The History of the Bow Tie

The History of the Bow Tie

We have shared the history of R. Hanauer, but until now we haven’t showcased the history of the bow tie.

Let's explore the bow tie's fantastic journey from past to present: from the battle field to French fashion shows, to bold captains of industry and glamourous movie icons, to ... YOU. 

When Were Bow Ties Invented?

The origin of the bow tie dates back to a particular military unit that fought in the Thirty Years War of the 1600s. Despite the unit consisting of men from numerous Eastern European countries, the soldiers were commonly known as the Croats, Crabats or, in Serbian, Hravat.

The battle dress the Croats proudly wore was remarkable - fur hats, long red or black cloaks, and scarves tied at the neck. The rank and file wore scarves made from coarse fabric while the officers’ scarves were silk or cotton.

Cravat Regiment

[ Image: Shutterstock ]

The reason for the scarves was either multi-faceted or unclear, and so numerous ideas for their use exist.

Perhaps the scarves served a function, keeping shirts closed or contributing to hygiene, or both. Maybe they were primarily symbolic - a scarf safeguarded the neck during battle. Or perhaps they were sentimental. According to Croatian folklore, women tied scarves around the necks of their loved ones as they left for war as a token of love and fidelity. 

From the Battle Field to Fashion Accessory

Whatever their purpose - the scarves made an impression.

Following the soldiers’ service in France under the Royal Cravates regiment, the French took the accessory into high society where it was, appropriately, called la cravate.

French cravate

[ Image:Wikipedia ]

Some argue that the cravat led to the necktie and then the bow tie. Others say it was the opposite - that the Croat fashion was first tied into a bow, and later lengthened into the necktie. Either way, Croatians are intensely proud of their association with the cravat and in 2008, the Croatian parliament declared October 18 as annual Cravat Day.     

When Did The Bow Tie Become Popular?

Adornment at the neck remained a staple in menswear for more than two centuries. But it wasn’t until the 1800s that the bow tie as we know it today became popular. 

It is said that in 1886, Pierre Lorillard IV broke the mold when he wore a black tie to an event at his family’s estate in Tuxedo Park, NY. Until then, the fashion of the day dictated that men wear white tie and tails to formal gatherings. As heir of the Lorillard Tobacco Company fortune, Lorillard rubbed shoulders with New York’s elite, including the Vanderbilts and the Astors, and with members of The Millionaire’s Club on Jekyll Island, GA. His appearance in “black tie” was both noticed and immediately emulated.

Pierre Lorillard created history with his bow tie[ Pierre Lorillard IV - not wearing a bow tie for once. Image: Library of Congress ]

Bow ties soon became the “it” accessory, and by the time the 20s roared into history, they served as a signature piece for people of all persuasions - from Winston Churchill and Charlie Chaplain, to Marlene Dietrich and Frank Sinatra.

Each bow tie wearer of the time made the accessory their own, experimenting with fabrics, knots, and complementary accessories. In the 30s, the single end bow tie became top choice for the most formal of events, and the standard bow tie marched on, boldly boasting its day-to-day elegance and versatility. 

Building Your Personal Bow Tie Collection

More than three centuries since its first appearance, and a hundred strong in its modern-day iteration, the bow tie is clearly here to stay.

What’s more, today’s bow tie enthusiasts wear their bows to events both formal and casual, some following bow tie rules to the letter and others blazing a fashion trail of their own.

Regardless of which category you fall into - it is considered wise for gentlemen to invest in pieces of the highest quality so that they are a joy to wear and stand the test of time. 

At R. Hanauer, we thoughtfully design, hand cut, and sew each of our accessories right here in our flagship shop in Fort Mill, SC. Most of our bow ties are available in four sizes: 

  • Regular: 15 1/2 to 18 inches
  • XL: 18 to 20 inches
  • XXL: 20 to 22 inches
  • Youth: 13 1/2 to 15 1/2 inches

And we offer several shapes, so you too can make your look your own:

  • Classic: Henry 2 ¼ inch 
  • Butterfly: Philip 2 ½ inch or Stuart 3 inch
  • Straight: Jackson 2 inch 
  • Diamond: Stanley 2 inch or Louie 2 ⅜ inch
  • Pre Tied

 Man with bow tie history

How to Carry Forward the Rich History of the Bow Tie

We are passionate about our work, and delight in assisting gentlemen of all ages with what to wear and how to wear it. We feel a deep sense of commitment to the lively history of the bow tie by carrying the torch and guiding bow tie wearers into their own style. 

Our blog, The Gentleman’s Guide, covers a variety of topics to help the well-dressed gentleman feel empowered, comfortable and confident. Among our most popular resources are: 

We also enjoy sharing often-overlooked history-related to fine accessories, including: 

Whether you have suggestions for other how-to guides or history lessons, want gift giving ideas, or need advice for an upcoming event, connect with us!

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