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Knot What You Thought: Why We Tie.


Knot What You Thought: Why We Tie

Neck Ties. These little accessories serve no discernible purpose, right? And frankly, if they weren’t so common place, they’d just seem like an open invitation for crazy people to strangle you. So what’s the deal?

The tie is actually an evolved form of its great granddaddy: the scarf. The scarf’s purpose is much more obvious, having kept necks warm since before “fashion” was even a thing. The decorative accessory first appeared in early 17th century France, under King Louis XIII. Croatian mercenaries were serving under France in the Thirty Years’ War, and after their victory over the Ottoman Empire, they were heralded as heroes. Cravats are named for the men who wore them; “à la croate” is French for “in the style of Croats,” and the small, knotted neckerchiefs they wore provoked a fashion trend in Paris. The trend was official for French nobility when seven-year-old boy king Louis XIV started wearing a lace cravat. It naturally follows that the cravat became increasingly more intricate in its arrangement, layering, and knotting. It was a time for fanciness.

1890's Croatia

Styles waxed and waned (as they are wont to do,) and the cravat made its comeback in the 1800s thanks to the macaronis. This group of Yankee Doodles travelled to Europe and brought styles to America from Italy and France, and the cravat was one of them. This started a craze of different styles and knots which expressed the wearer’s wealth and prestige.

With the industrial revolution came the necessity for neckwear that was fashionable, but efficient. Men wanted a cravat that could be quickly assembled and comfortably worn through the workday. The necktie evolved to accommodate the common man—longer cuts of fabric could be tied easily and securely, and so they were.

Meanwhile in Britain, the ascot originated as a cross between the scarf and the necktie. Much looser than cravats, but more decorative than scarves, the simple knot was secured with ornamental pins. The ascot is actually named after a high-society horserace, “The Royal Ascot.” This type of tie took on a dress-casual role, as they were often worn at social, but exclusive outings.


After WWI, painted neckties became a form of decoration for men. These were embraced wholeheartedly, with ties growing flashier and more colorful up through the 1950s. Servicemen enjoyed breaking away from the drab uniformity of their military uniforms, and ties were a way to do just that.


If you were more of a western man in the 1940s, you were likely rocking the bolo tie. Dr. William E. Mangelsdorf patented the slide design of the bolo in Arizona in the ‘40s, although some say the design was invented by pioneers in the latter 1800s.


Until the 1950s, neckties were much shorter than we wear them today. Love it or hate it, pants were worn on the natural waist, much higher than the hip where they sit today. Minimalist art hit in the 60s, and fashion reflected it. Lapels, hat brims, and neckties started to slim down, and patterns took on a more subdued feel. This is when the tie as we know it emerged, longer and slimmer than its predecessors.


As always, styles have flowed in and out through the last couple decades. Right now style seems to favor a middling tie—not wide, not skinny. That said, nothing is off-limits either. Skinny ties aren’t uncommon, and you can spot ascots at certain weddings and formal events too. Come to think of it, if there’s not a 20-something-year-old trying to be quirky by wearing a cravat right now, I’ll eat my hat.

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