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The Evolution of Neckwear

  • Kempt Staff


The well-dressed man has been wrapping some sort of material around his neck to add to his general air of handsomeness practically since the beginning of time.

So to really understand why you cinched up that shantung tie this morning or intricately knotted that cashmere scarf around your neck (or spent the time to do both), we thought it prudent to trace the story all the way back to the beginning...

Herewith, a history of the evolution of neckwear.

1015_Neckwear_1 Inception: It would seem this story begins the same way so many do, with a sweaty Roman. Someone had the bright idea of tying cloth around their neck to soak up perspiration. Usually this cloth was wool or silk and sometimes would be worn as a belt (predating the faja belt trend of 2012 by a couple millennia). It was a hit, but less so for style than a means of cleanliness. (Coincidentally, a running theme.)

IM00 The Cravat Rises: By the 17th century, the Croatian military had begun using different colors of cloth to signify rank. As you ascended ranks, you’d go from a coarse wool to finer silks and more intricate knots. Once the French caught wind of this, it became all the rage across Europe.

1015_Neckwear_3 No, It’s an Ascot: This is basically a cravat that the British just dandified even more and then named after some fancy horse race. (But you could’ve guessed that was coming anyhow.) As you can see here, legendary dandy Beau Brummell even took it one further by inventing the bow tie.

1015_Neckwear_4 The Scarf as We Know It: After a particularly chilly outing in 1783, the Duke of Krakow visits his physician about a cold. The doctor advises the duke to keep his neck warm. The duke gazes out the doctor’s window pensively. His gaze is met by a herd of sheep (this is back when “doctors” were really “farmers”). And somehow he devises a way to knit the sheep’s wool into a length of wool to wrap his neck with. True story. Hence the scarf as we know it is born. (Also born: the knitting duke.)

1015_Neckwear_5 The Cravat Slims Down: By the industrial revolution, the cravat had become less of a bib and more of a gentlemanly flourish. Books were being written on how to tie them. And then one enterprising New Yorker devised a way to cut the fabric on the bias and fold it into what we basically consider a necktie today.

1015_Neckwear_6 The Bolo Tie: An anomaly not associated whatsoever with the rest of the lineage above—but worth mentioning. In an effort not to lose their leather hatbands while riding horses, cowboys and gauchos began wearing the bands around their necks. The originator of the bolo tie is debatable, but it is generally agreed that it happened somewhere in the Americas between Argentina and Texas. Which is a pretty good indication of where you can still get away with wearing one.

And the rest, as they say, is history...