Depending on who you talk to, neckties are either a torture device or a lovely accent to a well-crafted suit—there isn’t usually much room in between. Standards for fashion are becoming more casual every year, and fewer men are wearing neckties. The relaxed boardroom look is taking hold, and executives all over the world are leaving the tie in the closet. That’s not to say that there is no place for the necktie in modern society. Fans of ties still buy them in every hue, pattern, and style. Tie aficionados feel that they should adorn their bespoke shirt with an eye-catching tie. Let’s see how the necktie got to this point by examining the history of the necktie.
Into the Way Back Machine
The first inklings of a necktie date back to the Roman Empire. In the 2nd century A.D., Roman legionnaires weren’t exactly trying to come up with a cool new fashion trend. Instead, they tied bands of cloth around their necks a functional reason, whether for use in battle or protection against the weather. Historians call that the first neckwear. Other historians point to the terracotta warrior statues in China as the first example of neckties. They wore neck scarves to protect what they believed to be the source of their power—the Adam’s apple.
17th Century France
Most experts agree that the true history of the necktie started in France in 1636. Croatian mercenaries that were hired by French King Louis XIV wore cloth bands around their necks to ward off the elements and other dangers, including swords, arrows, and other armaments. Parisians loved the look and quickly translated the Croat’s clothing into a new accessory. Thus, the cravat was born. The English adapted the look and spread it to the American colonies. Early cravats and styles morphed, and knots proliferated. They often looked like lace bibs with bows, and some reached two yards in length.
Fashion Finds a Way
In the following centuries, the cravat changed to become more along the lines of what we recognize today. The cravat became shorter, and collars began taking prominence in men’s fashion. In the 19th century, men wore ties with upturned collars. Then, the downturned collar came into vogue—even Abraham Lincoln adopted this style for some portraits during the Civil War. Charles Dickens visited the U.S. during this time and wore a downturned collar with a loose unknotted cravat held by a seal ring. Dickens’ style was an ancestor of the “four-in-hand’ progenitor of the modern necktie.