You probably know the drill – stumbling around, first thing on a Monday morning, rifling through your drawers in search of that matching tie before you can set off for work. Even though millions of us wear them to work every day of the week, the actual origin of the humble necktie generally isn’t something we give an awful lot of thought to. Nevertheless, the history of the tie stretches back centuries, and this everyday garment has taken many forms over the years. From 17th century continental Europe to the modern office, the necktie has a surprisingly varied backstory – so let’s take a look at it.
The origins of the modern necktie are generally considered to lie in Croatia – hence the origin of the English word ‘cravat’. The garment first started to find favour during the Thirty Years’ War, when King Louis XIV – always keen for his men to cut a dash on the battlefield – ensured that the necktie was added to soldier’s uniforms. Although the modern necktie has its roots in the conflicts of 17th century Europe, there are various stories of pieces of fabric being worn around the neck as a kind of tie. Perhaps the earliest dates from China in the second century BC, which provides one of the most compelling challenges to Croatia’s claim as the birthplace of the necktie.
In the 1970s, archaeologists uncovered the world-famous Terracotta Army in the provincial city of Xi’an, which would go on to be one of the most popular and striking historical attractions on the planet. One intriguing aspect of the Terracotta Army’s battle dress is that many of the soldiers are depicted wearing fabric around their neck. However, it is thought that neckwear went out of fashion somewhat following the rise of the Han Dynasty, which came to power in 206 BC. Nevertheless, there have also been contemporaneous depictions of Roman soldiers wearing neck ties of sorts, although this is thought to have been fairly limited.
The necktie started to gain popularity in England in the early years of the 19th century, having been popularised by George Beau Brummel, something of a fashion icon at the time. The global reach of the British Empire meant that the tie then started to be seen around the world – but in Napoleon’s France, it was the cravat that held sway. Come the turn of the 20th century, British military leaders came to realise that wearing colourful ties on the battlefield was more of a hindrance than a help, and camouflaged green uniforms became the norm. Even so, by this stage the necktie had become firmly established in the popular consciousness and started to take on ever more outlandish forms as fashions evolved.
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