The Evolution of the Necktie
Have you ever wondered why men wear ties ? Did you ever ask yourself how this style trend evolved? After all, the necktie is purely a decorative accessory. It doesn’t keep us warm or dry, and certainly does not add comfort. Yet men all around the world, myself included, love wearing them. To help you understand the history and evolution of the necktie I decided to write this post.
The Origin of the Necktie
Most sartorialists agree that the necktie originated in the 17th century, during the 30 year war in France. King Louis XIII hired Croatian mercenaries (see picture above) who wore a piece of cloth around their neck as part of their uniform. While these early neckties did serve a function (tying the top of their jackets that is), they also had quite a decorative effect – a look that King Louis was quite fond of. In fact, he liked it so much that he made these ties a mandatory accessory for Royal gatherings, and – to honor the Croatian soldiers – he gave this clothing piece the name “La Cravate” – the name for necktie in French to this day.
The Evolution of Modern Necktie
The early cravats of the 17th century have little resemblance to today’s necktie, yet it was a style that stayed popular throughout Europe for over 200 years. The tie as we know it today did not emerge until the 1920s but since then has undergone many (often subtle) changes. Because lots of change has happened to the design of the tie in the past century I decided to break this down by each decade:
The tie was a must-have clothing accessories for men in the first decade of the 20th century. Most common were Cravats which evolved from the early 17th century ties that were brought to France by the Croatians. What was different however, was how they were tied. Two decades earlier, the Four in Hand knot had been invented which was the only knot used for cravats. While other tie knots have been invented since, the Four in Hand is still one of the most popular tie knots today. The two other common neckwear styles popular at the time were bow ties (used for evening white tie attire), as well as ascots (required for formal day time dress in England).
The second decade of the 20th century saw a decline in formal cravats and ascots as men’s fashion became more casual with haberdashers putting a stronger emphasis on comfort, functionality, and fit. Towards the end of this decade neckties closely resemble the ties as we know them today.
The 1920s were an important decade for men’s ties. A NY tie maker by the name of Jessie Langsdorf invented a new way of cutting the fabric when constructing a tie, which allowed the tie to spring back into its original shape after each wearing. This invention triggered the creation of many new tie knots.
Neckties became the predominant choice for men as bow ties were reserved for formal evening and black tie functions. Furthermore, for the first time, repp-stripe and British regimental ties emerged.
During the Art Deco movement of the 1930s, neckties became wider and often displayed bold Art Deco patterns and designs. Men also wore their ties a bit shorter and commonly tied them with a Windsor knot – a tie knot that the Duke of Windsor invented during this time.
The early part of the 1940s didn’t offer any exciting change in the world of men’s ties – possibly an effect of WWII which had people worry about more important things than clothing and fashion. When WWII ended in 1945 however, a feeling of liberation became evident in design and fashion. Colors on ties became bold, patterns stood out, and one retailer by the name of Grover Chain Shirt Shop even created a necktie collection displaying sparsely dressed women.
When talking about ties, the 50s are most famous for the emergence of the skinny tie – a style designed to compliment the more form fitting and tailored clothes of the time. Additionally tie makers started experimenting with different materials.
Just as ties were put on a diet in the 50s, the 1960s went to the other extreme – creating some of the widest neckties ever. Ties as wide as 6 inches were not uncommon – a style that got the name “Kipper Tie”
The disco movement of the 1970s truly embraced the ultra wide “Kipper Tie”. But also worth noting is the creation of the Bolo Tie (aka Western Tie) which became Arizona’s official state neckwear in 1971.
The 1980s are certainly not known for great fashion. Instead of embracing a certain style, tie makers created any kind of neck-wear style during this period. Ultra-wide “Kipper Ties” were still present to some degree as was the re-emergence of the skinny tie which was often made from leather.
By 1990 the style Faux Pas of the 80s slowly faded away. Neckties became a bit more uniform in width (3.75-4 inches). Most popular were bold floral and paisley patterns – a style that has recently resurfaced as a popular print on modern ties today.
