The Diverse and Debatable Origin of the Necktie

Have you ever wondered how wearing a strip of brightly colored cloth around the neck became not only acceptable, but even a symbol of status and prosperity for men? You probably won’t be surprised to find that the question isn’t an easy one to answer. It isn’t so much a matter of lack of records as one of many conflicting records and differences of opinion, mostly based on how we define the necktie. Nevertheless, let’s give it the old college try.

While it’s safe to assume those lovable prehistoric Saturday morning cartoon characters are in no way fact based, what sort of historical proof do we have of something resembling the necktie? Historically speaking, a surprising answer has only recently been literally uncovered. Within the ranks of that quaint and quite valuable Chinese terracotta army unearthed in 1970 were several that sported bands of cloth around their necks with the ends dangling. These clay warriors were fashioned around 220 BC! Interestingly, the ends of the “ties” were shaped similar to the pointed ends of those worn now.

So, did it all start with these well-dressed tough guys? Probably not, since no other record of male neckwear in ancient China exists. Alas, it seems it just didn’t catch on. Several others have been suggested as the originators of the trend, depending on what one considers a necktie. Roman neck warmers, ruffled scarves as worn by Europeans in the Middle Ages and the cravatta worn by Croatian soldiers in the 1600s are all among the suggestions and in fact, even those lacy ruffles were symbols of power and prestige. The bigger the ruffle, the more power the man was likely to have. You can draw your own conclusions here.

Of those mentioned above, the Croatian regiment seems to have had the most profound effect on worldwide fashion. As their hard fought campaigns earned them respect, European rulers took notice, and after about 20 years, the French, who appear to have led world fashion trends in that age, accepted and even embraced the cravat as proper attire. While other countries had, meanwhile banned ruffles and adopted the tie, Louis XIV of France became obsessed with the new fashion and is traditionally credited with global acceptance of the cravat.

The public eye shifted toward Britain as the fashion leader in the 1800s and England’s George IV and George V had much to do with the transition toward the modern tie. George IV was greatly influenced by one British fashion icon by the name of Brummel, who is known to have innovated necktie design and the tying of the tie. There is little doubt of British influence in the name of a well-known knot – the Windsor.

During the same and the next century, military regiments and schools set new standards for color and design, moving the trend away from black and white, the two “acceptable” colors for several decades. The British and later, American military developed their regimental stripes, which found their way quickly into the mainstream. Designers on both sides of the ocean quickly developed a plethora of new and colorful designs and a new age was born.

Throughout the 20th century, necktie styles varied from the simple and straight to the wide and wild styles of the 70s and now in the 21st century, we find that neckties are still the key accessory for the sharp-dressed man. Who knows where its evolution will lead next? So, who’s responsible for the modern necktie, and when? You be the judge.

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