Boys' Neckties

The neck tie is the most vissible and variable fashion accessory worn by men. "Ties are very related to their times, reflective of trends in society," reports Mark-Evan Blackman, Chairman of the menswear department of New York's Fashion Institute of Technology. Neckties as we now know them are a relatively recent fashion accesory. The primary 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. Ties have only been worn by boys since the 1900s, although they only became widely accepted in the 1920s. They were extensively worn in the 1920s-40s as boys routeinly wore suits or blazers to school and to a variety of events and activities that now would call for casual clothes. In our more casual modern era, many American boys rarely wear ties and may not, in fact, learn to tie a knot until their teens. Usually British boys learn to handle a tie at an earlier age.


The color conventions for neckwear duringbthe 17th and 18th centuries was usually black for daytime wear and white for formal occasions at night. By the mid-19th century, why had become viewrd as traditinal and black revolutionary. Latter in the 19th century, black ties became increasingly common. By the end of the century, colored neckwear became increasingly popular. At first colors were limited to pale blues, lavenders, and grays.


I am not sure what materials were used to make neckwear in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Reports from the late 19th century, however, report silks, satins, and other materials were being used.


The modern necktie is esentially an English creation. The unlikely combination of Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, English coachmen, and Edward VII played key roles in the development and popularizatin of this modern fashion staple.

Lord Byron

The modern necktie appears to have evolved out of the 19th century cravat. The noted English poet Lord Byron played a ky role. While early 19th century gentlemen habitually wore cravtas or at least a stock. A non-conformist like Byron, however, disliked the cravat. He inadvertedly inspired a less formal look. He disdainfully developed a loose knot four inches wide, starting at the neck and ending in two long points. This casual style became known as the "Cravate a la Byron". To one German fashion historian at the time, Byron's casual style exhibited the poet's genius for freeing his imagination and his blood vessels at the same time: "Who can say to what degree a more or less stiffly starched and tightly bound neckcloth can restrain the springs of fantasy or throtle thought?"

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens created an American fashion sensation in 1867 when he visited America. (He wasn't very impressed with America.) He gave lectures in packed audotoriums anxious to hear the famous novelist. The fashion conscious couldn't help but notice that he wore a loose, unknotted cravat held by a seal ring. This became known as "Dickens' style", an early version of the "four-in-hand" which became the modern necktie.

English coachmen

The "four-in-hand" tie first appeared in the 1860s. The tie was named after the coachmen who rode on top, driving the fast teams of four horses. They tied their cravats into slip knots to keep them from blowing in the wind.

Edward VII

Edward VII had a tremendous impact on men's fashions. (Which is all together fitting because as a boy he was a leader in boy's fashions, helping to popularize the sailor suit and kilt.) He was obviously influential in affecting English fashion, but English fashion genrally dominated European and American mens'wear. Thus the Prince of Wales and future king was a key figure in 19th century fashion. Edward while still prince of Wales eventually settled on a formally tied stock rather than a loose floppy cravat. He wore both the "four-in hand" or Ascot. Eventually the narrower versions emeged in the form of the, the Derby and Oxford--beginning to resemble the modern necktie of today. The primary difference being that they are longer and narrower, yielding smaller knots giving the collar more prominence.

The Industrial Workforce

Men's neckwear in the late 19th century was quite varied. The "four in hand" was becoming increasingly common. There were, however, many other styles. There were ready-made cravats and hooked-on bow ties. There were varied fabrics and patterns. Eventually, however, it was the "four-in-hand" that became widely accepted. One factor in the popularity of the "four-in-hand" was the expanding need for a large clerical work force in the increasingly industrialized work force of the late 19th century. Yhe office workers of the day needed a tie that was quick and easy to knot, comfortable to wear, and able to last a long time.


We are not sure when the necktie first appeared. We see them in the mid-19th century. An example is an unidentified American boy about 1850. They do not seem to have been very common for boys, Nexkties were worn by boys throughout the 20th century. While we have a good idea of patterns and cuts, colors are a bit of a mystery because of the back and white photography of the day. We notice modern-looking neckties in the 1910s. A good example is an American boy, Robert Hubbard, in 1917. A good example is Arian Viring in 1941. Ties declined in popularity during the 1960s, in the midst of the Peacock Revolution. There was a definite lapse in the inclination of men and boys to wear ties, as a result of the rebellion against both tradition and the formality of dress. But by the mid-1970s, this trend had reversed itself to the point where now, in the 1980s, the sale of neckwear is probably as strong if not stronger than it has ever been. How to account for the continued popularity of neckties? For years, fashion historians and sociologists predicted their demise--the one element of a man's attire with no obvious function. Perhaps they are merely part of an inherited tradition. As long as world and business leaders continue to wear ties, the young executives will follow suit and ties will remain a key to the boardroom. On the other hand, there does seem to be some aesthetic value in wearing a tie. In addition to covering the buttons of the shirt and giving emphasis to the verticality of a man's body (in much the same way that the buttons on a military uniform do), it adds a sense of luxury and richness, color and texture, to the austerity of the dress shirt and business suit, not to mentiion the school blazer.

