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.

118px-Louis1667However, at the end of the 17th century in France the lacy, flowing neck cloth was considered to be a bit of a liability when fighting and so it was pared down to a long, narrow and much plainer cravat known as the Steinkirk. It was wrapped once about the neck and the ends, which could have a small amount of lace on them if a gentleman absolutely insisted, were twisted together and tucked out of the way in a buttonhole or waistcoat.

 

The English Style

Meanwhile another fashion-forward monarch, Charles II of England, adopted the cravat whilst in exile in Woodcarving_of_a_cravat
Europe and soon the Restoration Court were keen cravat-wearers. One writer of the time commented:  "A cravatte is another kind of adornment for the neck being nothing else but a long towel put about the Collar, and so tyed before with a Bow Knott; this is the original of all such Wearings; but now by the Art and Inventions of the seamsters, there is so many new ways of making them, that it would be a task to name, much more to describe them." In 1690 the wood carver Grinling Gibbons immortalised the cravat in a lime wood carving.

 A staple of men’s dressing through the 18th century, the cravat rose to even dizzier heights of fashion during the 1770s when the Macaronis re-introduced the lace and flowing style. It was left to Beau Brummell to calm everyone down with his more formal and austere type of neck cloth. 99px-Neckclothitania-1818During the Regency period there was such a proliferation of styles that books were written to guide a gentleman towards the type of knot that would best express his personal taste. Brummell favoured white linen but later in the period coloured neck cloths became acceptable and once again the cravat grew in size and complexity until styles such as the Mail Coach were so bulky a man could barely move his head when wearing it. Although there were theoretically 85 ways to knot a cravat, only a dozen styles were considered to suit the usual notions of symmetry and balance.

The Duke of Wellington was of course a well-known cravat-wearer, so much so that his men called him The Beau or The Dandy, and Napoleon changed the colour of his neck cloth from black to white for the Battle of Waterloo in homage of Wellington’s style. A dandified sort of cravat was one of the hallmarks of the late 19th century Aesthetic Movement led by Oscar Wilde who said “A well-knotted cravat is the first serious step in a man's life.”

 It was Jesse Langsdorf, an American textile manufacturer, who made a revolutionary step by cutting the fabric into three parts and then sewing it back in a way which enabled easier tying and industrial production. Finally the cravat did not need to be bespoke.

It may be out of fashion at the moment but perhaps the cravat is ripe to make a comeback. What 120px-Neckclothdo you think? Should gentlemen smarten up with a cravat, or is it a fashion item we're only destined to see in period dramas or at upscale balls? Do you admire a smartly knotted tie or is it all just too old-fashioned these days?

85 thoughts on “The Elegance of the Cravat”

  1. In an era where men see shoes as optional and only occasionally make sure their trousers cover their underwear, sadly I can’t see the cravat making a return… 🙁
    I’ve not yet sat through that version of Persuasion, but the picture at the top makes me want to!
    If we’re going to bring back fashions, I’ll take the Regency dresses, but please don’t put me in a mid-19th century crinoline! I’ve worn one before. It’s… interesting…

    Reply
  2. In an era where men see shoes as optional and only occasionally make sure their trousers cover their underwear, sadly I can’t see the cravat making a return… 🙁
    I’ve not yet sat through that version of Persuasion, but the picture at the top makes me want to!
    If we’re going to bring back fashions, I’ll take the Regency dresses, but please don’t put me in a mid-19th century crinoline! I’ve worn one before. It’s… interesting…

    Reply
  3. In an era where men see shoes as optional and only occasionally make sure their trousers cover their underwear, sadly I can’t see the cravat making a return… 🙁
    I’ve not yet sat through that version of Persuasion, but the picture at the top makes me want to!
    If we’re going to bring back fashions, I’ll take the Regency dresses, but please don’t put me in a mid-19th century crinoline! I’ve worn one before. It’s… interesting…

    Reply
  4. In an era where men see shoes as optional and only occasionally make sure their trousers cover their underwear, sadly I can’t see the cravat making a return… 🙁
    I’ve not yet sat through that version of Persuasion, but the picture at the top makes me want to!
    If we’re going to bring back fashions, I’ll take the Regency dresses, but please don’t put me in a mid-19th century crinoline! I’ve worn one before. It’s… interesting…

