Figure 1.--.

Modern male neckwear can be be traced to the 17th-century cravat, a style developed from Croatian mercenaries honored by Louis XIV. As with so much of male fashion, the style is military in origin.

Historical Background

The cravat originated in France during the 17th century, inspired by the neckwear of Croatian soldiers. It was in early 19th centuty France and England that the cravat achieved the height of fassion.


The history of the modern necktie dates back a mere hundred years or so, although its origins can be found in 17th century Croatia. As so much of male fashion, the origins can be found in military dress and came into existence as the direct result of a war. The tie apparntly originated in Croatia. As you may know, Croatia was once a part of the Roman Empire. Eventually a Christian kingdom was absorbed by the Ottoman Turks and then liberated in a sence by the Austrians.


A crack Croatian regiment (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), visited Paris during 1660, in celebration of its hard-fought victory over the Ottomans. There, the soldiers were presented as glorious heroes to Louis XIV, a monarch well known for his appreciation of fashion and interest in personal adornment. It so happened that the officers of this regiment were wearing brightly colored handkerchiefs or cloth bands fashioned of silk around their necks. The purpose of the neckwear is unknown, it could have been ornamental, protection from cold weather, or even to ward off sword slashes. Another report suggests that Louis XIV hired Croatian mercinaries in 1636 as it was on these mercenaries that he first observed cloth bands around their necks. While HBC cannot at this time determine the specifics, clearly the origin was the Croatians and adapted by the fashion conscious French.

These neck cloths struck the fancy of the lengendary Sun King, Louis XIV. As a result, Louis soon made them an insignia of royalty as he created a regiment of Royal Cravattes. Fashion conscious Parisians, much influenced by the king's tastes, soon adapted the Croatian scarves into a popular new male fashion accessory. They called it, of course--the cravate, French for Croat or Croatian. The word "cravat," lost its French final "e" when it crossed the English Chanel to enter the English fashion picture.


It wasn't long before this new style crossed the channel to England. The cravat replaced the neck-high lace collars of Van Dyck's Charles I and Charles II. The cravat as it came to be worn in France and England was at first a straight narrow strip of lace or linen, hanging down from the neck. In the 18th century the jabot took over, the ruffled and embroidered shirt-front billowing up over the opening of the waistcoat almost to conceal the neckcloth, which now buttoned at the back. Then the neckcloth re-established itself over the jabot, covering the shirt-front and evolving into the stock, which grew freer and more voluminous in its proportions as time went on.


In America, ties were also an integral part of a man's wardrobe. However, until the time of the Civil War, most ties were imported from the Continent. Gradually, though, the industry gained ground, to the point that at the beginning of the 20th century, American neckwear finally began to rival that of Europe, despite the fact that European fabrics were still being heavily imported.

Americans are familiar with their great Revolutinary figirs wearing knee breeches. Closer examination of portraits Gilbert Stewart and Charles Wilson Peale show them wearing swath-like cravats. Many boys of the era until the 1780s commonly wore similar cravats. The American versions of the cravat, however, were somewhat less exagerated than their European competitors.


No 18th or 19th century 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 18th Century

The variations in styles appaears to have known no bounds. Once launched by the French and adopted with enthusiam by the English, the cravat and associated knots proliferated. An endless variety of cravats appeared, including 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." One popular style in the 16th century was the Steinkirk, a corkscrew shaped version, originating from the Battle of Steinkirkin which surprised French officers hastily twisted on their cravats as they rushed out of their tents to confront the unexpected British onslaught.

Early 19th century

Collars grew higher at the turn of the 19th century. pointed edges around the chin and cheeks became fashionable. Cravats were wrapped tightly around the neck ending in bows of varying length. Cravats, at this period, were sometimes as much as a foot high, with the points of the collars rising half-way up the face and obliging gentlemen to keep their chins and their heads well up in the air. The visual impression was distinctive. English novelist Charles Dickens writing in the 19th century described on of his characters, Mr. Dombey as "... slightly turning his head in his cravat as if it were a socket." Sir Thomas Lawrence was one of the great masters of portraiture. His portraits of the Rulers and their Statesmen at the Congress of Vienna in 1814, which hang in the Waterloo Gallery at Windsor, depict the statesmen of the day wearing sumptuous neckcloths, tied either in a bow or in a long turn-over knot.

