Throughout the ages, the tie has been an archetype of status, formality, hipness, occasional discomfort, and standard Father’s Day gifts (reminder: June 15th this year). Since we've always wondered where this classy yet somewhat strange style accessory (noose implications, anyone?) came from, we decided to put our necks out there (sorry) and do some research. From military roots to flashy status signifier, read on to find out how your tie came to be.
Around 210 BC, China’s first Emperor, Win Shih Huang, commissioned an army of terracotta soldiers to guard him in the afterlife; the final count came to around 8,000 sculptures, each depicted with a cloth tied around its neck.
The same sort of cloths were illustrated in carvings of the Roman army that date to around 100 AD. There’s no historical record of any “neck cloths” generally being worn at either point in time, leading scholars to believe these soldiers were sporting them as a unique symbol of honor. Too bad watching dead guys doesn't earn you flair these days, right? ...Right?
During the Thirty Years War in Europe (1618-1648), Croatian mercenaries hired by the French wore special neckerchiefs, a fashion quickly adopted by Parisians. The scarves became known as “cravats", a mix of the two countries’ pronunciations of “Croat".
Eventually King Louis XIV, who was at the time only 7-years-old, adopted the look and, since first-graders have excellent fashion sense, the style craze swept all of Europe. A variation on the cravat, called Steinkirks (a loosely, roughly tied cravat), were named after the Battle of Steenkerque in 1692, during which soldiers hurriedly put on uniforms and rushed into battle. Which means if you really wanna alter history, just jump in your DeLorean with a box of clip-on ties.
Fast forward to 1715, when a totally new kind of neckwear, called “stocks”, came about. These were originally leather collars tied behind the neck, designed to protect a soldier against swords and bayonets, and we imagine made it easier to take him on walks to the doggie park.
Leather stocks morphed into fashionable fabric collars pinned in back, and for a while included a black silk bag to hold a man’s long ponytail (business in front, gross hair sack in the back). In addition to the stock, a frilly, lacy add-on, called a Jabot, would decorate the front, and the hair bag would loop around the neck and fasten in the front with a black ribbon called a Solitaire.
Cravats varied quite a lot in size, eventually becoming large enough to nearly engulf a man’s chin, but by the mid 19th century
were again small enough that they could be tied in small bows; thus, the modern bowtie
was born. (We refer to this era as the Dawn of the Nerd.) All manner of colors were worn, but white was reserved for the more formal occasion, hence “white tie” now being more formal than “black tie” occasions.
During this time, Macaronis, a subset of the population known for extravagant fashion (you’d know them today as metrosexuals, and have heard them mentioned in the song “Yankee Doodle”) were a strong cultural influence, and wore cravats with copious crazy abandon.
Just like Wolverine, the exact birthdate of the modern necktie seems hard to determine. Today's tie essentially came about around the turn of the 20th century, though long neckwear, like neckerchiefs, had been sported by the United States naval forces for decades at that point. As cravats gave way to ascots, the fabric seems to have lengthened, probably as a simple result of fashion preference. Tie clip companies everywhere rejoiced.
The design of the modern necktie is attributed to tailor Jesse Langsdorf, who in 1926 patented a technique for cutting the silk for his ties at a bias - a 45° angle, against the “grain” - and constructed neckties in a three-piece arrangement, giving them durability and sturdiness. Presumably, there is also a secret addendum to the patent that made his invention impossible to tie on the first two tries.
Enter the current era. Early in the 20th century we saw very wide, short ties. As the Fifties rolled around ultra skinny ties came into vogue, lasting through much of the Sixties. In the Seventies, some men took to wearing ascots again (though judgement may have been...impaired...during those years, so we can call the resurgence a fluke at best). The Eighties brought about power ties, like on Mr. Gecko above.
Ties widened again in the Nineties - right in step with the GDP (*drops mic*) - and now again we’ve thinned out, so to speak. Average it all together and you’ve got the safe road, the ideal modern tie: about 3 inches in width and tied so the tip juuuust reaches your belt.
You'd be smiling like a creeper too if you were one of the best dressed men ever to walk the earth
. However, you, like George, can walk tall and wear your ties proudly now that you know where your neckwear got its roots.
Nick Caruso taught himself how to tie a tie when he was, like, seven-years-old, and it weirded out his parents. Follow him on Twitter.