Neckwear dates back 30,000 years when primitive peoples adorned their chests with beads and bangles. Throughout the ages, people continued to wear wood, metal, pearls, feathers, glass, or cloth around their necks. Perhaps the superstition widely believed in the Middle Ages that bodily ills entered one through the throat had something to do with the continued popularity of a protective neckcloth, or perhaps soldiers felt more secure in having their neck covered in battle.
The first neckties, known as cravats, were worn by soldiers in the seventeenth century. According to legend, Croatian mercenaries, after having fought over Turkey, visited Louis XIV in Paris to celebrate their victory. The Sun King was so impressed by the colored silk scarfs the soldiers wore around their necks that he adopted the fashion himself. The mercenaries, called the Royal Cravattes (from the Croatian word kravate), lent their name to what became a popular fashion accessory. The style quickly spread to England after exiled Charles II returned from France, bringing with him his interest in cravats, and they have continued to be a part of men's neckwear since then.
The stock tie, which appeared to be a welltied knot in the front but was actually fastened at the back of the neck, was an alternative to the cravat for almost two hundred years, only to be forgotten by the early 1900s. The modern necktie became the norm in the twentieth century. Ninety-five million ties are sold in the United States annually, generating more than $1.4 billion in retail sales, according to MR Magazine and the Neckwear Association of America's 1992 Handbook.
The most commonly used fibers for the manufacturing of neckties are silk, polyester, wool and wool blends, acetate, rayon, nylon, cotton, linen, and ramie. Neckties made from silk represent about 40 percent of the market. Raw silk is primarily imported from China and, to a far lesser extent, Brazil. Domestic weavers of tie fabrics buy their silk yarn in its natural state and have it finished and dyed by specialists. Technological advances have made possible the use of microfiber polyesters, which produce a rich, soft fabric resembling silk and which can be combined with natural or other artificial fibers to produce a wide range of effects.
The design of neckties is an interactive process between weavers and tie manufacturers. Because small quantities in any given pattern and color are produced, and because fabrics can be so complex, tie fabric weaving is seen as an art form by many in the industry.
Much of neckwear design is done in Como, Italy. If a new design is requested, time is spent developing ideas, producing sample goods, and booking orders against the samples. Most of the time, however, weavers work with open-stock items (designs that have been previously used and have a lasting appeal). Weavers use computerized silk screens, a process that has replaced the more time and labor-intensive manual silk-screening. When working with a standard design, the designer fills in each year's popular colors, changing both background and foreground colors, making it broader or narrower, larger or smaller, according to demand. The manufacturer offers input and refinements in coloration and patterns. If willing to commit to a large amount of yardage, a manufacturer can also develop his or her own design and commission a weaver to produce it.
Once the design is complete, it is sent to mills where it is imprinted onto 40-yard bolts of silk. The bolts of silk are then sent to the United States for manufacturing.
The main components of a necktie are the outer fabric, or shell, the interlining (both cut on the bias), and the facing or tipping, which is stitched together by a resilient slip-stitch so that the finished tie can "give" while being tied and recover from constant knotting. The quality of the materials and construction determines if a tie will drape properly and hold its shape without wrinkling.
A well-cut lining is the essence of a good necktie. This interlining determines not only the shape of the tie but also how well it will wear. Therefore, it must be properly coordinated in blend, nap, and weight to the shell fabric. Lightweight outer material may require heavier interlining, while heavier outer fabrics need lighter interlining to give the necessary hand, drape, and recovery. Most interlining manufacturers use a marking system to identify the weight and content of their cloths, usually colored stripes, with one stripe being the lightest and six stripes being the heaviest. This facilitates inventory control and manufacturing.
A completed tie measures from 53 to 57 inches in length. Extra-long ties, recommended for tall men or men with large necks, are 60 to 62 inches long, and student ties are between 48 and 50 inches in length.
Cutting the outer fabric
- 1 In the workroom, an operator first spreads the 40-yard bolts of cloth on a long cutting table. Cutting the outer fabric is done by a skilled hand to maximize the yield, or the number of ties cut from the piece of goods. If the fabric has a random design, the operator stacks between 24 and 72 plies of fabric pieces in preparation for cutting the fabric. If pattern of the fabric (or of the "goods") consists of panels, such as stripes with a medallion at the bottom, these panels are then stacked according to the pattern.