    Reply
  5. In an era where men see shoes as optional and only occasionally make sure their trousers cover their underwear, sadly I can’t see the cravat making a return… 🙁
    I’ve not yet sat through that version of Persuasion, but the picture at the top makes me want to!
    If we’re going to bring back fashions, I’ll take the Regency dresses, but please don’t put me in a mid-19th century crinoline! I’ve worn one before. It’s… interesting…

    Reply
  6. I agree with Sonya that a certain subset of males would scoff at the cravat, but for business and formal attire? I’d be all for it, except that I think we might all swoon at the sight of men wearing them:-) Too bad I can’t get married again. I would make my husband and the groomsmen wear them.

    Reply
  7. I agree with Sonya that a certain subset of males would scoff at the cravat, but for business and formal attire? I’d be all for it, except that I think we might all swoon at the sight of men wearing them:-) Too bad I can’t get married again. I would make my husband and the groomsmen wear them.

    Reply
  8. I agree with Sonya that a certain subset of males would scoff at the cravat, but for business and formal attire? I’d be all for it, except that I think we might all swoon at the sight of men wearing them:-) Too bad I can’t get married again. I would make my husband and the groomsmen wear them.

    Reply
  9. I agree with Sonya that a certain subset of males would scoff at the cravat, but for business and formal attire? I’d be all for it, except that I think we might all swoon at the sight of men wearing them:-) Too bad I can’t get married again. I would make my husband and the groomsmen wear them.

    Reply
  10. I agree with Sonya that a certain subset of males would scoff at the cravat, but for business and formal attire? I’d be all for it, except that I think we might all swoon at the sight of men wearing them:-) Too bad I can’t get married again. I would make my husband and the groomsmen wear them.

    Reply
  11. I like romantic. Lace, gloves, hats, cravats, fancy buttons…
    There is a fashion trend for women that may yield a new version of the cravat–the elaborately tied scarf. Some of the knots and twists are very artistic.
    So much of the rest of fashion today is either about sexy or casual. And then there’s casual with sequins, sparkly stones, and metallic threads.
    I also look at your paintings where the men are clean shaven with an admiring sigh. I don’t know if it’s where I work or just younger men, but I see an awful lot of beards. Beards and cravats just don’t work together.

    Reply
  12. I like romantic. Lace, gloves, hats, cravats, fancy buttons…
    There is a fashion trend for women that may yield a new version of the cravat–the elaborately tied scarf. Some of the knots and twists are very artistic.
    So much of the rest of fashion today is either about sexy or casual. And then there’s casual with sequins, sparkly stones, and metallic threads.
    I also look at your paintings where the men are clean shaven with an admiring sigh. I don’t know if it’s where I work or just younger men, but I see an awful lot of beards. Beards and cravats just don’t work together.

    Reply
  13. I like romantic. Lace, gloves, hats, cravats, fancy buttons…
    There is a fashion trend for women that may yield a new version of the cravat–the elaborately tied scarf. Some of the knots and twists are very artistic.
    So much of the rest of fashion today is either about sexy or casual. And then there’s casual with sequins, sparkly stones, and metallic threads.
    I also look at your paintings where the men are clean shaven with an admiring sigh. I don’t know if it’s where I work or just younger men, but I see an awful lot of beards. Beards and cravats just don’t work together.

    Reply
  14. I like romantic. Lace, gloves, hats, cravats, fancy buttons…
    There is a fashion trend for women that may yield a new version of the cravat–the elaborately tied scarf. Some of the knots and twists are very artistic.
    So much of the rest of fashion today is either about sexy or casual. And then there’s casual with sequins, sparkly stones, and metallic threads.
    I also look at your paintings where the men are clean shaven with an admiring sigh. I don’t know if it’s where I work or just younger men, but I see an awful lot of beards. Beards and cravats just don’t work together.

    Reply
  15. I like romantic. Lace, gloves, hats, cravats, fancy buttons…
    There is a fashion trend for women that may yield a new version of the cravat–the elaborately tied scarf. Some of the knots and twists are very artistic.
    So much of the rest of fashion today is either about sexy or casual. And then there’s casual with sequins, sparkly stones, and metallic threads.
    I also look at your paintings where the men are clean shaven with an admiring sigh. I don’t know if it’s where I work or just younger men, but I see an awful lot of beards. Beards and cravats just don’t work together.