Compared the the decade before ties became a bit thinner at about 3.5-3.75 inches. European designers further shrunk the width and eventually the skinny tie re-emerged as a popular stylish accessory.
- 2010 – 2013
Today, ties are available in many widths, cuts, fabrics, and patterns. It is all about choice and allowing the modern man to express his own personal style. The standard width for ties is still in the 3.25-3.5 inch range, but to fill the gap to the skinny tie (1.5-2.5″), many designers now offer narrow ties that are about 2.75-3 inches wide. Besides the width, unique fabrics, weaves, and patterns emerged. Knitted ties became popular in 2011 and 2012 saw a strong trend of bold florals and paisleys – something that continued throughout 2013.
Thanks for visiting. Should you have any comments, or like to start a conversation on this topic, please comment below. I do check all comments, and I do my best to reply to each and every one of them.
Tie Aficionado & Founder of Tie-a-Tie.net
64 thoughts on “The Evolution of the Necktie”
Great article! I am a fashion design student and was researching the history of formal menswear accessories. I came across your site and your article. This was very helpful. Thanks!
Great article. I liked the break down by each decade from the past century. Nice work!
What do you think the next decade will bring in form of men’s neckwear? Do you think we eventually will go back to those elaborate cravats that noble men used to wear throughout Europe 200-300 years ago?
Hendrik, you forgot to add that in 2013, it was the first time the world saw the Shortti, a kind of tie the world has never seen — http://bit.ly/SHORTTI — take a look at the Kickstarter project for proof!
Hi Carlton, very unusual. I have never heard of the SHORTTI before. Please send me an e-mail at pohlhendrik at gmail. I would like to chat about this.
This is a nice article.i have developed my own tie knot. Would like to discuss with you.
What do you name your knot that you have created? I would love to see a picture. If I like it, then I will feature your invention on my site! =)
You did a great job on the article. 🙂
I’m not sure what his source was, but a short time ago a friend of mine said that the necktie was originally used to designate a homosexual (so they could find each other easier?), much as wearing an earring in one ear today – or wearing a ring on the hand (similar to the wedding band/ring worn today) was used in ancient times to point out the (Pagan) temple prostitutes.
Hi Jimmy, thanks for the comment. I have never heard of this. I did some research after reading your comment and still could not find anything that proves your comment to be correct. So I think your friend is wrong. =) …unless you can show me the source…
Jimmy is referring to the “hanky code”
A hanky would be poking out of his back pocket. The colour and the positioning of the hanky would reveal a sexual activity the wearer enjoys,.. Later short cravats were tied around the kneck with the same code.
Instead of placing the hanky in the back left or right pocket to determine whether the individual is sexually active or passive ,.. The knot would be positioned on either the left or the right side of the kneck.
hi Chris, thanks for your input. Again, I have not heard this before… Thanks for commenting.
Actually a red tie was the signal for homosexuals.
You have missed the key purpose of a tie…to tie down the top of a shirt or other garment, to keep heat from escaping from the top half of the body. Cuff links did the same for wrists and tucking in a shirt does the same for the bottom half of the torso.
Well, I think it was because they could not launder their clothes like they do today. The necktie and cuff links were used to “hold down” the removable cuffs and neck of the garment could be washed more frequently. I know I am right…even if no one shares my opinion.
Interesting point. But, removable collars and cuffs did not come into fashion until the 1820s – almost 200 years after the French adopted the Croatian Cravat as a formal accessory.
I’m an ole’dude and have been wearing ties for what seems like a zillion years. One of major problems (not only old, I’m short) was to buy ties under $10 that did not hang down to beyond my belt, or so short I looked like Fatty Arbuckle. At some point I became aware of a particular way to tie ANY tie that makes it come out the right length, and has the,perfered, double dimple at the knot.
It has only one draw-back the tail piece (i.e. the small end of the tie) inside out. As this part of the tie is behind the broader end of the tie it does not show, so who knows. Thank you for the article.
