This year at New York Fashion Week, I was struck by the whimsical neckties on the women of the Thom Browne show. It got me wondering about a few things: first, why aren’t ties as commonplace on women as they are on men? Second, where did they come from and why are ties pretty much a requirement for formal menswear? Lastly, ties don’t seem to serve much of a functional purpose so why does anyone wear ties in the first place? I plan to answer those questions in this post. Enjoy!
Most historians agree that the necktie began as a fashion accessory during the reign of France’s King Louis XIII. During the Thirty Years’ War in the early 1630s, France hired Croatian mercenaries to help in the war effort and the king was impressed by the garments they wore around their necks. For the mercenaries these accessories served a purpose to hold their jackets together during the cold so their hands were free to fight. King Louis XIII found them quite fashionable and more fun to wear than the starchy ruffled collars the wealthy French were used to wearing. Soon the king and later Louis XIV required their entire court to don the “Croat” or “cravat” as we know them today.
Mysteriously, there is some evidence of the necktie back in 210 BC but not much is known about ties in this time period. If you’ve seen the terracotta warriors that were buried with Emperor Qin Shi Huang in Xian, China, you may have noticed the necktie or cravat variations that the warriors are wearing. Strangely, warriors at the time did not actually wear these accessories so there is some speculation as to why the buried guards are wearing them. Most historians have considered the tie as a sort of badge of honor for the warriors.
From there the tie went in a few different directions. The “macaroni” (Great Britain) or “incroyable” (France) men, known for their outlandish fashion, experimented with tying these cravats and variations thereof into different shapes and styles. In 1818, The Neckclothitania was published, using satire to make fun of the elaborate cravat styles. In 1828, H. Le Blanc wrote The Art of Tying the Cravat demonstrated in sixteen lessons including thirty two different styles. From the 1800s onward, variations on the cravat gave way to the three styles we know today: the bow tie, the necktie, and the ascot.
As for female involvement in necktie culture, the history is not quite as deep. Since women weren’t really involved in any wartime fighting and the fashion in the French courts were more gender-based, women were never required to wear variations of neckties and thus never really did. It wasn’t until women started taking up predominantly male jobs, getting involved in war efforts, or playing professional sports that they started to wear some ties as a part of their uniforms. The women of the Red Cross in the first world war wore ties with their wartime uniforms and Amelia Earhart was known to wear a tie when flying.
The history of women wearing ties as a fashion statement is incredibly recent compared to the origin of the tie. It was in the 1960s with second wave feminism that women were starting to really question gendered wardrobe expectations and began experimenting with clothing in a whole new way. One of the most notable fashion events was the famous Yves Saint Laurent “Le Smoking” where he popularized tuxedos for women in 1966. Shortly thereafter in 1977 the film Annie Hall was celebrated for the title character’s fashion sense which was basically appropriated menswear and it inspired women across the country to dress more androgynously which included using neckties as accessories.
Today the necktie is still a major part of the formal menswear uniform and millions of men around the world continue to wear them. Many people have started to question the usefulness of a tie and many businessmen and CEOs around the world are starting to lose the tie from their daily wear. For women, it is still purely an accessory for those who want to make a statement about gendered clothing.
Do you wear ties? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below.
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