Friday, August 31, 2012

A Four in Hand is worth Eight in the Bush

(Part 4 of the series "The Secret Life of the Tie.") 
Chapter 82
We will continue our Grand Tour of all the possible forms of neckwear this week with a look at the everyday long tie. And yet...not so everyday, for the humdrum workaday tie holds some secrets for us. For one thing, it is a bit of a chameleon. 

The knot of a long tie needs to be in harmony with the size and shape of the shirt's collar. A small knot will get lost in a widespread collar, and a large knot will overwhelm a narrow collar. Neither is a good thing. There are many different styles of collars out there, and you should carefully choose a collar that is both in harmony with your personal morphology, and offsets any, er, peculiarities in your head shape and size. For instance, a wide jaw can be offset by a collar with a narrow spread, and a long neck needs a collar with a higher stand and a wider fall. But the science of collar shapes is a subject for another week, so I will leave you with that tantalizing bit of information for now.

Fortunately, the long tie has a trump card, and that is its unique flexibility. The same tie can be made to fit just about any collar shape extant, on account of the great variety of knots that have been developed for its use. The long tie once was called a "four-in-hand" tie to differentiate it from a bow tie, but four-in-hand refers to a specific knot style, and is only one possible knot that can be used. In fact, this week I'm not going to focus on tie colors and patterns and such at all -- instead, we're looking just at the knots.

Out of all the possible knots, we are going to take a close look at an even dozen. Some of them you might know already, some you almost certainly have never heard of. All of them have distinct characteristics, shapes, and sizes, that are beneficial for a specific type of person, and shape of collar.

Thomas Fink and Yong Mao, two condensed-matter theorists, authored a book called The 85 Ways to Tie a Tiewhich is in turn based upon their physics thesis called  'Tie knots, random walks and topology.'

One of their brilliant contributions, (aside from the mathematics itself,) is their method of notating how to form the knots. It only requires three orientations and two directions: Right, Left, and Center; and In and Out. The thin blade always starts on the left, the thick blade on the right. This is how the notation works, and how to read it: 

A lot more concise than "Bring the thick blade over the thin blade, pass it behind and around once, pass it up from the rear, and down through the loop to form the knot," isn't it? Wasn't that easy? Well, now that we've just made one, let's go ahead and take a look at the Four-In-Hand:  
Li Ro Li Co T.
This is the most-used, oldest, and best-known knot, and probably the one you learned to tie first as well. It is rather small and narrow, and has an inherent asymmetry that can have a pleasingly insouciant appearance. The narrow triangular shape worked well with the stiff detachable collars with very small spreads that were fashionable in the first decades of the 20th century; and because of that, it still looks dashing with tab collars or with collar bars, or even Imperial or wing collars. It should be avoided by men with particularly narrow faces or wide shoulders, in favor of a wider knot, and the four-in-hand can tend to underfill those collars with more than a moderately narrow spread. 

As small as the four-in-hand is, it isn't the smallest knot you can wear: that distinction belongs to the Oriental: 
Lo Ri Co T.
A truly wee knot, the Oriental is tied by starting it inside-out around the neck, which isn't as peculiar as it sounds: many knots that you haven't heard of start this way. Teeny but well-shaped and symmetrical, it can be useful with vintage-style stiff collars with no spread, or very small collars with a short stand and fall, that would be dwarfed by a larger knot. (Collar nomenclature: The stand is the part that is closest to your neck; the fall is the part that folds over.) The Oriental knot can also be used when the tie itself is very thickly lined, and any other knot tried with it consequently ends up too large. The Oriental, in addition to being started inside-out, also is not self-releasing; that is, when the small end is pulled free, the knot doesn't fall out of its own accord, but must be manually untied.

The big brother of the Oriental is the Shelby:
Lo Ci Lo Ri Co T.
The Shelby knot, (also known as the Pratt knot in some circles,) is a very useful knot. It starts inside-out and is non-releasing like the Oriental, and it's similar in size to the four-in-hand. It distinguishes itself from both in being completely symmetrical and strongly triangular and tetrahedral, resulting in a knot that has a strong three-dimensional presence. Broad at the top, it tapers to a deep hourglass shape, and will fit a wide range of collar spreads. This is a knot every man needs in his arsenal. 

