In-depth History of the Necktie

March 29, 2017

In-depth History of the Necktie

From War to Fashion Accessory...

History of the necktie has its roots in military history and like many technologies and trends, was adopted into the civilian world.

2nd Century BCE

As discovered via the terracotta Chinese soldier sculptures.  Buried as guardians for the emperor Qin Shih Huang, these terracotta warriors show a carefully tied neck piece wrapped around their neck in cloth.  

Only seen on select soldiers it is postulated that it was an honorary badge for performance.  But in looking at them, they provide a great representation of what we know today as string bow ties.

terracotta warriors

1st Century CE

In ancient Rome a band of linen, known as a “sudarium” became part of the standard clothing complement for most men.  
Roman Sundariumnerotrajan
Conclusive usage is still debated, the band was worn around the neck in a knot or sometimes around the waist.  Emperor Nero wore it around his neck during all public appearances.  It was also present on the Denarius coinage of the time with his profile.

Additional evidence is from Roman Emperor Trajan, who was regarded as a military genius and contributed heavily to the expansion of the Roman Empire. Visible in a column erected in Dacia around 113 AD after his victory, the soldiers are shown with various types of cloth around their necks.  

Again, as with the Chinese soldiers, it’s not consistent, but may demonstrate a formal military dress or honor.

17th Century

French King Louis III hired Croatian mercenaries during the Thirty Years War.  They wore colorful neckerchiefs, using common material for the front-line soldiers, and made of muslin or silk for the officers.

These were knotted, around their neck, as part of their uniform to hold up their cape.  The ends were arranged in a bow, or garnished with a tuft or tassel, and hung loosely over the front of the uniform.  

croatian cravat

Considered the forerunner to both the long and bow tie, it started the world-wide phenomenon in men’s style.  At first called a “croate” in reference to the Croatian soldiers, it was later corrupted and the word “cravatte” gained favor. 

King Louis III liked this look enough that he required they be worn during Royal events.  Calling it “La Cravate”, the term persisted to what it is known as today in France, although the actual construction has evolved considerably.

During this time, the cravat also made its way to England after Charles II reclaimed his throne.  The style expanded to all English colonies over the century, cementing the neckwear style forever.  

As the fashion grew, not everyone thought it was agreeable.  Cromwell, writing from Ely, in 1643 said, “Bring me two pair of boot hose from the Fleming who Lives in London lane; also a new cravat.”  Even Dryden in 1674 called it an “extreme” fashion.

King Charles II

In a different part of Europe during the Battle of Steenkerque in 1692 (also known as “Steinkirk”), the French who fought with many noblemen involved, wore into battle a quickly tied cravat that looked more like modern ties, as they were narrow, plain and lightly trimmed, but were wrapped around the neck several times.

18th Century

“Stocks”, or “Jabots” became popular, growing out of utility in men’s style. Originally from leather, but evolving into cloth, it wrapped around a man’s neck several times, typically holding a small bag in the back of the neck which housed the long hair of the man.  Also known as a “bag-wig” hairstyle, the neckwear worn with it was called the stock.

Jabot Man

During this time, the cravat began to make its appearance in the United States, brought by young English fashionistas who returned from Continental Europe with new fashion ideas.  

Successive modifications to the cravat were made and can be seen after the year 1789 by looking at the pictures of President Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Adams. After 1890 cravats were made very wide in the center and tapered off toward the end.

Still later, they were worn narrow, often crossed in the front and secured by a sizable breast-pin. Increased varieties of patterns also began to emerge.

19th Century

In the early 1800’s, French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, possibly setting a style from a leadership position, wore a white cravat during the Battle of Waterloo to honor the Duke of Wellington.  It was during this time that the word “tie” started to enter the lexicon.

Charles Dickens, describing his character John Chivery in his book “Little Dorrit” speaks of “a chaste neckerchief much in vogue in those days, representing a preserve of lilac pheasants on a buff ground.”

While from the same author we know that one of the Cheeryble Brothers in the book “Nicholas Nickleby”, “wore his coat buttoned, and his dimpled white chin rested in the folds of a white neckerchief—not one of your stiff, starched, apoplectic cravats, but an easy, old fashioned, white neckcloth that a man might go to bed in and be none the worse for wear.”

In the late 1880’s, when wearing a black cravat was considered required fashion for men, the "Four in Hand" knot was invented using the traditional cravat or ascots. Greater experimentation continued as men began to care more about their looks when in public. 

The Four in Hand knot is the most popular tie knot used today.  Bow ties, which has a prominent place in the history of the necktie, which had its introduction at the same time as cravats, were still in use, but more and more being reserved for formal and evening white attire events.