Adding the facing
- 2 Using the chain stitch of a sewing machine, sewing operators join the tie's three sections on the bias in the neckband area. The operator now adds the facing, or tipping (an extra piece of silk, nylon, rayon, or polyester), to the back of the tie's ends. Facing gives a crisp, luxurious hand to the shell. Two types of facing are currently utilized. Three-quarter facing extends six to eight inches upward from the point of the tie, while full facing extends even higher, ending just under the knot.
- 3 A quarter to a half of an inch of the shell of the fabric is now turned under, to form a point. The point is then machine-hemmed by the sewing operator.
- 4 Quality silk ties are pocket or piece-pressed. This means that the joint at the neck (the piecing) is pressed flat so the wearer will not be inconvenienced by any bulkiness.
- 5 The interlining is slip-stitched to the outer shell with resilient nylon thread, which runs through the middle of the tie. Most ties are slip-stitched with a Liba machine, a semi-automated machine that closely duplicates the look and resiliency of hand stitching. Hand stitching is often used in the manufacture of high-quality neckties because it offers maximum resiliency and draping qualities.
The technique is characterized by the irregularly spaced stitches on the reverse of the tie when the seam is spread slightly apart; by the dangling, loose thread with a tiny knot at the end of the reverse of the front apron; and by the ease with which the tie can slide up and down this thread.
Turning the lining
- 6 Using a turning machine or a manual turner (with a rod about 9 1/2 inches long), an operator turns the tie right-side out by pulling one end of the tie through the other. While not yet pressed, the tie is almost complete. On silk ties only, the lining is then tucked by hand into the bottom corner of the long end of the tie. If necessary, the operator hand-trims the lining to fit the point of the long end. (In all other ties, the lining does not reach all the way to the bottom corner.)
- 7 A final piece to be sewn on is the loop, which serves both as a holder for the thin end of the tie when it's being worn and as the manufacturer's label.
Relatively recent disruptions in the supply of raw silk from China, in addition to technological advancements, have highlighted the advantages of using man-made fiber yarns. These artificial fibers are readily and dependably synthesized from domestic resources and are also usually yarn-dyed. Microfiber polyester or nylon fibers (with a denier per filament count of one or less) can be bundled into yarn finer than cotton and silk and can be combined with natural or other man-made fibers to produce a wide range of effects. Introduced into fabrics as air textured, false twist textured, or fully-drawn flat yarns, they produce a rich, soft, silk-like hand.
Where To Learn More
Boucher, Francois. 20,000 Years of Fashion: The History of Costume and Personal Adornment. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1966.
Gibbings, Sarah. The Tie: Trends and Traditions. Barron's, 1990.
History of Costume from Ancient Egypt to the Twentieth Century. Harper and Row Publishers, Inc., 1965.
Schoeffler, 0. E. and William Gale. Esquire's Encyclopedia of 20th Century Men's Fashions. McGraw Hill, Inc., 1973.
Yarwood, Doreen. The Encyclopedia of World Costume. Charles Scribner's and Sons, 1978.
As an essential accessory of male business and formal wear, a sign of social connections and status, the necktie has been in general use since the 1830s. Its earliest origins, however, are to be found in the more practical neck-warming and face-protecting scarves worn by Croatian troops, dubbed cravats by the French in the 1630s. Adapted into voluminous swatches of lace or linen, these gained popularity with the expansion of Parisian fashion influence in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and by the mid-nineteenth century, cravats had became largely ornamental.
During conservative and conventional times such as the first two decades of the twentieth century, the 1950s, and the 1980s, neckties have often been among the few sources of color and pattern in men's wardrobes. They have allowed their wearers to express individual tastes and even whimsy, but they have also reflected contemporary cultural and regional influences. In the American South and West during the late nineteenth century, the earlier neck-cloth evolved into the vestigial string or ribbon tie, while the bandanna soon diverged to serve practical ends for cowboys and other manual workers, and became the Boy Scout uniform's neckerchief in the early twentieth century. Finally, the leather-thonged bola emerged in 1949 to become the emblematic male neckwear of choice in at least the traditionally minded areas of the Southwest.
