Evolution of the Tie

ties, neckties, neckwear, scarves, fashion, clothing, accessories, men's fashion


A myriad of modern ties. From GQ.com

Ever wonder where the tie came from, that rather useless modicum of clothing that has become the standard of business attire? It actually has a long evolution from a functional item to what it is today. The tie began its life in a very different form. Imagine a frog’s egg that becomes a tadpole and eventually a frog, or a caterpillar that builds its chrysalis and turns into a butterfly. That is the range from which the tie has evolved.

In the early days of civilization and human invention, people had to discover and puzzle out everything. When they finally moved from wearing furs, skins and large leaves, they began to figure out how to make threads from plants and weave them. The first looms were not large and like looms to this day, made rectangles of fabric. Once the weaver had their rectangle of fabric, they wrapped it around themselves. Pins and stitching developed, and because making fabric was time consuming and expensive, no piece was wasted. Early clothing was made by rectangular construction, meaning that rectangles from those looms were piece together. Sometimes the fabric was cut and piece but rectangles, squares and triangles were as inventive as early clothing got.

This is a simplification, and there are areas where sophistication in patterning was more advanced. But

tie, cravat, scarf, necktie, fashion, history, clothing, accessories

Ye old cravat from the early 1800s.

let’s get back to the tie’s birth. It actually starts with the outwear that people needed to protect themselves from the elements. The earliest forms were called mantles and were rectangles of fabric, sheepskin or furs. I’m talking mostly about European origins and these were closed with large pins and clasps. The mantle developed into the cloak, with piecing of rectangles. However, hats and hoods were made separately because the ability to put the two together was not yet there.

The hoods had an overlap and sat atop the cloak. The point or tail of the hood could be different lengths and was sometimes quite long so that it could be wrapped around the neck of the hood to keep the wind and rain out. The long tail was called a liripipe and eventually that hood was worn in different ways. Plopped on top of the head with the tail wrapped to hold up the dagged edge in a cockscomb way, the fashion changed away.

ties, cravat, neckwear, fashion, clothing, history

This cravat is more of an Ascot tie.

Collars came about and had been used in other countries for a while, such as with the Chinese and Mongols. A scarf or kerchief was used selectively, such as with the Roman army, but as an actual dress item it was a slower process. But the wrapping around the throat of extra fabric came about in the 1600s. Croatian soldiers in France wore red kerchiefs around their necks and the French decided this was a cool and wonderful thing. They adopted it into fashion and the word cravat comes from Croat.

The cravat was usually white and often an elaborate affair of frills and ruffs tied in various ways. Here is where something to keep the neck warm changed to something to adorn the neck. There was also the stock in the 1700s, a piece of fabric wound around the throat. In some weird way it might have been a very shrunken version of the ruff, which was popular in the early 1600s. A long separate piece of fabric, like the scarf, was not common until the 1800s. But that cravat got a workout from the Baroque to the Rococo and beyond.

By the 1800s you have scarves and ties, and the ties begin to morph in size and shape. There’s the Ascot tie, the bow tie, the long tie and the most essentially inane tie ever, the bolo tie, created in the 1940s. Ties became part of formal dress that hasn’t changed much since Victorian times. They’ve been long and short, narrow and wide, dull and paisley, and a variety of colors. Considering the conservatism of men’s clothing I imagine we’ll have another century of ties, and while some formal dress no longer requires the tie, it seems it will stick around as male fabric adornment for a while yet.

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