The Half-Windsor is the classic "businessman's knot." If you know two knots, chances are it's the four-in-hand and this one.
Li Ro Ci Ro Li Co T.
It is triangular and symmetrical like the Shelby, but with a little more meat and heft in the knot, a little wider at the base, with a bit less prominence. Very unlike the Shelby, it's self-releasing and starts the proper way 'round. It's a solid, honest, button-down sort of tie that says you are a man of industry and purpose...and for all that, perhaps a it's little boring in its bland inoffensiveness.

But, take the calm and solid Half-Windsor, wrap it twice instead of once around, and then drop the end through both loops, and its character changes markedly, to the Christensen knot:
Li Ro Ci Ro Li Ro Li Co TT.
Much more showy and elegant than its boring cousin the Half-Windsor, this knot sits low, lean, and sexy. Thin silk ties will emphasize its hourglass shape even more. The effect is enhanced even further with a tie pin or waistcoat, and is particularly suited to wearing with a stand collar (when the situation allows, of course.) It is best displayed with wide collars that have narrow spreads, but its unusual nature compliments most medium-spread styles.

Since we've covered the Half-Windsor, it follows that we'd look at the Full Windsor:
Li Co Ri Lo Ci Ro Li Co T.


Ironically, the Half-Windsor is not half of a Windsor, nor was the Windsor knot ever worn or invented by the Duke of Windsor. A big, bold, solid knot, for big, solid people, it is more of an isosceles trapezoid than triangular in shape, with ample room for a double-dimple below it. If the half-Windsor is the businessmens' knot, the Windsor is the politicians' knot.

Now we're entering the territory of the large knots. These will be swallowed up by narrow collars: they are more suited to wide spread or cutaway collars, and need to be used with discretion by small or thin men, lest the knot dominate the outfit.

The big brother of the Windsor is the Hanover:
Lo Ri Co Ri Lo Ci Ro Li Co T.



The Hanover looks like a Windsor that's been to the gym: more triangular and athletic, with a smaller base that accommodates but a single dimple. It works best for men for whom the Windsor is too flat and broad; smaller or thinner men. It starts inside out, but is self-releasing. 




The big daddy of big knots, the Balthus, also starts inside-out:
Lo Ci Ro Ci Lo Ci Lo Ri Co T.





This is a tremendously broad knot, that is really only suited for a cutaway collar, unless you are a truly barrel-chested man who needs the extra width to keep a sense of proportion. 






That leads us to a knot so big, it isn't a knot at all -- the mighty
 Onassis:
Lo Ri Lo Ri Co T Ri Co.
Named for Aristotle Onassis, this tie just waterfalls down like a Cravate en Cascade. This tie also begins inside-out. It has to be rather carefully matched to a collar, since all the interest comes from the collar rather than the tie; the best effect is when the collar spread is the exact width of the tie, with long points. Because it shows so much of the tie's pattern, it should only be used rarely, and in casual situations.

The Onassis knot belongs to the Kelvin family of tie knots. Without the final Ri Co motion, the Onassis becomes a Kelvin. It isn't an outstanding knot by itself; slightly larger and more symmetric than a four-in-hand, but the inside-out start and non-releasing nature make it a bit of an oddball. 

There are some interesting things you can do with a Kelvin knot, though. If you pass the end through both horizontal loops instead of just one, you get the little brother of the Christensen, a
Cross Kelvin:
Lo Ri Lo Ri Co TT.


The Cross Kelvin knot sits low for its size. It's the same elegant look as the Christensen, but with the tradeoff of a more compact triangular package in place of a long hourglass shape. If you have a square jaw or wide face, this knot would suit you well; perhaps with a long spearpoint collar, or a collar with a tall stand.


But wait! there's more fun to be had with a Kelvin. If you reverse the ends, to make the Cross Kelvin knot with the thin blade instead of the thick, and then wear the tie backwards so the thick blade is in front again, you get a Diagonal knot.



The Diagonal is highly funky and strongly asymmetric, with a criss crossing diagonal pattern that gives a lot of visual interest to the knot. Since the thin blade ties around the thick, the tie has a lot of width around the neck, which needs to be folded down so the collar will fit over it. Naturally, a taller collar would best suit it.


