For some reason ladies tend to get all swoony over the cravat. Hmm…. I am thinking it has to do with the taking off of the cravat, but perhaps that’s just me! Be that as it may, I thought I would dedicate an entire post in my series on Fashion for the Regency Gentleman to the history of the necktie.
Before I get to the cravat, watch the video below. It is one of my favorites, not only because the clips are from movies and TV shows I love, but because it is a fabulous montage of men’s fashion in several eras. See how well you can detect the subtle differences in small fashion details, such as how the neckcloths are tied. Even in the stark variances from the Elizabethan fashion as depicted in The Tudors you will note some similarities. Fascinating, I think!
Did you love it? I bet you did! Now, on to the cravat~~~
The cravat is a neckband or neckcloth, the forerunner of the modern tailored necktie and bow tie.
Prior to the 16th century men wore starched, pleated ruffs around their necks, these white linens strips almost a bib or napkin type of garment whose main purpose was to minimize soiling of a doublet or hide the not-so-clean shirt underneath. It could either be attached to the shirt collar or a detachable “falling band” that draped over the chest. By the end of the 16th century the ruff had evolved into a “band” type neckcloth that was long and wrapped around the neck.
The true cravat, however, originated in the 1630s with – Are you ready for this? – the Croatians! Shocking, I know!
So what is the history of the cravat?
Like most men’s fashions between the 17th century and World War I, it was of military influence. In the reign of Louis XIII of France, Croatian mercenaries were enlisted into a regiment supporting the King and Cardinal Richelieu against the Duc de Guise and the Queen Mother, Marie de Medici. The unusual, picturesque scarves distinctively knotted at the Croats’ necks were a part of Croatian battle dress and their only form of identification because uniforms did not exist at the time. The cloths that were used ranged from the coarse cloths of enlisted soldiers to the fine linens and silks of the officers, but in all cases they were draped and tied loosely without the need of heavy starching. On the battlefield this was certainly an advantage! They were elegant and easy to wear, plus they were more visible beneath the thick, long hair men wore in those days.
The French were fascinated by the look and readily switched from old-fashioned starched linen ruffs to the new loose linen and muslin cravats. The king began wearing a cravat because it was more practical and beautiful than the high-lace collar the French wore, and when a powerful monarch donned the cravat a new fashion became popular! The court even employed a cravat-maker (cravatier) who delivered a few cravats to the king on a daily basis so he could choose the one that suited him most.
For your etymology lesson portion: The word “cravat” derives from the French “cravate,” a corrupt French pronunciation of “Croat.”
On returning to England from exile in 1660, Charles II imported with him the latest new word in fashion:
“A cravatte is another kind of adornment for the neck being nothing else but a long towel put about the Collar, and so tyed before with a Bow Knott; this is the original of all such Wearings; but now by the Art and Inventions of the seamsters, there is so many new ways of making them, that it would be a task to name, much more to describe them”. Randle Holme, Academy of Armory and Blazon, 1688
Cravats during this time were made of lace, primarily, as a sign of one’s wealth and prestige, but also linen, cotton, or silk. Nearly always the fabric was then adorned with ribbon, tassels, embroidery, etc.
For a short time the cravat was replaced with the military “steinkirk” which remained popular for men and women from the 1690s to 1720s. After that came the “stock.” Starched to within an inch of its life the stock grew to heights of such extremes that it reached the ears and were held in place by whalebone stiffeners, and one couldn’t turn their head without moving one’s whole body. Both the stock and steinkirk were demure and minimal compared to the voluminous, fancy cravats of the prior decades, but in time the stock grew ridiculous in its stiffness and severity, leading to an eventual softening to the fabric with a looser styling. And of course there were always those men who desired a bit more style, adding on “jabots” and “solitaires” of lace to fancy it up a bit. Fashion eventually went in a full circle, the macaronis reintroducing the cravat with a vengeance in the 1770s. They elaborated the manner of knotting it as indication of a man’s taste and style, and once again added lace and other frills.
Enter Beau Brummel. Are you getting the idea that this friend of the Prince Regent was important to Regency fashion? I sure hope so! He advocated well-cut, tailored clothes in what has essentially become known as the “British look.” He was particularly adamant about the whiteness of his cravats. As he made his daily rounds from the park, various gentleman’s clubs and fashionable homes, Brummel would stop and change his cravat as often as three times a day. He preferred neck cloths that were lightly starched and carefully folded. Intricate knots and ties became an art form with some 85 different ways to design the cravat noted in books, such as Neckclothitania published in 1818 as a somewhat satirical document that nonetheless was important as a guide to 14 popular ways to tie a cravat with careful illustrations. It was also the first recorded incident of the cravat referred to simply as a “tie.” Another book popular was The Art of Tying the Cravat published in 1828 which you can read on Google Books. In most cases during the Regency proper, the cravat was white. Black was seen for formal, evening wear, and the occasional colored cravat popped up, but white was the preferred choice until the latter years of the 1820s and into the 1830s.
The images have been spaced randomly for your enjoyment. There are many more examples of cravats, and men’s fashion, on my Pinterest boards. Next Monday I will finish the series off so come back for that!