Today, the necktie serves the role of fine accessory, elevating one’s look from casual to business casual or formal attire. Examining the history of the tie however, it’s clear that its original purpose was more functional than decorative.
We’ll explore the long and fascinating history of the necktie, as well as what the tie has symbolized through time.
Who Invented Neckties?
Who invented ties? Ah, this is the million dollar question!
The origin of the necktie is generally attributed to the uniform worn by the Croats – or Hravat, in Serbian – during the Thirty Years War in the 17th Century. These mercenaries famously wore long cloaks, fur hats and, most notably, scarves tied at the neck. The neckerchief was greatly admired and quickly repurposed by the French, who renamed the accessory to cravat and took it into high society.
This version of history is so widely accepted that Croatia is credited for inventing the necktie, a major mark of pride annually celebrated on World Cravat Day.
Croatian Soldiers in Historical Uniform with Cravat (Source: Shutterstock)
But this is not the only story of who invented the tie and why …
Who First Wore Ties?
The earliest potential record of a tie actually dates back to 1550 BC Egypt. Archeologists have found evidence of tiet or tyet (pronounced “teet”), also known as the Knot of Isis, around the necks of mummies. The Egyptians believed knots held and released magic, and so they were frequently used as amulets.
The next archeological discovery that prominently featured men with cloth around the neck was the Terracotta Army, which was buried alongside Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang around 210 BC. The series of more than 8,000 statues shows different arrangements of neckcloth, seemingly symbolizing soldiers’ ranks.
Terracotta Army Statue, showing a Neck Tie Cloth (Source: Pexels)
Similarly, the Column of Trajan in Rome from 113 AD shows soldiers wearing cloth around the neck, perhaps a scarf. As was the case with the Terracotta Army and, indeed, the Croats centuries later, the type of cloth and the fashion in which it was tied seemed to indicate rank.
What Was The Original Purpose Of A Tie?
As is true today, ties were symbolic. They indicated military rank and, once they became popular in society, were indicative of class and socioeconomic status. But it seems there were practical as well as symbolic and sentimental elements to the original purpose of the tie as well.
The most plausible purposes for the tie include an efficient mechanism for keeping shirts closed and an effective one for aiding in hygiene. From a symbolic point of view, scarves secured the head to the body during battle – figuratively tying them together.
It’s said that women also tied scarves around the necks of their husbands as a token of love and fidelity.
Tie Styles Through Time
Artists and photographers have captured a broad array of necktie styles across the last several centuries. Many were impractical, uncomfortable, and extremely complicated, and others were very over the top, and yet others were not so far off from pieces that are customary today.
For a long time, black and white were the dominant necktie colors. In the 17th and 18th centuries, black was for day and white for evening events. The following century, white was most prominent and black was considered rather radical. Once other colors came into fashion, though, black again became the go-to choice. Perhaps this is why white tie and black tie are the most prescribed dress codes today.
1895 Victorian Gentleman (Source: Shutterstock)
In terms of the history of neckties in America, the monochrome palette of the military was swapped for the happy colors that accompanied peace time following World War II. Then, with the proliferation of the narrow, gray flannel suit, ties grew more narrow and colors more muted … until the swinging 60s, of course, when neckties grew wider and much louder.
The leisure suit of the 70s made way for more casual dress and less occasion for the necktie, but the 80s ushered more conservative styles back into the mainstream and appreciation for the necktie with them.
Today, ties come in a large variety of colors, patterns, fabrics, and levels of formality. The standard is now 3.25 inches wide and 57 inches long, with the most popular knot being the four in hand. Interestingly, the four in hand originated in the 1860s when coachmen driving four-horse teams would slip-knot their cravats to keep them from blowing in the wind!
What Does A Tie Symbolize?
While the necktie no longer serves a practical purpose, it continues to be a symbolic adornment. The tie is a symbol of dignity, decorum, elegance, and respect - both given and received. Additionally, as a gentleman’s most prominent fashion accessory, ties provide a highly accessible opportunity for self expression.
You can tell a lot by a man’s choice of necktie and other fine accessories. Even solid color ties have a lot to say. Consider these widely accepted interpretations of color:
- Red - passion, importance, and dominance (top choice for the power tie)
- Orange - energy, vitality, creativity
- Yellow - hope, happiness, permanence
- Green - growth, renewal, abundance
- Blue - reliability, trustworthiness, and patriotism (a favorite of American politicians)
- Purple - imagination, romance, wealth, royalty
- Pink - strength, creativity, balance, calm
Patterns, of course, say even more. With the simple knot of silk or cotton, the well-dressed gentleman can efficiently communicate his affiliations, allegiances, and personality. He may demonstrate pride for his alma mater or country; showcase his hobbies or a bit of mischief with a novelty necktie; spread good tidings with a handsome holiday piece; or invite engagement with a conversation starter.
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