Gentlemen’s Cravats – The Necktie: A Brief History

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The Classic Necktie

The Classic Necktie

The story of the necktie that has come to dominate gentleman’s neck wear begins with the popularity of the cravat in the 19th century. In the late Victorian period the industrial revolution came into full production. There was a great need for more practical neck wear than the evermore detailed ways of tying the untamed silks of the basic cravat. Enter the knot named the ‘four-in-hand’ that enabled the cravat to be tied quickly and securely so that it could remain in place and look good the entire work day. With the help of the British monarchy we can explore the necktie’s development.

King George V with Four-in-Hand Knotted Silk Tie

King George V with Four-in-Hand Knotted Silk Tie

This knot created a longer, more elegant shape that allowed the silk to dimple and emphasize the gloss of the fabric. This allowed the necktie to be used in a very formal outfit., as may be seen both in George V’s portrait above and his father, Edward VII below,

Colour autochrome photograph of King Edward VII in Scotland sporting a four-in-hand tied necktie

Colour autochrome photograph of King Edward VII in Scotland sporting a four-in-hand tied necktie

where he has a more casual outfit (most likely for grouse hunting). His grandson, Edward VIII took the four-in-hand to the fully casual outfit,

Edward VIII, as Prince of Wales,  casually wearing a necktie tied in a four-in-hand

Edward VIII, as Prince of Wales, casually wearing a necktie tied in a four-in-hand

and it became the standard in a gentleman’s outfit replacing the previous, looser-shaped cravats.

It was Edward’s grandfather, whose love of a fat four-in-hand knot, lead to the other popular necktie knot being developed, the Windsor. Edward VII, son of Queen Victoria, was a style icon in his own right. The extra wide manner of his necktie’s design in using thick fabric so that his four-in-hand knot would be quite wide at the collar, as this portrait from the time of his coronation shows,

Edward VII with his wide knotted necktie

Edward VII with his wide knotted necktie

Unable to afford bespoke ties, the gentlemen trying to emulate Edward VII’s style developed the Windsor knot, although the source for this name is not clear. What is clear is that his sartorial grandson, Edward VIII most likely never sported a Windsor knot, using the trusted four-in-hand to great effect to the ends of his days. But more on the different types of necktie knots (and what they say about the man wearing them) in a future post.

Edward VIII Sporting the Four-In-Hand with a Thick Necktie

Edward VIII Sporting the Four-In-Hand with a Thick Necktie

Throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, the necktie has become the dominant form of cravat.

Kingpin Chic at Kingpin Chic Vintage Mens Clothing at Wychwood Barns Gadsden’s Toronto Vintage Clothing Show

Kingpin Chic Vintage Mens Clothing at Wychwood Barns Gadsden’s Toronto Vintage Clothing Show

Kingpin Chic Mens Clothing at Wychwood Barns Gadsden’s Toronto Vintage Clothing Show

By special request Kingpin Chic will be opening up our collection of fine gentleman’s apparel one day only on Sunday, October 23, 2011 at the Gadsden’s Toronto Vintage Clothing Show Wychwood Barns located at 601 Christie Street Toronto, Ontario. The hours for the show are 11 am – 4:00 pm and admission for adults is $8.00, and for children 12 and under there is no charge!

Gentlemen’s Cravats – The Bow Tie: A Brief History

The Pink Bow Tie from Thomas Pink

The Pink Bow Tie from Thomas Pink

The innovation of the cravat allowed for it to develop into several variations of gentlemens neck ties that became distinct types of cravats over time. One of the most familiar is the bow tie. This stylized cravat has come to define a gentleman in every aspect and is, perhaps, the single piece of apparel that defines a gentleman in every situation. Whether in use, or not, the bow tie communicates the situation a gentleman finds himself in (say British super-spy James Bond), whether tied,

Sean Connery as James Bond - Bow Tie Tied

Sean Connery as James Bond - Tied Bow Tie and Ready For Action

or untied,

Daniel Craig as James Bond - Untied Bow Tie

Daniel Craig as James Bond - Untied Bow Tie and Ready For Action

By simply undoing his bow tie a secret agent can let us know so many things. And while these gents look great keep in mind they are professional killers! Imagine what the bow tie can do for the average gentleman.

The well-dressed gentleman has been associated with the bow tie through the modern age. They have instilled confidence in our leaders, from Benjamin Disraeli to Winston Churchill in Great Britain,

Benjamin Disraeli in a Bow Tie and Looking Dandy

Benjamin Disraeli in a Bow Tie and Looking Dandy

Winston Churchill Beat Hitler (Yes, THAT Hitler) in a Bow Tie

Winston Churchill Beat Hitler (Yes, THAT Hitler) in a Bow Tie

to the United States, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt rocked a bow tie into the White House,

Lincoln - Republican Dandy in a Bow Tie

Lincoln - Republican Dandy in a Bow Tie

Roosevelt - Democrat Dandy in a Bow Tie

Roosevelt - Democrat Dandy in a Bow Tie

and of course one could go on and on with men of distinction who donned the bow tie with great effect. We shall leave that topic for another delightful time.

