The history of neckwear dates back to the Thirty Years War, when Croation soldiers decided to visit Paris in celebration of their victory over the Ottoman Empire. The soldiers wore brightly colored handkerchiefs made of silk around their necks when they were presented as heroes to Louis XIV. Louis was a monarch known for his interest in fashion and was immediately inspired by the soldier’s neckwear. He made them an insignia of royalty when he created a regiment of Royal Cravattes. The word “cravat” is derived from the word Croat.
In the late seventeenth century and into the eighteenth, the men wore Lace Cravats that took a large amount of time and effort to arrange. These cravats were often tied in place by cravat strings, arranged neatly and tied in a bow.
By this time there was much interest in the way to tie a proper cravat and this led to a series of publications. This began with the Neckclothitania, which is a book that contained instructions and illustrations on how to tie 14 different cravats. It was also the first book to use the work “tie” in association with neckwear.
The industrial revolution created a need for neckwear that was easy to put on, comfortable and would last an entire workday. The modern necktie, as is still worn by millions of men today, was born. It was long, thin and easy to knot and it didn’t come undone.
The English called it the “four in hand” because the knot resembled the reins of the four horse carriage used by the British upper class. By this time, the sometimes complicated, array of knots and styles of neckwear gave way to the neckties and bow ties, the latter a much smaller, more convenient version of the cravat. In formal dinner parties and when attending races, another type of neckwear was considered de rigueur; this was the Ascot tie, which had wide flaps that were crossed and pinned together on the chest.
New York tie maker, Jesse Langsdorf came up with a method of cutting the fabric on the bias and sewing it in three segments. This technique improved elasticity. Since that time, most men have worn the “Langsdorf” tie.
In Britain, Regimental stripes have been continuously used in tie designs since the 1920s. Traditionally, English stripes ran from the left shoulder down to the right side; however, when Brooks Brothers introduced the striped ties in the United States around the beginning of the 20th century, they had theirs cut in the opposite direction.
Ties in the present day come in any design and size you can imagine. Before WW2, ties were cut shorter because men wore their pants at their natural waist line. Also, since three piece suits were so popular, ties had to be cut shorter because a tie sticking out below the vest was a serious faux paux.
Around 1944, ties became much bolder. Men wanted to depart from the uniformity of military wear and make a statement with their neckwear. Designs such as Art Deco, Hunting Scenes, and Scenic Photographs all made their way to neckwear. The Bold Look lasted until about 1951, when the "Mister T" look (so termed by Esquire magazine), was introduced. The new style, characterized by tapered suits, slimmer lapels, and smaller hat brims, included thinner and not so wild ties.
Neckwear continued to evolve, the 1960’s introduced Pop Art themed neckwear and Paisley, the 1980’s brought thinner ties and eventually the 1990’s brought kitschey ties that had cartoon characters and pop culture icons that were meant to make a statement.
One thing that has not changed in neckwear, however, is the necessity of neckwear in our daily lives.