Here's another striking Kelvin variation. This one is simply made by wearing a Cross Kelvin backwards, so the large blade is to the rear, and partially envelops the thin blade. It has the same Diagonal knot with less width around the neck. It must be worn with a waistcoat, since the thick blade faces wrong-side out.



Since we're looking at some unusualness, we'll end with a tie knot that has gained some notariety for itself. It is called the Ediety knot, but ever since The Matrix, it has gained another name --
the Merovingian
Li Co Ri Lo Ci T.



This one starts like the Diagonal: it's the thin blade on the right side that ties around the thick end. Unlike the Diagonal, it starts right-side out, and ends with the thin end running through the loop at the back of the knot.




There you have it: more knots than you will ever use, from the sublime to the ridiculous. If anything, it demonstrates the amazing versatility of the long tie: there is a knot for every taste. Don't be daunted by the variety -- for as we've also shown, there's no "wrong way" to tie a tie, even backwards and inside-out can be options. Once you've gotten familiar with these styles, you will reach a point where you will "get it," and the "random walks" of Thomas Fink will reveal themselves to you. Then you will reach a point where you will be able to "freestyle" a knot intuitively, based upon your individual needs at the time.

This is not an exhaustive look at the long tie; as I mentioned earlier, I'm only talking knots this week, because knot-knowledge is most generally deficient in this area of the art. Of construction, size, materials, colors, patterns, proportion, lining, self-tipped vs. non,  seven-folds and nine-folds, finished lengths, and the rest, I shall say nothing -- due to the long tie's universality, there are myriad sources of long-tie lore in the world, that we can add nothing to here.

Andre 3000 tucks a tie.
I will add one more word on the long tie's major shortcoming: as we have already discussed in previous weeks, the ends dangle. The solutions to this limitation are many: the most obvious is to wear a waistcoat. In lieu of that, a tie tack or tie bar will at least keep the hanging ends from going all Dilbert on you. Another option is to tuck the tie into the shirt between the second and third button, Army-style. And the last option is to wear a tie that doesn't dangle at all. We'll look at the non-danglers next week. Stay tuned!

Click here to go to the next essay chronologically, Part Five of The Secret Life of the Tie.

Click here to go back to the previous essay chronologically, Part Three of The Secret Life of the Tie.

Click here to go back to Part One of The Secret Life of the Tie.

Click here to go back to the beginning.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Win, Lose, or Tie

(Part 3 of the series, "The Secret Life of the Tie.")
Chapter 81
We've spent the last couple of weeks looking at the history of neckwear. In the next few weeks, we'll take a quick overview of what became of all that history, and make some prognostications about what the future of neckwear may hold for us in the twenty-first century. This week, we'll bridge the gap between history and forecasting, by looking at today's modern tie choices, and how they came about.

Modern ties differ from historical cravats, in that cravats were wide single lengths of fabric that wound around the neck twice: front to back to front. All modern ties are much simpler affairs, simply brought from back to front and tied. Ties are also more constructed than cravats: instead of a simple square or rectangle, they are cut, lined, and sewn into specific shapes.

You couldn't squeeze a bow tie
through that collar if you tried.
We'll start off by looking at the most common tie known today, and indeed the only thing most people think of if you would ask them what a "tie" is:
the long tie. Despite what you've heard about it being a direct link to the original Croation cravat, the long tie is a relatively recent invention, dating only to the latter years of the nineteenth century. Its use was predicated on the introduction of the starched detachable collar, which neccesitated a small, vertically-oriented knot to fit under the tight, close collar points. Thus was the four-in-hand invented.

The four-in-hand is the first, original, and most basic long tie knot: a small, easy-to-tie, slightly asymmetrical slipknot, originally used to tie off horses' reins. It had the benefit of fitting neatly under a stiff collar, was easily adjustable, and just as easily removable. It had also the benefit of being one-size-fits-all, and the broad, flat ends tucked nicely under a waistcoat. 

The long tie has become such a universal thing that it has existed nearly unchanged for a century. It is by far the most popular form of tie, worn by easily 99% of the tie-wearing population. The length and width of the ends fluctuated over time with fashion, and there are many subtle variations of knots currently in use. The common long tie, in fact, has been the focus of more attention to subtlety that any other article of clothing in the last hundred years -- the knot can be tied in any of a dozen variations to harmonize with any collar style and head shape. In short, it's very easy to make a long tie look good -- which can not be as easily said for other sorts of ties. 
A loose tie can give the
illusion of working hard.