Beau Brummel

It was George "Beau" Brummel who first elevated the cravat into a cult-that crony and sartorial arbiter of George IV who was known to have educed his king to tears by his criticism of the style of his costume. Brummel gave particular attention to the cravat and indeed was the great inovator of cravat fashions. Brummel starched his neckwear, created novel, intricate knots, and might take up to an hour to tie one of his intricate knots. Brummel was the first to introduce starch into it, insisting that it should be stiffened to the "consistency of fine writing papcr". His dressing-room was, as Sir Max Beerbohm recalls, "a studio in which he daily composed that elaborate portrait of himself which was to be exhibited for a few hours in the clubrooms of the town". He would change his clothes three times a day, taking three hours over the process each time, and a number of these hours were devoted to tying and retying his cravats, discarding them and often spoiling them one after the other until knot and folds achieved that degree of immaculate per- fection which the standards of the dandy demanded. One had to tie the knot correctly on the first attempt or the starched tie would have to be discarded. It is said of Beau Brummel himself that incorrectly tied cravats would pile up on the floor.

Neckwear as a result of Brummel influence assumed great importance. Books were even written at this period with such titles as The Art of Tying the Cravat. Novelist Honore de Balzac wrote in 1818 that a cravat was protectiin against "... colds, stiff necks, inflamations, tooache," which also "enables us to know more about the person who is wearing it."

Mid-19th Century

Cravats grew more casual again as the 19th century went on. Collars became lower, with wide enough gaps between the points to allow the head to move freely enough from side to side. Lord Byron, with his loose open collars, proclaimed a reaction against 'Brummellism" towards a more comfortable form of neckwear. A portrait of him painted by Sandars, in a Highland scene, shows his cravat, knotted in a careless bow, flowing away from his neck in the breeze, in fine romantic style. Baron Stockmar, on the other hand, as befits the courtier as opposed to the poet, fancies himself, when sitting for his portrait by Partridge, in a cravat of the same kind, but more elegantly and discreetly tied.

Cravats gradually shrank into smaller bows as the 19th century progressed. The cravate was first worn with an upturned collar, but then a turned down style deveoped. These can often be seen in the increasing number of portraits available during the Civil War era (1861-65) as a result of the proliferation of photographic studios.

Late 19th century

The neck cloths of the Victorians remained ample and careless enough until the latter part of the 19th century. It was in the late 19th century that the cravat was finally replaced by the modern necktie.


Ther were a variety of altrnatives to the cravat available to 18th and 19th century men and boys. The most common was the stock. There were some other more bizarre alternatives.

The Stock

An alternative to the cravat existed in the 18th and well into the 19th century--the stock. A cravat was a generally long piece of cloth that would around the neck and tied in front. The stock, on the other hand, resembled protective collars that are today worn for whiplash or other neck injuries.


The modern bowtie appears to have evolved out of the 19th century stock. A neck adornment looking much like a bow-tie was commonly worn by men and boys in the 1850s and 60s until mother began choosing increasingly large and more floppy bows for boys. The modern bow-tie appeared in the 1920s. It became especially popular for boys wearing short pants Eton suits as well as sport jackets and shorts during the 1940s-60s, presumably when clip-on bow ties became available.

The Solitare

The solitare appeared in the mid-18th century. It was attached to ghe wigs that men wore at the time. It was attaced in the back, wrapped around the neck, and brought to a bow in front over a cravat. Ths was not commonly worn by boys who were much less likely to wear wigs than their fathers.


The "macaronis" appeared in England during the mid-18th century. They were dandies affecting an Italian-inspired fashion, coloring their cheeks with rouge and wearing diamond-studed pumps, and cravats with huge bows. I assume that macraonis was a derisive comment on the pasta eaten by Italians. The macraoni fashion was derisively alluded when Americans who adopted it were called yankee doodle dandies.


Fashionable Frenchmen vied with themselves over the size of their cravats. Those who adopted massive cravats were called the incroyables, meaning the "incredibles". They wore such large cravats that their chins were hidden.

Specialty cravats

A variety of specialty cravats appeared in the mid-19th century. The cravate e l'Americaine used whalebone (baleen) to give it a stiff look. It was called the American cravat because Americans so dominated 19th century whaling. The cravate a la gastronome could be loosened for a large meal in case of indigestion, apoplexy, or fainting.

Open collars

Boys had been wearing the same neckwear as men until specialized boyish styles appeared in the late 17th century. Along with the new skeleton suits which appeared were open, often ruffled collars. This style remained popular until about the 1830s when boys began buttoning their collars. At that time they would generally adopt beck wear similar to their fathers.


Boys began wearing destinctive child-like bows in the 1870s. Previously they had worn generally small collars with modest stocks or string ties. This had changed radically in the 1880s as along with the new Fauntleroy craze that boys would wear often massive bows. This continued until the turn of the century as ruffled collars began to replace lace-trimed collars and got smaller. Bows rapidlt declined in popularity for boys in the 1900s.


It was the necktie which finally replaced the cravat. It was replaced during the 19th century by an unlikely combination of Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, English coachmen, and Edward VII. The necktie was tailormade for the clerical workforce of the new industrial economy of the late 19th century. It was inexpensive, lasted for ever, and was easy and quick to knot.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: January 11, 1999
Last updated: December 8, 1999