A Brief History of the Necktie

Tie lovers rejoice!

At long last, the skinny tie has come back in style. Just enjoy this most fashionable of fashion statements while you can because it won’t last; tie styles ebb and flow with more regularly than the tide off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. The necktie has a long, long history as an adornment for men and depending up on how strict you want to regard what is and what is not a tie, it goes back much farther than many people might think.

The very first record of what might be termed the ancestor to the modern tie goes back at least to ancient Roman times when soldiers wore a focale. A focale was actually closer to a scarf and it was dipped in water and worn around the neck expressly for the purpose of cooling the body. Good news: the focale failed to catch on as a statement of fashion although global warming could very well bring it back into style.

The necktie as it is properly worn today traces back to the late 1600’s when mercenaries from Croatia hired by Austria to fight the French showed up with a linen scarf around the neck. It isn’t known for sure whether this was a focale or a fashion statement, but one thing is known: the French seized upon the fashionable side of the scarf and adopted it for their own, giving the name cravate in honor of the Croats. Interestingly, the bow tie that became almost de rigueur among American men in the Roaring Twenties also originated in Croatia.

The cravat swept across the English Channel and was adopted by Britain’s King Charles II. It is said that the only thing that spread throughout London quicker than the Black Plague and the Great Fire of 1666 was the fad of wearing the cravat. Even so, it was none other than Beau Brummel himself who did the most to make the tie an institution. Skinny ties would not be too keen on the Beau Brummel look which was typified by wide expansive ties that were perhaps second only to the ties of the early 1970’s in terms of size and inconvenience. In fact, the Beau Brummel ties inspired at least thirty-two different kinds of knots.

Since that time the tie has been a mainstay of the professional look for men. Over the centuries the size and functionality of ties has changed, as well as its primary use. For many guys in college the only time a tie was ever used was to wrap around the doorknob to send the signal they had a girl in their dorm and did not wish to be disturbed. Even so, the tie has still managed to withstand the assaults of the move toward casual wear in the office. Khaki and even jeans may be acceptable, but the very quintessence of professionalism remains the addition of the necktie.