Nicola here, and today I’m talking about the cravat. Such an elegant part of a Regency gentleman’s attire. Cravat-wearing fell out of fashion in the late the 20th century when it became a synonymous with the sort of gin-quaffing, yacht-sailing, smooth-talking roles played by actors such as Roger Moore or David Niven. It became a bit of a parody and even a joke. Yet at the recent Edinburgh Festival one author at least was encouraging gentlemen to pick up their cravats again and wear them proudly. Nicholas Parsons said: "I've seen people with beautifully tailored jackets on, with an open shirt… and an awful Adam's apple." The solution, he suggested, is the cravat.
The Croatian neck cloth
Cravat-wearing is said to have originated in Croatia in the early 17th century. Mercenary soldiers fighting in the French army popularised the style, which was known as La Croate, “in the style of the Croats.” The officers had cravats of fine silk, the ordinary soldiers had cravats of poorer quality linen and they varied in size and colour.
Prior to the 17th century, gentlemen had worn the ruff or something called a band, which was effectively a cravat – a long strip of neck cloth that could be either attached to the shirt or draped over a doublet. The benefit of a neck cloth was threefold. It was easily changeable if it became dirty, it covered up a less than pristine shirt and it provided some comfort between a man and his armour. Cravat Day is still celebrated in Croatia on 18th October.
The Parisians, always on the look out for a new fashion, were very taken with the style of the cravat, which became known as the “cravate” in French society. They added broad laced edging to the linen and muslin, and on occasion made cravats entirely out of lace. The court even employed a cravat-maker (cravatier) who delivered a few cravats to King Louis XIV on a daily basis so he could choose the one that suited him most. The cult of the cravat quickly spread across Europe.