The slipknot design of the long tie makes it very easy to wear loose. This wasn't an issue with a stiff collar --it's either on or it's off-- but in modern times, there's a great deal of appeal to be able to unbutton your collar and loosen your tie without taking it off entirely. If there is a prevading fault with the modern interpretation of the long tie, it is simply that without benefit of waistcoat or jacket, the ends tend to dangle artlessly -- as well as the sheer monotonous universality of the things.


The next most popular tie in terms of frequency of wear,
is the bow tie. 
An early, non-shaped bow tie.
The modern bow tie is directly related to the cravat: in its turning around the neck, the Cravate à la Osbaldeston -- in its knot, the Nœud Gordian -- in its finish, the Cravate en Valise. The modern bow tie, like the long tie, has become a finished and tailored item, with shaped cutting and lining. The belled shape of the ends hold the tie firmly in place without slipping, and the neckband has reduced in width to fit neatly under a collar. 
A later, highly-shaped
butterfly style bow tie.





The bow tie is unique in that it can be casual...







...semiformal...
Once upon a time, Presidents
were used to formal wear.
Real statesmen wear
white tie when the
situation warrants it.
...and formal, depending solely upon its color. For all the long tie's benefits, it should never be worn with evening formal wear of any kind. The drawbacks of a modern bow tie are that it is not one-size-fits-all, but are an exact fit to the wearer. This means it needs either an adjusting strap or buckle at the back of the neck, or constructed to a specific neck size. Also, it cannot be worn loose, as a long tie is able: a bow tie is either tied or not, there is no middle ground. Since there is no variation in the knot itself, a bow tie doesn't give as much latitude to various head shapes as a long tie. The bow tie must be matched to the stature of the wearer in the cut of the tie itself, in the proportion of the dimensions of the height and width of the finished bow, and in the width of the knot. (The shape of the collar is less of an issue, as the bow usually covers the collar points.) There are many unique advantages to the bow tie as well, not least among them is its relative rarity. A well-cut bow tie that suits the wearer's frame and face is a more personal purchase than a long tie, and reflects more of the wearer's personality. 
You mean your mechanic doesn't
dress like this?
A further benefit, and an important one: the bow tie is up and out of the way, with no dangling ends like a long tie. A bow is thus more suited to wear in shirtsleeves: and for potentially hazardous and dangerous work, where a long tie would interfere with machinery or contaminants, a bow tie is clearly far superior. It is easy to forget one is wearing a bow tie, unlike the constant visual reminder of the long tie swinging away in your field of vision.

Now we'll get into some modern neckwear esoterica. The one piece of neckwear that is literally a cravat, isn't called a cravat at all today, but an ascot. 
The formal cravat, the Ascot.
Named for the Ascot racecourse, the ascot is essentially a Nœud Gordian, the ends crossed on the chest and secured with a pin. It can either be a single piece of fabric as were the cravats of old, or a constructed piece that is lightly lined and slimmed to a one inch neckband. The ascot is the daytime equivalent of formal wear, worn with a morning suit or stroller -- the daylight version of the black bow tie and tuxedo. It enjoys limited use today; the most notable being for weddings in England or on the Continent. 

The ascot can also be tied with a loose four-in-hand knot like a long tie, and pinned in place; it is an acceptable alternative nicknamed the "puff tie," or even more coloquially as the "scrunchie tie," normally utilized by those who don't know how to tie a Geordian knot. The ascot is the last holdover from the classic early nineteenth century cravats. Ironically, Royal Ascot's dress code now prohibits ascots.

In another bit of confusing modern-day jargon, the day cravat is sometimes called an ascot as well, although the two "ascots" couldn't be farther apart in appearance or function. 
The informal cravat, or day cravat.
Not an ascot.
The day cravat is not technically a cravat at all, but is more closely allied with the scarf. It is not worn outside the collar, but inside the shirt, directly against the neck of the wearer. In appearance it approximates the Cravate en Cascade. It can be of a single piece of fabric like a scarf, or a constructed item much like the true ascot, but with a wider, pleated neckband. It is a casual item, worn underneath any open-collared shirt, from a button-down Oxford to a short-sleeve golf shirt. Most often it is seen in vivid patterns, stripes, or figures, in keeping with its casual nature. It is still seen in the UK and Europe, but its use is not as widespread as it once was a few decades ago. When it is seen in America, it is usually confused with the formal ascot, and mistakenly worn at formal events.