Four In Hand Knot
Color was only acceptable as part of a costume or an undressed state, where white was a must wear at all balls or soiree’s.  The types of neckties at the time had recognized names in men’s fashion.  These included:

  • “Oriental” which was in the form of a turban, stiff with starch and whalebone.
  • “Cravate al’Americaine” which presented the appearance of “a column destined to support a Corinthian capital, and held the neck as if in a vise,” the prevailing color being sea green or striped blue, red and white.
  • “Bryon” cravat, ending in a bow or rosette, but free and easy around the neck.
  • “Cravate mathematique”, grave and severe in style, the slighted wrinkle being strictly prohibited.
  • “Cravate de gastronome”, a loose, elastic bundle of muslin that yielded to the vacillation of the jaws, and possessed the advantage of being easily loosened in cases of indigestion or apoplexy.

    Neckties Styles 1630-1750

    There were eighteen ways of tying a cravat, with knots and without knots, sometimes with triple knots, and not infrequently ending in a ruffle or a waterfall.

    A properly equipped traveler in the early of the 19th century carried a box containing a dozen pure white, and dozen stripped white and a dozen colored cravats, two whalebone stiffeners and a small iron to press the folds into shape.

    Those gave way to the scarf and necktie which generalizes under three knot heads in the late 1800’s—the puff, the flat and the simple knot of evening dress.

    It was noted in the Los Angeles Herald in 1891 that,
    “The taste in wearing them varies according to the wearer. As a rule, wealthy men care the least about dress. Some are satisfied to do simply neat, and some do not care to be even that. President Arthur was always dressy, but never ostentatious; Grant always bought plain black neckties; Cleveland is simplicity itself, and contents himself with a hand tied neckerchief. Edmunds of Vermont, Hale of Maine, Hawley of Connecticut, and Hampton and Butler of South Carolina, are quiet dressers. The same may be said of many famous men in the commercial walks of life Gould, George Vanderbilt, Depew, the Rockefellers, and others who move in the group of millionaires. Actors, club men and those who mingle much in society run to bright colors, though rarely inharmonious with the rest of their costume.”

    During this same time period, the "Neckclothitania" was produced as a catalog of possible tie configuration for the gentleman to use when selecting the type of knot to use.  Likely the first "how to" guide to neckties, it's left its mark.

    20th Century

    Necktie evolution become iteratively active starting in the early 1900’s.  Prior to that, the cravat was pretty consistent and maintained a loyal, and growing following.  Once the fashion impact of the cravat occurred, the changes happened quickly.

    • Cravats began to be consistently tied into various knots
    • Comfort, function and fit, versus style began to win the day, driving changing the shape of the ties to something like we see today.
    • The New York tie maker Jessi Langsdorf invented a fabric cutting method which allowed the tie to regain its shape after the knot was undone.  This provided the means for any man to own a tie which could be worn time and again without excessive wear
    • In the early 1940’s Dr. William E. Mangelsdorf invented the Bolo tie, which has changed the landscape of neckties in the Southwestern United States
      Once established, the evolution became fashion based which saw transitions including:
      • Shorter ties
      • Introduction of patterns and colors
      • Skinny ties
      • Fabric experimentations (knit, polyester, etc.)
      • Very wide ties (“Kipper Tie”)
        Finalizing on a standardized width (3.75”), ties today have normalized into something very familiar in form and function.

        History of the Necktie Continues

        The history of the necktie continues as creativity, design and fashion continue to evolve the world of men’s neckties.

        So what happens to all the old neckties?  Well, some of the special ones are turned into stylish wallets like we create!  You can look at our Tie-Fold, Tie-Rack and Tie-Slim versions to find a unique one just for you!

        -Cotterell, M., (2004) The Terracotta Warriors: The Secret Codes of the Emperor’s Army, Bear & Co.
        -Lisa M. Cerrato, Robert F. Chavez, Perseus Classics Collection: An Overview. (n.d.). Retrieved March 25, 2017, from
        -Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen; photographed at Musei Capitolini, University of St. Andrews, Scotland (n.d.). Trajan's Amazing Column. Retrieved March 25, 2017, from
        -Cravat Regiment. (2017, March 17). Retrieved March 25, 2017, from
        -Le Fontaine, F. G. (1891, April 21). About Neckties. Los Angeles Herald. Retrieved March 25, 2017, from
        -Little Dorrit. (2017, March 25). Retrieved March 26, 2017, from
        -Nicholas Nickleby. (2017, March 25). Retrieved March 26, 2017, from

        -Shots, S. (2009, October 11). Terracotta Warriors. Retrieved March 25, 2017, from
        -Wind, N. (2012, October 31). Terracotta Army. Retrieved March 25, 2017, from
        -C. Jon, (Photographer). (2013, July 13). Trajan’s Column, auxiliary cavalryman, University of St Andrews, [digital image]. Retrieved from
        -Philip Mould | Historical Portraits | King Charles II | Mary Beale | Item Details. (n.d.). Retrieved March 26, 2017, from
        -Jacob Ferdinand Voet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
        -How to tie a tie - The four in hand knot. (2016, June 17). Retrieved March 26, 2017, from

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