Gentlemen’s Cravats – A Brief History

Before the modern necktie there was a period in mens fashion where we wore ruffs around our collars.

Gentleman Soldier Wearing a Ruff Collar
Gentleman Soldier Wearing a Ruff Collar

These were all the fashion for men (and women) of distinction from the mid-sixteenth century to the mid-seventeenth century. It took introducing a neck cloth used by Croatian soldiers to get us to where we are today.

Croat Mercenary with Red Neck Scarf - 17th Century
Croat Mercenary Action Figure with Red Neck Scarf - 17th Century

It is easy to imagine a French officer on a battlefield in Europe feeling stifled and put upon by his stiff, starched linen ruff. In all his bother he spied a Croatian officer with the elegant and much less restrictive silk neck cloth wrapped in a much more casual manner around the neck. On his next leave to the city of Paris this officer thought to himself, “Ah-ha!” and he ditched his ruff and tied a length of silk around his neck. Gone was the chaffing and, more importantly, he could lean in close to his petite Parisian chouchou now that his neck was clear. (Maybe this is where the term ‘necking’ first originated, when men went from the uber-formal ruff to the uber-gallant silk neck cloth.)

In any case, he is very pleased with the reaction to his new neck cloth, and soon his fellow officers have donned this new neck wear, now called a ‘cravat’, a bastardization of the French word Croat. A new era is born and embraced by gentlemen across Europe.

Gentleman with a Silk Tied Silk Neck Scarf - The Cravat
Gentleman with a Silk Tied Neck Scarf - The Cravat

There were seemingly endless variations with which men could tie their silk and cotton cravats, thanks in no small manner to Beau Brummell and the rise of the Dandy as a masculine style reaction to the Macaroni.

Illustration From "Neckclothitania" (published by J.J. Stockdale, Sept. 1st. 1818)
Illustration From "Neckclothitania" (published by J.J. Stockdale, Sept. 1st. 1818)

These variations evolved to use patterns and colours to enhance a gentleman’s appearance and outfit. Beginning in the Victorian era the cravat developed into the stylized forms we know and love today: ascots, bow ties, string ties and neck ties. But more on those later…

Published by The Kingpin

Kingpin's Hideaway is a gentlemens outfitter specializing in designer and vintage clothing and accessories. Getting men to dress like grownups since 1986. Kingpin Chic is gentlemenswear. With balls.

7 thoughts on “Gentlemen’s Cravats – A Brief History

  1. Hey Kingpin,

    I’m sorry I can’t make your opening party in Toronto, but will try to drop in at some point. How about an article about classy dressing for clerical types?

    Fr. Dan

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