    Reply
  16. In Melbourne (Australia) there always seems to be some fashion tribe or another that flies the cravat. When I was a teen in the late 70s/early 80s, it was the New Romantics and Brideshead Revisited (the TV series)fans. These days there’s a mob (I don’t know what they call themselves) who get about in swanky 70s gear, including the odd cravat. There’s clearly an element of parody in choosing to wear a cravat – but there’s also a strong consciousness statement about the blah-ness of mass consumer fashion. Cravats in contemporary times are all about swagger and style – a kind of Bohemian-prestige hybrid. It’s an attitude thing. If everyone wore cravats, the cachet (from the point of view of those who currently champion them) would be lost.

    Reply
  17. In Melbourne (Australia) there always seems to be some fashion tribe or another that flies the cravat. When I was a teen in the late 70s/early 80s, it was the New Romantics and Brideshead Revisited (the TV series)fans. These days there’s a mob (I don’t know what they call themselves) who get about in swanky 70s gear, including the odd cravat. There’s clearly an element of parody in choosing to wear a cravat – but there’s also a strong consciousness statement about the blah-ness of mass consumer fashion. Cravats in contemporary times are all about swagger and style – a kind of Bohemian-prestige hybrid. It’s an attitude thing. If everyone wore cravats, the cachet (from the point of view of those who currently champion them) would be lost.

    Reply
  18. In Melbourne (Australia) there always seems to be some fashion tribe or another that flies the cravat. When I was a teen in the late 70s/early 80s, it was the New Romantics and Brideshead Revisited (the TV series)fans. These days there’s a mob (I don’t know what they call themselves) who get about in swanky 70s gear, including the odd cravat. There’s clearly an element of parody in choosing to wear a cravat – but there’s also a strong consciousness statement about the blah-ness of mass consumer fashion. Cravats in contemporary times are all about swagger and style – a kind of Bohemian-prestige hybrid. It’s an attitude thing. If everyone wore cravats, the cachet (from the point of view of those who currently champion them) would be lost.

    Reply
  19. In Melbourne (Australia) there always seems to be some fashion tribe or another that flies the cravat. When I was a teen in the late 70s/early 80s, it was the New Romantics and Brideshead Revisited (the TV series)fans. These days there’s a mob (I don’t know what they call themselves) who get about in swanky 70s gear, including the odd cravat. There’s clearly an element of parody in choosing to wear a cravat – but there’s also a strong consciousness statement about the blah-ness of mass consumer fashion. Cravats in contemporary times are all about swagger and style – a kind of Bohemian-prestige hybrid. It’s an attitude thing. If everyone wore cravats, the cachet (from the point of view of those who currently champion them) would be lost.

    Reply
  20. In Melbourne (Australia) there always seems to be some fashion tribe or another that flies the cravat. When I was a teen in the late 70s/early 80s, it was the New Romantics and Brideshead Revisited (the TV series)fans. These days there’s a mob (I don’t know what they call themselves) who get about in swanky 70s gear, including the odd cravat. There’s clearly an element of parody in choosing to wear a cravat – but there’s also a strong consciousness statement about the blah-ness of mass consumer fashion. Cravats in contemporary times are all about swagger and style – a kind of Bohemian-prestige hybrid. It’s an attitude thing. If everyone wore cravats, the cachet (from the point of view of those who currently champion them) would be lost.

    Reply
  21. Who knew that cravats were from Croatia? That was the exotic East at the time, I guess. Handsome actors in Regency gear can make cravats look amazing, but I agree with Sonya–casual style is too popular for somethinga s suffocating looking as a cravat to return to fashion any decade soon!

    Reply
  22. Who knew that cravats were from Croatia? That was the exotic East at the time, I guess. Handsome actors in Regency gear can make cravats look amazing, but I agree with Sonya–casual style is too popular for somethinga s suffocating looking as a cravat to return to fashion any decade soon!

    Reply
  23. Who knew that cravats were from Croatia? That was the exotic East at the time, I guess. Handsome actors in Regency gear can make cravats look amazing, but I agree with Sonya–casual style is too popular for somethinga s suffocating looking as a cravat to return to fashion any decade soon!