Acceptable as formal wear, but only
in the West, and not worn ironically.



The bolo tie (from the Spanish boleadoras) is seen oftimes in the American West, and is the official neckwear of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. 






The boleadoras in use.
See the resemblance?
A length of braided leather, often decorated with silver aglets, it is worn around the neck and fastened with a sliding clasp. Its origins are lost to history, (one account is that the first bolo tie was a repurposed hatband) but it is undeniable that the bolo tie is ideally suited to the hot, dusty regions of the pioneer cowboys, as it can be worn with an open collar, doesn't collect dust and dirt, and isn't as warm or constrictive as a long tie. In England, it is known as a bootlace tie.

The neckerchief deserves mention alongside the bolo, also seen in the American West. 
It is a bandanna or square of fabric, folded into a triangle and rolled up, placed around the neck, and either tied in a knot or secured with a sliding clasp or woggle. (Anyone with a history in the Boy Scouts is quite familiar with this.) The wearing of the handkerchief-as-tie has centuries-old origins in Naval uniforms, and early Western settlers found it a useful tool for keeping the sun off of one's neck, swatting away flies, soaking up water to drink or to cool off, and as an ad hoc air filter during dust storms. It can serve as a tourniquet, bandage, sling, or splint in emergencies, as well as to hide one's face whilst bank-robbing.  





It can also be worn short, in imitation of a bow tie.

The ribbon tie is seen sometimes in the American South, another relic of the nineteenth century western frontier era. 

A length of ribbon, tied as a shoelace with long trailing ends, it has as its origin the wide bow tied cravats of the nineteenth century. 

D&G want you to wear this
to your next board meeting.





Either as a ribbon or as a constructed tie, it is but rarely seen today, except as an alternative to black-tie wear, but its use has not died out completely. Dolce and Gabbana, among others, have attempted to revive its use, as seen here.





The simple scarf is making an appearance as an alternative to the necktie. and has been recently seen loosely tied over an open collar shirt with a jacket. It has previously been used in tropical climates, worn in the same manner as a day cravat, in lieu of a shirt under a jacket.



Scarves have also been seen worn as day cravats recently. This may be a foreshadowing of things to come.

Next week, we'll start taking a closer look at each of these various styles, in turn, paying particular attention to their viability for the twenty-first century Average Guy who aspires to Dress Like a Grownup.

Click here to go to the next essay chronologically, Part Four of The Secret Life of the Tie.

Click here to go to back to the previous essay chronologically, Part Two of The Secret Life of the Tie.

Click here to go back to Part One of The Secret Life of the Tie.

Click here to go back to the beginning.







Friday, August 17, 2012

Taking Stock of the Cravat

(Part 2 of the series,  "The Secret Life of the Tie.")
Chapter 80
Last week, we left our brief history of neckwear at the tail end of the eighteenth century. In the 1780s, the standard 'tie' was the stock, a simple gathered muslin rectangle that fastened at the back of the neck, over the shirtcollar, and had been the going fashion for nearly a century. They were directly related to the high, stiff, black, horsehair neck stocks worn by the military, but were unstarched, lighter, and a good deal more comfortable. They started as tall as the collar itself, but toward the end of the century stocks had grown progressively lower, and the collar was starting to turn over the top of the stock.

If history had progressed in a straight line, we would have a much different take on the 'tie' today...but there was a new fashion on the horizon, born of the American and French Revolutions, and due in no small part to a man named George Bryan 'Beau' Brummell, and a group called the Dandies.
The short version of the story is, Brummell and his ilk nearly single-handedly turned the direction of male fashion away from silk, lace, and gold embroidery; to a new aesthetic of immaculate tailoring, exactitude of fit, sober colors, and plain fabrics. The whole story can easily be found elsewhere with much more detail and anecdotal interest than I can supply here; I shall keep the focus, for now, simply on ties.