After the Civil War, throughout most of the rest of the United States, a "four-in-hand" style of knotting ever-narrowing neck scarves became the enduring standard until the 1930s when it found competition from the Windsor knot. A fuller variation with a triangular knot, intended for wide-collar shirts, it was introduced by the Duke of Windsor and won some loyal adherents, beginning in the 1930s. Neckties—a term accepted by the fashion industry circa 1912—came to vary in width, design, and fabric according to the vogue. Made exclusively of natural materials, primarily silk and wool, and relatively understated before the 1930s, ties then began to appear in cotton as well as the newer synthetics of rayon, acetate, polyester, and even plastic. The 1930s also witnessed wider ties that complemented the larger lapels of double-breasted jackets.
Countess Mara, one of the first exclusive designers of limited quantity neckties for men who wished to distinguish themselves from the crowd, found the market viable enough to set up her first shop in 1938. Another sign that wearing the correct necktie might bode well for one's chances of upward mobility, was the preference of some twentieth-century American men for British club or regimental neck-wear. The original intention of this tie was to identify the wearer as an alumnus of an exclusive educational or social establishment or a military veteran. After the rationing of the World War II years ended, a "bold look" characterized by "loud" neckties took hold from approximately 1945-1952. Neckwear was often colorful and whimsical, adorned with animals, geometric patterns, or sporting motifs. They were sometimes also idiosyncratic, with artists such as Salvador Dali hand-painting designs on individual ties (although silk-screening mass-produced a similar look.) Novelty ties such as those whose designs glowed in the dark also burst forth in the 1940s, and found cultural echoes in the fish tie motifs of the late 1980s.
The more conservative Cold War decade of the 1950s saw a regression to skinny ties with relatively little space for elaborate decorations. Lasting until the mid-1960s, ties designed to meet this trend became so minuscule that it was hardly a surprise when they literally disappeared from the majority of male necks at that decade's conclusion. They were replaced, even on formal occasions, by turtlenecks and accompanying medallions. But the counter-culture's sensibilities during that era also stigmatized neckties as representations of the social conformity espoused by prep school students, establishment politicians and businessmen.
The subsequent Peacock Revolution in men's fashions, however, ushered neckwear back into style. The British Carnaby Street influence even popularized fleeting returns to the lace neckwear of previous centuries. By the mid-1970s, ties were again wide enough (at a regulation five inches compared to an average width of two inches at one point during the previous decade) that they could sport many of the design elements that had appeared during the 1940s.
The return to a conservative, business-like temperament during the 1980s witnessed the advent of the entrepreneur's "power tie." This was first solid yellow, then red, and later of intricate designs from exclusive European fashion houses such as Gucci, Versace, Ferragamo, Hermes, or Sulka. Finally, the post-modern eclecticism that emerged in the 1990s saw the resurgence of several competing "retro" looks as young men in particular returned to the late Art Deco styles of the 1930s or to the skinny ties of the later 1950s. Tastes in clothing seemed to be dictated considerably less by the sense of the current era than by a nostalgic desire to return to a favorite decade of the past.
Throughout 150 years leading to the end of the twentieth century, long neckties occasionally appeared on women, especially as accessories of sporty female apparel during the 1890s, and in the "Annie Hall" look of the 1970s, popularized by Diane Keaton in the Woody Allen film of that name. Usually, however, women were more inclined to wear variations of a bow-tie rather than a necktie. The bow-tie has been an alternative for men as well, especially during the 1920s and 1930s. Although larger versions made their mark in the 1970s, John Malloy, touting fashion advice in Dress For Success, advised against them lest one not be taken seriously or be thought not quite honest.
—Frederick J. Augustyn, Jr.
Baclawski, Karen. The Guide to Historic Costume. New York, Drama Book Publishers, 1995.
Chaille, François. La grand histoire de la cravate. Paris, Flammarion, 1994.
Eelking, Baron von. Bilanz der Eitelkeit: Die Geschichte der Krawatte. Frankfurt/Zürich, Musterschmidt Göttingen, 1976.
Ettinger, Roseann. Popular and Collectible Neckties, 1955 to the Present. Atglen, Pennsylvania, Schiffer Publications, 1998.