Historically the bow tie settled into the gentleman’s wardrobe in the late Victorian era. The above examples of Disraeli and Lincoln demonstrate some of the earliest forms of bow ties. You can see the connection to the earlier cravats and where the bow tie is about to emerge.

And thank goodness it did! The bow tie has become the pinnacle of fashion for the neck. The gentleman both wears the bow tie in the most formal setting as well as being the pride of the Dandy. They come in silk for the elegant touch and they come in cotton for common touch. Andre Benjamin, help me out here. First, show me the sophisticated formality of the bow tie:

Andre Benjamin Demonstrates the Formal Cool of the Bow TIe

Andre Benjamin Demonstrates the Formal Cool of the Bow TIe

Great! Now, how about the steamy swingin’ look?

Andre Benjamin Demonstrates the Swingin' Heat of the Bow TIe

Andre Benjamin Demonstrates the Swingin' Heat of the Bow TIe

Thank-you, and fabulous use of the straw hat!

Still in doubt about the awesomeness that is the simple bow tie? I refer you to this image of how regal the bow tie makes the gentleman look in the past and present:

Edwardian Gentleman with Bow Tie and Top Hat

Edwardian Gentleman with Bow Tie and Top Hat

from the dignity the bow tie bestows on the Edwardian gentleman to the suave mantle of ultimate cool for Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.

Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra in Bow Ties and Delicate Mayhem

Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra in Bow Ties and Delicate Mayhem

Should there still be any foolish debate left, I present how the bow tie works equally well with decorating the female sex with sexy elegance,

Josephine Baker in White Bow Tie Looking Delicious

Josephine Baker in White Bow Tie Looking Delicious

Amber Heard, Naturi Naughton and Leah Renee as Playboy Club Bunny Hostesses

Amber Heard, Naturi Naughton and Leah Renee as Playboy Club Bunny Hostesses

And they even work their magic untied on the opposite sex, perhaps even better than when on a gentleman,

Kate Moss Looking Sexy with an Untied Bow Tie

Kate Moss Looking Sexy with an Untied Bow Tie

Thank-you Kate Moss (and I still need that tie back. Seriously.).

There you have a brief introduction to the bow tie and why you should start wearing them. Stay tuned for instructions on how to tie your own…

Gentlemen’s Fabrics 101 – Silks

Silk – the word itself mimics the fabric it names as you say it flowing softly through your lips only catching slightly at the end.

Assorted Giorgio Armani Silk Ties and Neckties

Assorted Giorgio Armani Silk Ties and Neckties

Silk comes from the harvested cocoons of the larvae of the mulberry tree moth, Bombyx mori, and in domesticated fashion on silk farms in a practice called sericulture. Bombyx mori is a completely domesticated moth and it is entirely dependent on humans for its reproduction and does not occur naturally in the wild. If it was not for human need of silk, this creature would cease to exist.

The Silk Moth Bombyx mori from Wikipedia

The Silk Moth Bombyx mori

Silk farmers practiced sericulture in China since the Yangshao period, dating back as far as much as 5 000 years BCE. The top producers of silk cocoons are China, India, Uzbekistan, and Brazil, with silk production also occurring in many other countries. The cocoons are then unraveled to produce a single, long thread which is then woven into the fabric known as silk, which may then be dyed and made into clothing. Silk has industrial uses as well, but they do not interest us here.

Alexander McQueen Mens Spotlight Jacket in Painted Silk

Alexander McQueen Mens Spotlight Jacket in Painted Silk

Since ancient times men have worn silk garments. Aileen Reibeiro details how Rome forbid men to wear silk clothing through their sumptuary laws in her book Dress and Morality. What a shock modern Italian designers like Versace, Gucci, Prada and Armani, among others, would have had when confronted with such restrictions! It is also considered haram (forbidden) for men to wear silk under the teachings of conservative Islam, yet halal (allowed) for women. The Kingpin aesthetic is not so restrictive.

The history of silk being a luxury fabric as well as being painted and dyed have associated flair and colour with it. And so should the gentleman considering adding silk to his wardrobe. Silk is a material that can easily have you veer into a look that is neither flattering or gentlemanly. However, in the Kingpin aesthetic you can use silk effectively to present yourself as a man who enjoys the finer things and is bold enough to show it. Besides ties, I find silks to wear well in the heat, and in more tropical climates, and even the beach or when boating. Be careful not to over do it! Refrain from complete silk outfits! Balance a silk shirt with linen trousers for a more grounded look. Wear the level of vibrant colour you feel confident in wearing and no more, else you should quickly resemble a lost clown instead of  romantic figure! It should go without saying that the best silk piece a gentleman can acquire is a top rate silk top hat.

Victorian Gentleman with Silk Top Hat and Waistcoat and Tie

Victorian Gentleman with Silk Top Hat and Waistcoat and Tie