    Reply
  24. Who knew that cravats were from Croatia? That was the exotic East at the time, I guess. Handsome actors in Regency gear can make cravats look amazing, but I agree with Sonya–casual style is too popular for somethinga s suffocating looking as a cravat to return to fashion any decade soon!

    Reply
  25. Who knew that cravats were from Croatia? That was the exotic East at the time, I guess. Handsome actors in Regency gear can make cravats look amazing, but I agree with Sonya–casual style is too popular for somethinga s suffocating looking as a cravat to return to fashion any decade soon!

    Reply
  26. Fascinating, Shannon. Here too there is a very self-conscious dandyish style that involves a cravat. It’s definitely a fashion “tribe” thing and you’re right, if it became mainstream the cachet would be lost. It’s such an interesting trend that is half-parody and yet still about swagger and the artistic aesthetic.

    Reply
  27. Fascinating, Shannon. Here too there is a very self-conscious dandyish style that involves a cravat. It’s definitely a fashion “tribe” thing and you’re right, if it became mainstream the cachet would be lost. It’s such an interesting trend that is half-parody and yet still about swagger and the artistic aesthetic.

    Reply
  28. Fascinating, Shannon. Here too there is a very self-conscious dandyish style that involves a cravat. It’s definitely a fashion “tribe” thing and you’re right, if it became mainstream the cachet would be lost. It’s such an interesting trend that is half-parody and yet still about swagger and the artistic aesthetic.

    Reply
  29. Fascinating, Shannon. Here too there is a very self-conscious dandyish style that involves a cravat. It’s definitely a fashion “tribe” thing and you’re right, if it became mainstream the cachet would be lost. It’s such an interesting trend that is half-parody and yet still about swagger and the artistic aesthetic.

    Reply
  30. Fascinating, Shannon. Here too there is a very self-conscious dandyish style that involves a cravat. It’s definitely a fashion “tribe” thing and you’re right, if it became mainstream the cachet would be lost. It’s such an interesting trend that is half-parody and yet still about swagger and the artistic aesthetic.

    Reply
  31. Shannon, my folk singing brother-in-law (15 years older than me) used to sometimes wear a cravat –my father frowned on it and thought it was frivolous and possibly even a little effeminate, though he never actually said so. *g* The occasional university lecturer went “en cravat” as well. I suspect it was a hangover from the 60’s or 70’s.

    Reply
  32. Shannon, my folk singing brother-in-law (15 years older than me) used to sometimes wear a cravat –my father frowned on it and thought it was frivolous and possibly even a little effeminate, though he never actually said so. *g* The occasional university lecturer went “en cravat” as well. I suspect it was a hangover from the 60’s or 70’s.

    Reply
  33. Shannon, my folk singing brother-in-law (15 years older than me) used to sometimes wear a cravat –my father frowned on it and thought it was frivolous and possibly even a little effeminate, though he never actually said so. *g* The occasional university lecturer went “en cravat” as well. I suspect it was a hangover from the 60’s or 70’s.

    Reply
  34. Shannon, my folk singing brother-in-law (15 years older than me) used to sometimes wear a cravat –my father frowned on it and thought it was frivolous and possibly even a little effeminate, though he never actually said so. *g* The occasional university lecturer went “en cravat” as well. I suspect it was a hangover from the 60’s or 70’s.

    Reply
  35. Shannon, my folk singing brother-in-law (15 years older than me) used to sometimes wear a cravat –my father frowned on it and thought it was frivolous and possibly even a little effeminate, though he never actually said so. *g* The occasional university lecturer went “en cravat” as well. I suspect it was a hangover from the 60’s or 70’s.

    Reply
  36. Just remember, ladies, that in this age of women’s participation in business and academe, we would probably not be wearing crinolines, but cravats along with the men. I don’t know about you, but I find cravats “nice to visit, but I don’t want to live there,” lol. (Ooh, but they are _nice_ to visit, for sure.)

    Reply
  37. Just remember, ladies, that in this age of women’s participation in business and academe, we would probably not be wearing crinolines, but cravats along with the men. I don’t know about you, but I find cravats “nice to visit, but I don’t want to live there,” lol. (Ooh, but they are _nice_ to visit, for sure.)