Gibbings, Sarah. The Tie: Trends and Traditions. Hauppage, New York, Barron's, 1990.
Goldberg, Michael Jay. The Ties That Blind: Neckties, 1945-1975. Atglen, Pennsylvania, Schiffer Publications, 1997.
Malloy, John T. Dress for Success. New York, Warner Books, 1976.
A decorative piece of fabric knotted around the neck has been a part of the clothing of Western men since the seventeenth century, though the exact nature of the necktie has changed frequently over that time. Neckties have been wide or narrow, brightly patterned or somber, depending on the current rules of fashion. Because business clothes for men have remained rather conservative throughout the twentieth century, the necktie was often the only piece of clothing through which a man could express his individuality. Women have also worn neckties as part of a tailored look. Women's neckties became particularly popular in the late 1970s, inspired by actress Diane Keaton's offbeat style in Woody Allen's movie Annie Hall (1977). However, neckties have predominantly been required formalwear for men.
When the tie, then called a cravat, got its start around 1650, it developed from simple, loosely tied pieces of fabric into elaborate lacy scarves that tied in back or were knotted in a bow at the neck. By the mid-1800s, however, men's neckwear became simpler. The lacy cravat was abandoned and most men wore a necktie held in place by a stickpin, or a bow tie, also called a butterfly tie. Though the early 1900s would see a short period of popularity for the English ascot, a wide scarf that tied loosely under the chin, for the most part the simple straight necktie and the bow tie would remain the standard choices for men's neckwear during the twentieth century.
Some social commentators insist, with some humor, that necktie styles can predict the state of the economy. When ties are wide and flashy, they say economic times will be hard, such as in the 1930s, a time of economic depression, when neckties were worn as much as four inches wide. Narrow and conservative ties, such as the ones worn in the booming economy of the 1950s, however, predict a healthy economy.
Whether an economic indicator or not, the changes in men's tie styles certainly indicate the social climate of the times. During the flashy 1970s, designer Ralph Lauren (1939–) introduced ties that were five inches wide and brightly colored. The conservative 1980s saw the arrival of the "power tie" in yellow or red, which, worn with a dark suit, represented the high-powered dealmakers of the time. By the 1990s the power politics of the 1980s had become identified with greed and ruthlessness, and power ties lost their appeal. No matter the time period ties have been used to express male individuality.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Gibbings, Sarah. The Tie: Trends and Traditions. Washington, DC: Barron's, 1990.
Gross, Kim Johnson. Shirt and Tie. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1993.
[See also Volume 3, Seventeenth Century: Cravats ; Volume 3, Eighteenth Century: Jabot ; Volume 3, Nineteenth Century: Ascots ]
The cravat, introduced in the mid-seventeenth century, is the ancestor of the modern necktie. A long strip of cloth wrapped loosely around the neck, the cravat was one of several items to replace the stiff ruffs worn around the neck in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Legend has it that the origins of the cravat lie with an army regiment from Croatia, a country in eastern Europe, that was fighting with the French during the Thirty Years' War (1618–48). The soldiers in this regiment wrapped a long scarf loosely around their necks, supposedly to protect themselves from sword blows. When the Croatian soldiers visited Paris the French were captivated by their neckwear and began to adopt it for their own use.
Early cravats were made of the lace that was used so much in the period, but people soon grew to prefer the softer feel of a linen or muslin (sheer cotton fabric) cravat. They developed intricate ways to fold and knot their cravats. A new style of wearing the cravat was invented in 1692 by French soldiers fighting in the Battle of Steinkirk. Too rushed to tie their cravats in an intricate knot, they simply twisted the ends of the cloth and stuck it through a buttonhole in their waistcoat or justaucorps. This style became known as the steinkirk cravat.
The soft and easy-to-tie cravat was a big improvement on the stiff lace ruffs and bands of the past, and it was worn by both men and women into the nineteenth century, when it was adapted into the modern necktie.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Apparel in the Western World. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing, 1970.
Cosgrave, Bronwyn. The Complete History of Costume and Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. New York: Checkmark Books, 2000.
Ruby, Jennifer. The Stuarts: Costume in Context. London, England: B. T. Batsford, 1988.