scarves at the neck, or wearing open shirts with chains or medallions.

Today, designer ties abound. Designers create some themselves, while others are made by manufacturers under licensing agreements. Designer ties are also popular with women, who associate them with high fashion.

Celebrity and Rock Star Fashion

With the advent of mass media, celebrities such as sports heroes, movie actors, and popular singers would create a variety of neckwear trends.
Humphrey Bogart often sported bow ties, while another actor, Ronald Coleman, was considered one of Hollywood's sharpest dressers with his tailored, elegant look. Elvis Presley sported an old fashioned neckerchief, and helped prolong and out of date style a few more years.

Presently, game show host Regis Philbin is becoming influential with his luxurious looking ties in solid colors to match his shirts.


Ascots Cross the Finish Line

In Europe an ascot is a wide cravat of pale gray patterned silk only worn with very formal morning wear, to weddings, or England's Royal Ascot races, where it gets its name. In the U.S., ascot means cravat. The ascot was commonly worn for business in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Bolo: The Tie That Won the West

The bolo, or bola, tie is so common in the west today that many people are surprised to find that it is relatively new.

In the late 1940s, a silversmith named Victor Cedarstaff went riding with friends in the Bradshaw Mountains outside Wickenburg, Arizona. When the wind blew his hat off, Cedarstaff removed the hatband, which had a silver buckle he did not want to lose, and put it around his neck.

When his friends complemented him on the new apparel, Cedarstaff returned home, and wove a leather string. He added silver balls to the ends and ran it through a turquoise buckle.

Cedarstaff later patented the new neckwear, which was called the bolo because it resembled the lengths of rope used by Argentine gauchos to catch game or cattle.

Arizona makes it official

Now mass-produced, and bolos are usually made of leather cord, with a silver or turquoise buckle. They are common throughout the west and are often worn for business. In 1971 Arizona legislature named the bolo the official state neckwear.

Turtleneck: The Anti-Tie

The turtleneck could be called the anti-tie. British writer Noel Coward started wearing colored turtlenecks in the 1920's and created a new fad. French intellectuals and their counterparts in the United States popularized black turtlenecks in the 1950s.


I think the best way to sum all of this up is with this quote from Chic Simple written by Michael Solomon, "They are not particularly comfortable.  They always go out of style (or back in as soon as we have thrown them out).  And they are not even practical.  Yet the tie remains an essential part of a man's wardrobe because it unites all the elements of a man's outfit, giving him instant respectability and, above all, it is the ultimate symbol of individuality"