HI Bernie, thanks for the input. I am curious to see a picture of your special tie knot. Do you know what this knot is called? Was it your own invention? Please share…
Gee Whiz, I don’t have scanner so I can’t send you a picture (won’t know how to use it if I did have one) however it looks a lot like the blue on in your information blog except it has one, or two, dimples (your choice) It’s one big disadvantage is that the tail piece (that’s the little end) always comes out backwards. i.e. looks like it’s inside out. It is not my invention, but came from the L.A.Times newspaper about twenty, to twenty-five years ago. Somewhere, God Knows, somewhere in my files of trivia I may have a copy. If I do I shall send it to you by “Snail Mail”. Bernie
I have seen neckties which do not need to be tied. Instead, they are attached to the collar with a press hook. I would like to know what are they called and where can I buy them
Hi Himanshu, you are most likely referring to clip-on ties. Clip-on ties are commonly seen in certain professions where it is safer not to have a tie that is worn around the neck. If you “Google” clip-on neckties, then i am sure you will find some decent sources. But, please note that most “real” designer brands do not offer clip-on ties…
I don’t know what that was about your comment awaiting moderation or something, but I was just referring to regular neckties, not bow ties or clip ons. I just think men look nice wearing neckties.
Hendrik, great article. I found your site after researching the history of neckties. I want to ask what the standard length for a cooperate tie is.
– Tunji Gabriel (from Nigeria).
Hi Tunji, most ties are 56-59 inches in length (when untied). This length is good for most men up to 6 foot 3 inches tall. Taller men and/or men with larger neck sizes will need XL length ties. Please see my “tie length calculator” on the left for more information.
OH Lordy!!! What about us short Dudes (especially those that are “pleasantly over-weight” ???? What’re we supposedly to do?? We either look like “Fatty Arbuckle” or Charlie Chapman in “Little Tramp”!!!! Best tie shirt color example would be Bill Orally on TV (leave off his political BS ) He really dresses sharp.
Do you think the “tie” became super popular due to the story of a particular nation’s soldiers loved one’s placing the “neck tie” on them for gestures of love? I heard that recently…
Hmmm, where did you hear this? I have never heard of this. I will have to look into this…
Any truth that ties with stripes that run parallel to your arm when placing your right hand over your heart are made in the USA, whereas if the stripes run in the opposite direction normally made in Euorpe.
Hi Larry, that used to be the case, and it still is the case for traditional brands. But in today’s global market brands spread across the globe. A company’s headquarter may be in the US, the design team is in Europe, and the production is in Asia…)
actually the 1940s helped create the skinny tie. due to fabric shortages, they had to use less fabric in thier ties resulting in a thinner tie which some people(myself EXCLUDED) prefer the look of a thin tie
Hi James, that is very interesting. This is the first time I have heard this. Can you e-mail me the source of the information please?
I believe it is symbol of salves being tied at the neck – a symbol of feudalism – Congratulation to newly elected Prime Minister of Greece to shun this !
Have you attempted the 10 fold Windsor? It can be very risky and may cut off circulation in the neck, but looks very stylish.
Not all men love them. Personally I find them restrictive and torturous. There is no good reason to wear them. I personally don’t intend to ever wear one again except maybe to a wedding if required or requested. When will men break free of silly dress codes. Have we learned nothing at all from the Women’s movement?
I agree flexdoc. We humans tend to hold onto useless traditions, beliefs and customs.
My sentiments exactly! In an ultra safe future I personally see no reason to put anything around your neck that can be used to strangle or restrain you! To each their own.
The neck tie is an masonic symbol that denotes the male organ namely the penis. Just as the obelisk (the Washington monument) it’s the image of the worshiping of the sun god Ra.
HI Bola, that was funny. It is not a true statement, but funny nonetheless.
I was told that the purpose of the tie was to cover the buttons. Is this true?
Nope that is not true. You were told wrong. Originally the tie was designed to close the top of the dress shirt. Today it is an accessory that has no real function, but does draw attention to the wearers face.