Brummell's contribution to neckwear was no small one, for he is responsible for abandoning the stock in favor of the cravat of a century earlier, and more importantly, introducing to it the starch of the Elizabethan ruff. The unkempt folds and wrinkles of the white muslin stock were at odds with the crisp lines and clean tailoring of the Beau's shirts and jackets, so the lines of the neck-cloth were streamlined and smoothed as well, with stiffly starched white linen, carefully arranged with precise creases and artful knots. The new look was futuristic, optimistic, and exciting. There was quite a stir around the invention of many various recognizable styles and knots, each of which had a name and a proper procedure for its correct arrangement.

In 1818, a satirical pamphlet was published called Neckclothitania; or, Tietania: Being an Essay on Starchers, by One of the Cloth. In addition to being the first printed instance of calling a cravat a "Tie," which alone is enough to warrant its immortality, it is a good overview of the "Starchers" themselves that were in use at the time. It is also a darn good read in its own right: tongue-in-cheek and highly entertaining.

As there can hardly be a better source for describing the Starcher cravats of the Regency era than a first-hand account, here is the book itself, with its frontispiece plate illustration, for your perusal:




It is worthwhile to pay particular attention to the various styles and their construction; as many of them have a direct lineage to the styles of neckwear worn today.

Another small book has been printed by H. LeBlanc in 1828, called The Art of Tying the Cravat, which is a more scholarly take on the Starcher -- an instruction manual, in fact, that teaches 32 different styles in sixteen lessons. Bookending the lessons are some very keen observations that are worth a read. The shame of this book is, although the text is readily available online, the four multi-fold engraved illustrated plates are not. As the plates are key to understanding the instructions, the bulk of the book suffers without them. (Fortunately, several of the styles are illustrated in Neckclothitania, and several more can be intuited from logical derivation.) You need not be deprived of the engraved plates, though! Thanks to the Rubenstein Library's Special Collections at Duke University, which has a copy of the book in its stacks, I have been able to obtain digital images of the plates...so you can read the full text with the illustrations.

Plate A:

Plate B:

Plate C:

Plate D:



Of note here is the mention that black cravats are most commonly worn by 1828, although bright colors and patterns were "undress:" worn at home, in the morning, and for leisure activities. Pure white was (as today) considered most formal. Note also the mention of the use of whalebone stiffeners for some cravat designs -- a sign that, similar to the Elizabethan supportasses and cartwheel ruffs of 1590, the limits of starch were beginning to be reached.

The era of the elaborate Starcher came to an end, thanks primarily to the demands of the Industrial Revolution. By the first quarter of the nineteenth century, the popularity of the time-consuming and overly fussy cravats was waning -- businessmen didn't have the time to spend on them; and new factory workers' coal-effused and flywheel-spun environments weren't condusive to wearing them. In its place, a return to the stock; in the form of pre-tied cravats that fastened at the back of the neck. Darker colors became vogue, the collars loose, soft, and high, falling over cravats adorned with all manner of bows. Some were still hand-tied, but an increasing number of men were discovering the ease and simplicity of neckwear that didn't have to be tied at all.

The death-knell of the starched cravat was sounded as early as 1827, with the invention of the detachable shirt collar. Re-invention, actually, since we know from last week that it was presaged by the detachable Elizabethan ruff. The starched detachable linen collar was yet another time-and labor-saving device: it saved housewives laundering time and effort, extended the life of the shirt, and it stayed in place and looked good all day with little care. It looked so good, in fact, that by mid-century, it started to take center-stage over the cravat itself, folding over and hiding everything of the cravat save for the bow. Stand collars were popular for their simplicity, but the collar and the cravat had begun to change places -- the collar on the outside, the cravat underneath; the arrangement with which we are all familiar today. The cravat eventually dwindled to a narrow neckband under the collar, that merely served to form the frontal bow.

Three things happened to change the tide of neckwear in 1861:

The American Civil War drove a wedge between the raw-material-producing states of the South, and the finished-goods-producing states of the North. Collar manufacturers could get no Southern textiles.

The death of Prince Albert ushered in the Great Victorian Gloom, the Blackening of just about everything for the next half-century. Clothes got a great deal more monochromatic, and the only acceptable cheeriness of white details in one's clothing suddenly achieved a new importance.