    Reply
  38. Just remember, ladies, that in this age of women’s participation in business and academe, we would probably not be wearing crinolines, but cravats along with the men. I don’t know about you, but I find cravats “nice to visit, but I don’t want to live there,” lol. (Ooh, but they are _nice_ to visit, for sure.)

    Reply
  39. Just remember, ladies, that in this age of women’s participation in business and academe, we would probably not be wearing crinolines, but cravats along with the men. I don’t know about you, but I find cravats “nice to visit, but I don’t want to live there,” lol. (Ooh, but they are _nice_ to visit, for sure.)

    Reply
  40. Just remember, ladies, that in this age of women’s participation in business and academe, we would probably not be wearing crinolines, but cravats along with the men. I don’t know about you, but I find cravats “nice to visit, but I don’t want to live there,” lol. (Ooh, but they are _nice_ to visit, for sure.)

    Reply
  41. Men look so much better and sexier in becoming shirts and ties. One of my sons hates ties and the other loves them. Most of the men at church wear ties . Some consider wearing a tie akin to wearing a noose around the neck, but others use them as adornmen and the right accessory to make the oufit complete.
    Now whether anyone would wear a regency style cravat would depnd on whether it was made glamorous like the ascot when the royals are present. Unfortunately the wearing of a cravate has been made to seem a bit too much something for the modern dandy and not the ordinary guy.

    Reply
  42. Men look so much better and sexier in becoming shirts and ties. One of my sons hates ties and the other loves them. Most of the men at church wear ties . Some consider wearing a tie akin to wearing a noose around the neck, but others use them as adornmen and the right accessory to make the oufit complete.
    Now whether anyone would wear a regency style cravat would depnd on whether it was made glamorous like the ascot when the royals are present. Unfortunately the wearing of a cravate has been made to seem a bit too much something for the modern dandy and not the ordinary guy.

    Reply
  43. Men look so much better and sexier in becoming shirts and ties. One of my sons hates ties and the other loves them. Most of the men at church wear ties . Some consider wearing a tie akin to wearing a noose around the neck, but others use them as adornmen and the right accessory to make the oufit complete.
    Now whether anyone would wear a regency style cravat would depnd on whether it was made glamorous like the ascot when the royals are present. Unfortunately the wearing of a cravate has been made to seem a bit too much something for the modern dandy and not the ordinary guy.

    Reply
  44. Men look so much better and sexier in becoming shirts and ties. One of my sons hates ties and the other loves them. Most of the men at church wear ties . Some consider wearing a tie akin to wearing a noose around the neck, but others use them as adornmen and the right accessory to make the oufit complete.
    Now whether anyone would wear a regency style cravat would depnd on whether it was made glamorous like the ascot when the royals are present. Unfortunately the wearing of a cravate has been made to seem a bit too much something for the modern dandy and not the ordinary guy.

    Reply
  45. Men look so much better and sexier in becoming shirts and ties. One of my sons hates ties and the other loves them. Most of the men at church wear ties . Some consider wearing a tie akin to wearing a noose around the neck, but others use them as adornmen and the right accessory to make the oufit complete.
    Now whether anyone would wear a regency style cravat would depnd on whether it was made glamorous like the ascot when the royals are present. Unfortunately the wearing of a cravate has been made to seem a bit too much something for the modern dandy and not the ordinary guy.

    Reply
  46. Yes, it definitely has dandyish overtones these days, doesn’t it. I love the plain styles of the Regency cravats. I’d have been one of the people at the time who frowned upon the introduction of colours and patterns!

    Reply
  47. Yes, it definitely has dandyish overtones these days, doesn’t it. I love the plain styles of the Regency cravats. I’d have been one of the people at the time who frowned upon the introduction of colours and patterns!

    Reply
  48. Yes, it definitely has dandyish overtones these days, doesn’t it. I love the plain styles of the Regency cravats. I’d have been one of the people at the time who frowned upon the introduction of colours and patterns!

    Reply
  49. Yes, it definitely has dandyish overtones these days, doesn’t it. I love the plain styles of the Regency cravats. I’d have been one of the people at the time who frowned upon the introduction of colours and patterns!

    Reply
  50. Yes, it definitely has dandyish overtones these days, doesn’t it. I love the plain styles of the Regency cravats. I’d have been one of the people at the time who frowned upon the introduction of colours and patterns!

    Reply

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