You might be surprised to learn the history of neckties is a long one with many twists and turns! In Ancient Egypt, a rectangular piece of cloth worn tied showed social status. There is archaeological evidence during the Roman Empire; men wore neckwear that looks much like the today’s necktie.
A version of an early necktie was found buried in the mausoleum of China’s Emperor Shih Huang Ti who died in 210 B.C. Shih Huang Ti was immortalized recently in the movie The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.
The Chinese emperor was afraid of dying alone and wanted to slaughter an entire army to accompany him into the afterlife. He was persuaded by his advisers to take only life-size statues to the grave instead. Each figure wore a different neck cloth, which gives us a glimpse at historic styles of neckwear.
In 113 A.D. Roman Emperor, Trajan, erected a marble column to commemorate a victory over his enemies. The thousands of realistic figures displayed show three separate kinds of neckties worn in those days.
Some experts credit Croatia as the inspiration for modern neckwear in the history of neckties. It is said to have begun in the 17th century as a symbol of love.
The story goes, a young solider was preparing to leave his village and join the war. His beloved tied a brightly colored scarf around his neck to remind him of her love while they were separated.
As time went by the knotted neckerchief became a symbol for Croatian troops fighting in the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). The French took notice of the Croats fighting style and their fashion sense. The French word for tie is cravat, thought to be a variation of “Croat.” The bow tie got its name from the French, jabot, a type of 17th century lace cravat.
Parisian courtiers copied the Croatian kerchiefs, and called them ‘les cravates‘. Soldiers adorned their necks with lace while officers wore silk or muslin. Poor people wore cotton or pleated black taffeta cravats. 18th century aristocrats, politicians, and generals wore lace cravats as seen in art museum paintings.
In those days, fashion manuals showed 32 ways to tie a cravat. The four-in-hand-knot is still standard in the United States. The Windsor knot invented by the Duke of Windsor is more popular in Europe.
In the early 1800s, plantation owners displayed their superiority by wearing wide ribbons tied in bows creating the first American neckwear. The popularity of the black bow tie in the history of neckties dates to 1886, when Pierre Lorillard V invented the tuxedo.
After World War I, wild, hand-painted ties became a form of decoration in America. The pop art influenced styles of the late 1960s and early 1970s gave way to milder fashion designs. Ties became narrower, with subdued colors and patterns. Narrow one-inch wide ties became widely popular in the 1980s.
The history of neckties continued to evolve when unusual designs cropped up in the 1990s. Joke ties and neckties designed to make a statement became a common sight.