1861 was also the advent of the paper collar. Born of wartime necessity, it became quite popular. The attraction of a completely disposable item that never needed washing, every morning a completely new collar, was irresistable. They were worn nearly universally, from gentlemen, to bankers, to the working-man, and were made in countless styles. Innovation begets innovation, and mad-scientist tailors developed ties to match the forward-thinking collars. Let's look at a few patent designs, just to get an idea of the variety of futuristic ideas that were in circulation.

Many of them were similar to this design for a pre-stitched bow that simply buttons directly to the front of the collar:


Or this even easier-to-wear design for a pre-made bow that pokes through slots in the collar:


The logical extension of a paper collar was a paper tie, like this one that attached to the front shirt-stud:


And how about this idea, which dispenses with the idea of the bow altogether, and deconstructs the tie into an extension of the collar itself:

The innovation of the era knew no bounds. Here is a rather brilliant idea for an easily-adjustable and washable bow tie that utilizes both front and back collar studs to secure it:


We'll conclude with another really neat idea; a convertible tie that can be made up like a cravat or a bow:


By the 1890s, the paper collar craze had played itself out, and starched linen detachables came to the forefront again. With them came a new tie style; the four-in-hand long tie. It was quick and easy to tie, and complemented the tall, close-set collar points of the era. By the new century, the long tie was far and away the most popular style of neckwear. Bow styles were taking a back seat in popularity.

Friday, August 10, 2012

A Ruff History of Neckwear

(Part 1 of the series, "The Secret Life of the Tie.")
Chapter 79
It is time, at last, to talk about ties. You may have wondered at my lack of any substantial information on the subject thus far, considering that firstly, ties are a large part of Dressing Like a Grownup; and secondly, that Your Genial Host devotes a large portion of his time to designing and tailoring said neckwear. Indeed, other than the passing mention, the only installment dedicated to neckwear has been nothing more than a cursory overview of tying basic knots. The reason is simply this: it is far too important a subject to enter into lightly, without a firm grounding in the history of the subject. Any Average Guy can slap any old tie on a shirt and look like an adult -- but knowledge, as they say, is power, and a firm grasp on the history of neckwear will give you a sartorial advantage over, well, most everyone else on the planet. There are also some interesting blossoming trends in men's fashion that have undiscovered roots in centuries of history, and to take full advantage of this, it is best to know the source material, as it were.

We shall begin in the early 1500s. Neckwear was certainly in use before that time: exempli gratia, ancient Romans used a focalium, or neck cloth, to protect their throats against inclement weather. But as the ancients used neckwear as a necessity against cold or swords, not as fashion, we may skip ahead until that time that the shirt-collar became both functional and decorative, which was the Elizabethan ruff.

The ruff started simply enough, just the natural ruffle formed at the neck of a shirt by a drawstring. When shirts became more tailored, with neckholes and buttons instead of drawstrings, the ruff at the neck remained; this time as a changeable piece of cloth that protected the shirt and was washed separately. 

A double ruff double-goffered!
By the mid-1500s, the ruff was purely decorative, and could be quite elaborate, with double or triple layers, and of linen or trimmed in lace. It was the development of starch, though, that permitted the ruff to achieve a greater level of purely artistic expression. Cone-shaped goffering irons were heated in the fire and applied to heavily-starched ruffs to set them into the characteristic figure-eights that gave them their high lofts.

In the 1570s, ruffs were not overly wide, but starch allowed an impressive three to four inches in height from a single ruffle, that extended from shoulder to ears. It may look overly fussy to us today, but the new fashion of thin, delicate fabric standing out seemingly in defiance of gravity must have seemed magical. (These two groupings of men are details taken from the Somerset House Conference of 1604, but their conservative ruffs illustrate well the styles from the 1570s.) These gents demonstrate single, double, and treble ruffs, with goffering varying from tall and narrow to short and wide figure-eights from lightly starched and rather loose to thin and very stiff. The fellow on the end below wears his ruff tipped in lace.


"Starching houses" made a good business of washing, starching, and setting ever more elaborate ruffs, testing the limits of the science on the great and imaginative variety of ruff styles.