Design and Shapes

Perhaps no other item of a men and boys' wardrobes has altered its shape so often as the tie. It seems that the first question fashion writers always ask is, "Will ties be wider or narrower this year?" There is pribably more stability in boys' ties as so many are associated with school uniform and the design of school ties is less likelt to change from year to year. School ties, for example were never made in the wide sizes common in the 1940s and 70s. In the late 1960s and early 70s, ties grew to five inches in width. At the time, the rationale was that these wide ties were in proportion to the wider jacket lapels and longer shirt collars. This was the correct approach, since these elements should always be in balance. But once these exaggerated proportions were discarded, fat ties became another victim of fashion. The proper width of a tie, and one that will never be out of style, is 3 1/4 inches (2 3/4 to 3 1/2 inches are also acceptable). As long as the proportions of men's clothing remain true to a man's body shape, this width will set the proper balance. Though many of the neckties sold today are cut in these widths, the section of the tie where the knot is made has remained thick--a holdover from the fat, napkinlike ties of the 1960s. This makes tying a small, elegant knot more difficult. Yet the relationship of a tie's knot to the shirt collar is an important consideration. If the relationship is proper, the knot will never be so large that it spreads the collar or forces it open, nor will it be so small that it will become lost in the collar.

Standard neckties come in lengths anywhere from 52 to 58 inches long. Taller men, or those who use a Windsor knot, may require a longer tie, which can be special-ordered. After being tied, the tips of the necktie should be long enough to reach the waistband of the trousers. (The ends of the tie should either be equal, or the smaller one just a fraction shorter.)

After you've confirmed the appropriateness of a tie's shape, next feel the fabric. If it's made of silk and it feels rough to the touch, then the silk is of an inferior quality. Silk that is not supple is very much like hair that's been dyed too often. It's brittle and its ends will fray easily. If care hasn't been taken in the inspection of ties, you may find misweaves and puckers.

All fine ties are cut on the bias, which means they have been cut across the fabric. This allows them to fall straight after the knot has been tied, without curling. A simple test consists of holding a tie across you hand. If it begins to twirl in the air, it was probably not cut on the bias and it should not be purchased.

Quality neckties want you to see everything: they have nothing to hide. Originally, neckties were cut from a single large square of silk, which was then folded seven times in order to give the tie a rich fullness. Today the price of silk and the lack of skilled artisans prohibits this form of manufacture. Ties now derive their body and fullness by means of an additional inner lining.

Besides giving body to the tie, the lining helps the tie hold its shape. The finest-quality ties today are lined with 100 percent wool and are generally made only in Europe. Most other quality ties use a wool mixture. The finer the tie, the higher the wool content. You can actually check. Fine linings are marked with a series of gold bars which are visible if you open up the back of the tie. The more bars, the heavier the lining. Many people assume that a quality tie must be thick, as this would suggest that the silk is heavy and therefore expensive. In fact, in most cases it is simply the insertion of a heavier lining that gives the tie this bulk. Be sure, then, that the bulk of the tie that you're feeling is the silk outer fabric and not the lining.

After you've examined the lining, take a look at the tie just above the spot where the two sides come together to form an inverted V. In most quality ties, you will find a stitch joining the back flaps. This is called the bar tack, and it helps maintain the shape of the tie.

Now, if you can, open up the tie as far as possible and look for a loose black thread. This thread is called the slip stitch and was invented by a man named Joss Langsdorf in the 1920s to give added resilience to the tie. The fact that the tie can move along this thread means that it won't rip when it's being wrapped tightly around your neck, and that it will, when removed, return to its original shape. Pull the slip stitch, and the tie should gather. If you can do this, you've found a quality, handmade tie.