Hi, I guess men were trying to hide their hairy neck and it became a fashion. I was wondering if this Croatian soldier haven’t been in France or it wasn’t taken French king’s attention what we men are wearing now?:)
Thanks for your great note. I found it really useful for my research. You may know, wearing tie was banned after 1979 revolution in Iran. Tie became emblem of Westoxification, and West-struck-ness, secularization in Iran by Islamic government.Political life of tie is one part of my book that I am working on it. Book try to cover history of first decade of revolution thorough things life (tie, car, wearing jean, Video,…).
Hi Abbas, thanks for the comment and for sharing this great piece of info with everyone here.
Men will wear whatever they choose, but I still feel the same that when a man dresses up & wears a tie he looks nice & more attractive.
Is there any truth in the story that the bib has evolved as the tie
Hi Kara, no that is not true. Thanks for the question though.
I thhought the man who discovered a tie wished to commit sucide.
Hi Tony, haha. No, you certainly heard wrong!
Your research is very pointed and informative Hendric. I appreciate very much your tackling this interesting subject.
Soon will be released a really exciting development in men’s neck wear. Will talk with you then.
Do you see ties ever becoming extinct, say in another 50 or 100 years? Like top hats or spats? I see less and less people wearing them these days, in business and at weddings etc. Silicon Valley casual seems to be the norm in most businesses today.
I still like them, but prefer mine at 3″ in width. 3.5″ or 3.75″ tends to look too ’70s on me, while 2.5″ or under makes me look like I am trying too hard to be cool. Not that this stops me.
Hi Dan, great question. Yes ties have indeed become less popular until a recent resurgence got tie manufactures doing well again. Imports of ties have been increasing in the past 3 years although it is still below what the import figures were 15-20 years ago. The standard tie width is now in the 3 – 3.25 inch width. While narrow ties were popular, it is the wider ties that are becoming more in style again. I predict that the 3.75 inch and 4 inch tie will be back by next year!
Don’t you think that it is unsafe to don a necktie when you are likely to be involved in a brawl.Your weakness can easily be exploited by the opponent
Parambir – yes good point! That’s why security companies, police force, etc. wear clip-on ties.
I liked your article until I got to the section on 1980’s and 1990’s. Why would you cast aspersions on an entire decade? “The 1980s are certainly not known for great fashion” and “By 1990 the style Faux Pas of the 80s slowly faded away.” How wrong you are and very narrow minded! What about the fops and their ridiculous cravats and ties in the Victorian era or Regency period? During the 80’s, disco music was rubbished and reviled by the majority of listeners. There were Death to Disco marches on government. Now look at the reemergence of the music. I hear aging rockers humming old disco tunes and saying what great songs they were!! The 80’s clothes were bright, comfortable, creative and combined elements from past eras with modern twists. it was an extravagant era with economies booming so there was money around. I see elements of of 80’s clothes in fashions around today including shoes and accessories. I was disappointed by your unnecessary derision of a wonderful period in the evolution of fashion and taste.
Has the length at which it is fashionable to wear a tie changed over time?
I have stick pins from my Grandfather and was trying to figure out when cravats ended and ties started. You page was helpful
Is tie a part of formal dress? or just a fashion ?
Why are men so compliant about wearing a noose around their necks?
Great article! Do you know when women first started wearing ties
Hi Jonathan, that is a great question. Women have always been wearing neckerchiefs that somewhat resemble the early Cravats worn 200 years ago. Neckties as we known them today have never really caught on in women’s fashion.
They have never caught on with women because they look horribly uncomfortable. Why would you purposely strangle yourself every day? I’ll admit that on some men they are attractive, but I bet most men would like to see them fade away like top hats. I don’t think any man should be required to wear one to work every day. Go for purpose function over fashion.
Its to keep men on their leash
Most ties never get washed. Since I stopped wearing a tie I stopped having allergy problems. If I do wear one it will be a new one.
“The second decade of the 20th century saw a decline in formal cravats and ascots as men’s fashion became more casual *which* haberdashers putting a stronger emphasis on comfort, functionality, and fit.”
Should be *with*… just thought I’d pass that on in the interests of writing correctness. I enjoyed reading that though – I’ve always wanted to look up the history. Cheers.
“Neckties became the predominate choice for men”
Hi Matthew, thank you for pointing out the two spelling errors. I just corrected them.