Single-layer cartwheel ruff.
In the 1580s, it was natural that ruffs would expand outward as well. Thin "cartwheel" ruffs, a foot or more wide, became en vogue; but the limits of starch had finally begun to be reached. To hold the ruff in place, "supportasses" or "underproppers" were developed, frames of wire or cardboard to keep the ruff from drooping or breaking.

At this point, the harmless frivolity that was the ruff became more trouble than it was worth. What started as simple protection for the shirtcollar -- light, elegant, and comfortable -- became overencumbered and overengineered with its own necessary infrastructure. Fortunately, the ruff had not much longer to be fashionable, (save in Holland,) thanks to Louis XIII. Quite simply, he wore his hair (natural or wigged) long -- and the one thing you can't do with a wide ruff, is wear it with long hair.

Louis XIII
The King favored wide flat lace collars that covered the shoulders. The ruff lived on (in unstarched form) as the "falling ruff," that laid over the shoulder in imitation of the flat collar -- after all, if you have a perfectly fine (and pricey) ruff, you don't just throw it out; you make it work within the current fashion.


Detail of Reubens' George Villiers.

For those who liked the effect of the old high ruffs, a unique solution was to wear a collar with a wire sewn within its perimeter. This "wired collar" would stay aloft without benefit of starch.


The flat collar pervaded for several decades in various forms, now wider, now narrower, now lacier, now plain, as the political climate of the 1600s dictated. The falling collar, narrowed into two rectangular bands of plain linen, remain in use today as British barristers' collars.

Modern Croat soldiers still wear the cravat.

The next evolutionary jump in neckwear was brought to France in 1660 by Croatian mercenaries employed by the King. They wore broad colorful scarves, neatly knotted at the neck. The French became enamored of it, (as the French are wont to do,) and adopted the style for their own.



Louis XIV in 1667.


They called it, naturally, a Croat, and favored its use in white lace and linen. The pronunciation became Anglified to Cravatte when Charles II brought word of the new fashion back to England after exile.




Method of wearing a Steinkirk.
Most historians draw a neat parallel between the ancient cravat and the modern long tie, and there are notable similarities, but there is more to the story than that! During the Nine Years' War in the late 1600s, there was another refinement of the cravat. The French replaced their broad, flowing, lace cravats with hardier plain cloth that was much longer and narrower, fringed on the ends, for their military dress. It was wrapped once around the neck and tied in a loose knot. The fringes were twisted together and tucked through a buttonhole of their coat, to keep it out of the way. It got its name from the bloodiest infantry battle of the war, from Steenkerque in the Southern Netherlands -- and the Steinkirk cravat, loose, long-ended, with the ends often (but not always) tucked away, remained popular with both sexes until the 1720s.

Then, another change, again brought about by military fashion. Choiseul, Louis XV's Minister of War, changed the troops' steinkirks to stocks. The first stocks were made of stiff horsehair, more like a collar than a cravat; they wrapped around the front of the neck and fastened at the rear with buckles. The reason was as much practical as fashionable; it was in fact meant to serve as neck armor. They were very stiff, reinforced with whalebone, and worn rather tight: so tight, that in the early years the hapless soldiers were so constrained as to render the head nearly immovable, and stooping was impossible.

Detail of Simeon's House of Cards, 1736

 Fortunately, civilians were under no such constraints, and the stock was adopted and worn as a gathered, pleated, or simply folded band of muslin, wrapped around the neck and buckled, tied, or pinned at the rear. Hairstyles played a part in neckwear as well: from 1720 onward, hair (natural or wig) was worn long, brushed back and tied with a black ribbon at the nape of the neck. The hair was often gathered in a black silk "bag wig," which could be pinned to the stock or attached to ribbons that were brought to the front of the stock and tied in a bow. The stock could have an attached ruffle at the front; imitating the look of a cravat.

Detail of Copley's John Hancock, 1765
The youth in the above image wears his hair tied back but un-bagged; his stock is as tall as his collar. By the time of Hancock's portrait, at left, (who, you will note, is wearing his hair in a bag wig,) collars are starting to be folded over the stock. The stock would appear to be a step backward in the development of the modern tie, as it isn't actually tied at all, just wrapped and pinned. It was comfortable and easy to wear, so its use lasted nearly a century. In the waning years of the 1700s, however, the cravat was poised to make a comeback.