Finally, take the tie in your hand and run your finger down its length. You should find three separate pieces of fabric stitched together, not two, as in most commercial ties. This construction is used to help the tie conform easily to the neck.
Note: This information on ties is abstracted from an article by by Alan Flusser

Colors and Patterns

Neckties come in a dizzing variety of colors. Unlike most make garments not sports related, bright colors were acceptable for neckties. There were several different types of patterns: solid colors, stripes or partial stripes (horizonal and diagnonal bias), and patterns (such as polkadots and paisley or organization patterns). The popularity of these different patterns has varied substantially over time and among countries. Many color and shade could be mixed together, but of course some colors were more popular than others. There were no patterns especially done for boys. Many boys in England and related countries wore striped ties. These were of course were school ties done in trhe school colors. They are known in the United States as rep/repp (referring to the weave of silk used) because there were fewer private schookls with destinctive ties. Stripes were not as common in other countries, byt we still see them. A good example is Dutch boy Frans Leferink in 1927.

Figure 1.--Modern boys dress up much less than in the past. American boys rarely wear ties, except to go to church. British boys more commonly wear ties because many schools require them as part of school uniforms.


There are several standard ways to knot a tie. These include 1) the half-Windsor (sometimes called the double Widsor) knot, 2) the Windsor kot, the four-in-hand knot, and the Pratt knot. The four-in-hand knot (which dates back to the days of the coach and four in England, when the men on top of the coach would knot their ties in this manner to prevent them from flying in the wind while they were driving). It is the most necktie knot. The Windsor knot, purportedly invented by the Duke of Windsor (Edward VIII), though he later disclaimed the invention. It was surely popularized by him in the 1930s. In fact it was widely worn in the 19th century. We note the Duke's grandfather (Edward VII) wearing it. This was most common with adults, but we do see boys wearing it. A good example is an American boy, Joe Meyer, we think in the 1870s. We are not yet sure what it was called at the time. A simpler version is called the half-Windsor. The Pratt knot is a very recent creation. It was invented in 1989. Though many men considered good dressers use the Windsor or half-Winsdor knot, it has always struck many as giving too bulbous an appearance--simply too large. It was never adopted at British schools or by most American boys. The great majority of men and boys simply do not think they look good wearing this knot. There are a few notable exceptions, particularly Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. In any case, the Windsor knot only looks good when worn with a spread collar, which is how the Duke of Windsor originally wore it. The preference of most people wearing neckties is the standard four-in-hand knot. It is the smallest and most precise of the various necktie knots, and it has been the staple of the natural-shouldered, British-American style of dress since World War I. Fashion experts caution that whether one chooses the four-in-hand, the Windsor, the half-Winsdor, or the Pratt knot, it should be tied so that there is a dimple or crease in the center of the tie just below the knot. This forces the tie to billow and create a fullness that is the secret to its proper draping and a smart look.

Bow Tie

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.

Suits and Sports Jackets

The modern neck tie as we know it began to be commonly worn in the 1920s and 30s with suits and sports jackets. As the Eton collar gave way to soft collars boys began wearing them. By the 1930s, a boy wearing a suit would also wear a tie. At the time, it was much more common for boys to wear suits. Modern boys dress up much less than in the past. American boys rarely wear ties, except to go to church. Boys not in church going families might go for years without wearing a tie. British boys more commonly wear ties because many schools require them as part of school uniforms.

Figure 2.--The school by the 1930s had become as important a part of the English school uniform as the peaked cap, blazer, short pants, and kneesocks. These boys in the 1980s wear their red and blue striped ties.

Country Trends

We do not yet have much country nformsation. We do have an American necktie page.

School Uniforms

British schools since the 1920s, when suits with Eton collars began going out of style, have required boys to wear ties in the school colors. Eton collars were still worn at some schools in the 1920s, but fewer and fewer as the decade worn on. Generally the younger boys at a school all wore the same tie, usually stripes in the school colors. Some schools had solid colored ties. Destinctive ties were given to prefects and boys who won their colors. Or as one boy complained, they had to buy the new ties. Most girls' schools also reqquired that ties be worn as part of the school uniform. American schools have not generally had uniforms, with a few exceptions. Some exclusive private schools, following the British example required them. Catholic parochial schools generally required them. In the 1990s, many public schools in an effort to deal with festering problems of discipline have begun to institute uniforms at the elementary and middle school level. Most of the new uniforms, however, do not involve neckties.


Boys have employed varios approaches to wearing neckties. Somne allow them to hang free. There are images showing ties flapping in the breeze. Others have use tie clips, but these rather wnt out of style in the 1960s. There were also tie pins. Somne boys tuck their ties into their trousers. This was not always approved of by parents. Schools also sometimes had rles in countries like Britain where childre wore ties to school. Two British schools boys are seen here in their formal uniform requiring a blazer (figure 1). Many schools did not hsave rules about how ties were to be worn, but some did.


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Created: January 11, 1999
Last updated: 6:47 AM 2/16/2010