Without further ado, let’s take a look at how men’s neckwear has evolved over time and how the most dapper gentlemen wear them today. After reading this, you might just walk away with a newfound appreciation of your tie collection.
THE BEGINNINGS OF THE NECKTIE
We can trace men’s neckwear back to the times of the Ancient Romans, but this staple as we know it today originated in the early 1600s. As with many fashion styles, this accessory has its roots in military history.
ORIGINS OF THE CRAVAT
During the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), Croatian soldiers served in many European armies, including the Kingdom of France. Many of these soldiers wore long red coats, fur hats, and small, knotted neckerchiefs that were thought to be worn for hygienic purposes.
These neckerchiefs caught the attention of Louis XIV, the King of France. The boy king was determined to spread France’s influence across the world, not only in politics and economics but in fashion as well.
Around 1635, Louis began wearing a neckerchief, which was called the “hrvat” by Croatians and later transformed into cravat (from the French word “cravate”). This fashion quickly spread throughout King Louis’s court and upper-class Parisian society.
EVOLUTION OF CRAVAT STYLES
As the cravat swept through France, new fabrics and knot styles began emerging. Lace cravats became widely popular with Parisians, as did the bow tie knot style.
Cravats also spread to other European countries and were worn for style rather than practicality. King Charles II of England was a fan of the lace cravat and further boosted its popularity when he reclaimed the throne in 1660.
As with many fashion trends, the cravat went in and out of vogue throughout the years, but not before introducing new color and fabrics. And, though these early cravats would be a long way from the sleek neckties we wear today, the foundation had been set.
MEN’S NECKWEAR IN THE 17TH AND 18TH CENTURY
Once a sign of opulence and wealth, the cravat would eventually be worn by all, regardless of their status in society. During the reign of Louis XIV, the cravat would evolve into the Steinkirk and later, the stock tie.
The Steinkirk was a style of cravat that was long and narrow with ends that were pulled through the buttonhole of the waistcoat and then twisted loosely into a knot. This style is said to have originated during the Battle of Steinkirk in 1692 when French forces fought against William of Orange.
The story goes that the French were caught unaware by the opposing force and had to dress quickly as the alarm sounded. Without time to tie an elaborate knot, the French soldiers hastily tied their cravats and rode to victory with the ends flying loose.
To commemorate their victory, the French began wearing their cravats loose and twined through the buttonholes of their uniforms. The trend was quick to spread in France, and the Steinkirk style would soon be worn by both men and women. This fashion trend lasted until the 18th century when it was replaced by the stock tie for a short time.
THE STOCK TIE
By the 18th century, neckwear had become a common menswear fashion and was worn by all well-dressed gentlemen. During this time, the evolution of the modern-day suit was also beginning to transform, with men wearing a jacket, waistcoat, and breeches.
In 1715, the stock tie was introduced. This neckwear featured a pleated and starched band of white muslin folded into a narrow band, which wrapped around the neck and was secured with buttons or a detachable buckle.
Although the style was all the rage during the 18th century, it would give way to ties that were more comfortable and decorative. Black and white neckcloths tied in loose knots or bow ties took hold, paving the way for our modern bowties.
By the late 18th century, the cravat had made a resurgence, largely due to the influence of the macaronis.
THE INFLUENCE OF THE MACARONIS
The macaronis were young Englishmen who had spent time in Italy and returned to England with new ideas for men’s fashion. These men wore frilled collars and large lace cravats that were more flamboyant, acting as the precursor to the dandies.
The British press often caricatured these men, which only added to their popularity. Despite being preoccupied with the American Revolutionary, even some Americans took to imitating the fashionable trend.
In the late 18th century in France, a group of men known as the Incroyables and their female counterparts called the Merveilleuses escalated the flamboyance by wearing eccentric outfits and outlandish cravats to protest against the luxurious styles of French nobility. Although their exaggerated styles were meant to mock the ornate fashion of French society, some men began taking more time dressing themselves in the morning and styling their cravats with flourish.
MEN’S NECKWEAR IN THE 19TH AND 20TH CENTURY
The extravagant styles of the 18th century didn’t last, but the emphasis on an immaculate and fashionable appearance remained. Men spent hours getting dressed in the morning, taking care to style their neckcloths with greater care.
BEAU BRUMMELL—THE ULTIMATE GENTLEMAN
An arbiter of male fashion, George “Beau” Brummell was an English dandy and a man of many sartorial talents. He was a close friend to future King George IV, which, no doubt, helped him rise to prominence as a fashion icon in England.
Brummell played a significant role in the early development of the modern suit and tie. He was known to take as much as five hours dressing himself each morning and emphasized modest, yet perfectly tailored clothing. In Brummell’s mind, attention-grabbing fashion was not fashion at all.
