The Elegance of the Cravat

Regency cravatNicola 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 170px-Origin_NeckTie 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.

 Paris Fashions

 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.

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The Return of the Codpiece

PeacockNicola here, wondering if there are any fashion items from centuries gone by that are so outrageous they could never make a come back. Last week I read a very interesting article about the hot new trend for feather hair extensions. Peacock feathers are especially popular and as the trend grows from simple feathers to grand pieces, I'm reminded of those extraordinary creations made with ostrich plumes that ladies wore in the 18th century. It might not be long before we see those again. 

But surely there are some things that could never come back into fashion. Take the codpiece, for Henry8codpiece example. A codpiece is defined as a pouch attached to a man's breeches or close-fitting hose to cover the genitals, worn in the 15th and 16th centuries. Here is a picture of Henry VIII wearing one of his; this is relatively modest. There are some truly frightening images out there.

Originally the codpiece was designed specifically to hide the genitals when a man was mounting his horse. It’s a pouch, richly embroidered and lavishly upholstered, its shape deliberately designed to suggest virility. The codpiece was not anatomically correct (!) but the large size was intended to intimidate other men rather than impress women. A huge codpiece suggested that here was a man who could stand up and sport a pair of well-filled hose. Not only that, but it had a practical use as well. A man could keep his keys or coins in it.

Inevitably, there are records of men childishly competing to see who could create the best codpiece shadow until this was banned after ladies complained of what a chronicler of the time called "a very long and lewd codpiece of a barbarous and very impolite shape.” The codpiece died out in the 16th century but I doubt it's ever going to be forgotten.

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