Everyone wanted Brummell’s fashion advice. In fact, his sharp sense of style inspired many publications such as The Neckclothitania in 1818, which instructed men on how to style their neckcloths in a fashionable way.
MODERN NECKWEAR STYLES BEGIN TO EMERGE
You have to hand it to cravats—they were in vogue for over 200 years throughout Europe. Still, every fashion trend must eventually come to an end. The start of the Industrial Revolution in the 20th century brought forth the beginnings of modern neckwear, as we know it today.
By this time, neckwear was something that men of all status and class wore, which meant that majority of working men wanted options that was comfortable and durable for the workday. This led to the emergence of scarves and neckerchiefs, and, later, the Four-in-Hand Knot (or long tie). During this time, the ascot tie and bow tie were introduced as well.
NECKWEAR FOR THE WORKING MAN
Industrial revolution workers gravitated towards comfort and practicality over style. Scarves and neckerchiefs were worn for extra warmth during the winter. Cravats were still being used during the 19th century, but how men tied them changed.
In the 1850s, the Four-in-Hand knot was introduced, and it remains one of the most common knots used for ties today. During the early 20th century, cravats lost much of their formality and began evolving to resemble modern ties.
In 1924, New Yorker Jesse Langsdorf redesigned the structure of the cravat-style tie into the modern style of ties seen today. Langsdorf’s ties were a three-segment construction, which deviated from the one strip of fabric that men had been wearing. Soon after, tie styles such as the skinny tie, the Kipper tie, and Windsor Knot appeared.
For formal occasions, men had a choice of a bow tie or an ascot. The bow tie was worn for white tie occasions in the evening, and there were two main styles: the butterfly and the bat’s wing. Both of these styles can be seen in men’s attire today.
The ascot tie was another popular style in the 19th century, but this broad silk tie style was reserved mostly for formal events during the day. It became widely popular during the 1880s when upper-class English society began wearing them to the Royal Ascot, a British racecourse which still enforces a traditional dress code to this day.
Though bow ties and neckties have become common styles for men, the ascot tie is a little harder to nail. Still, when they are done right, they are the picture of old-world elegance.
MODERN MEN’S NECKWEAR
Men’s neckwear has come a long way since the early 1600s. Now, it come in different cuts, styles, fabrics, patterns, and colors. They are also used more for fashion purposes, rather than just their functionality.
Now that you have a better sense of where men’s neckwear originated from, let’s look at how stylish gentlemen wear them today.
What was once used only for practical purposes is now a must-have fashion accessory for the modern man. When you’re ready to take things to the next level, you can explore all types of tie accessories to polish your wardrobe.
In recent years, stylish gentlemen have moved away from big, blocky ties and prefer skinnier ties with smaller knots. Remember the Four-in-Hand knot we discussed earlier? This perfectly sized knot remains one of the most popular knots, and if you haven’t master it, now is the time.
Much like fashion icon Brummell, most modern men opt for tie styles that anchor the outfit—not distract from it. This doesn’t mean that a boldly patterned tie doesn’t have a place in your wardrobe. In fact, every well-dressed professional should work on expanding their tie collection to include a variety of colors and patterns.
However, if you do choose a bolder pattern, be sure to tone down the rest of the outfit. For example, a patterned tie with a gingham shirt can look effortlessly stylish, but only if you mix and match them correctly.
Scarves can be both stylish and keep you warm during the colder months. However, many men wear them simply to enhance their fall or winter ensemble.
Ryan Reynolds is a big fan of scarves and a great source of style inspiration for men who want to don this accessory. Wearing a scarf and a short-sleeve tee-shirt has the potential to look silly, but Ryan nails it every time.
If you’re wearing one in the colder months, you can’t go wrong with a simple gray cashmere or wool scarf. It’s also difficult to style it wrong, but it is still important to know a few classic scarf styles.
The dapper-looking bow tie harkens back to earlier days. During the 1880s, they were all the rage, and the bow tie has made an impressive comeback in the 21st century.
Still, pulling off a bow tie can be a difficult endeavor for those who aren’t on top of their game. In honor of Bow Tie Day on August 28th, now is the perfect time to add more bow ties into your wardrobe.
A word of advice—avoid clip-on or pre-tied bow ties. Clip-on bow ties are for children, and people can tell if you’re wearing one. Learn how to tie your own so that you can look like a real style icon. If you need a few fashion ideas, you can’t go wrong taking a page out of Pharrell Williams’ playbook. This icon knows how to effortlessly rock a bow tie.
The history of men’s accessories is long and fascinating, which is why there are so many books on the subject. Understanding the origins of this popular menswear accessory provides you with a context that will help guide your future fashion decisions. A little knowledge will help you walk away a more educated, stylish gentleman.