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History of the Silk Tie

In 113 A.D., one of Rome's greatest Emperors, the military genius Trajan, erected a marble column to commemorate a triumphant victory over the Dacians, who lived in what is now Romania.

The 2,500 realistic figures on the column sport no less than three different styles of neckwear. These include shorter versions of the modern necktie; cloth wound around the neck and tucked into armor; and knotted kerchiefs reminiscent of cowboy bandannas.

While Roman orators often wore cloths to keep their throats warm, soldiers did not cover their necks. In fact, writers such as Horace and Seneca said only effeminate men covered their necks.

Skilled warriors

Trajan's column is the only representation of legionnaires with neckwear. Historians believe the legionnaires wore cloths for reasons similar to those of Shih Huang Ti's terracotta army. Truly great fighters must be visibly honored. And, the legionnaires were so skilled in battle that they were immune to perceptions of appearing feminine.
"The Sun King," Louis XIV of France, was intrigued and delighted by the colorful silk kerchiefs worn around the necks of Croatian mercenaries. A crack regiment, the soldiers were presented at court around 1660 so the King could thank them for a victory against the Hapsburg Empire.

Crack Regiment

Many experts believe the French word for tie, cravat, is a corruption of "Croat." In fact, French kings maintained an elite regiment, the Cravate Royale, until the French Revolution of 1789.

Other sources say cravat is derived from the Turkish word kyrabacs, or the Hungarian, korbacs, both meaning "whip" or "long, slender object." Researchers have also noted the word cravat appeared in French before the arrival of the Croatians. They suggest the term is a corruption of rabat, French for a hanging collar.

One thing is certain: the elegant French courtiers, and the military immediately began copying the Croatians. Ordinary soldiers began adorning their necks with lace, while officers sported muslin or silk, possibly trimmed with embroidery. Even poor people wore cotton cravats, sometimes of pleated black taffeta.

Civil War

In this country, ties were also an integral part of a man's wardrobe. However, until the time of the Civil War, most ties were imported from the Continent. Gradually, though, the industry gained ground, to the point that at the beginning of the twentieth century, American neckwear finally began to rival that of Europe, despite the fact that European fabrics were still being heavily imported.

60s Rebellion

In the 1960s there was a definite lapse in the inclination of men to wear ties, as a result of the rebellion against both tradition and the formality of dress. But by the mid-1970s, this trend had reversed itself to the point where now, in the 1990s, the sale of neckwear is probably as strong if not stronger than it has ever been.

How to account for the continued popularity of neckties? For years, fashion historians and sociologists predicted their demise--the one element of a man's attire with no obvious function. Perhaps they are merely part of an inherited tradition. As long as world and business leaders continue to wear ties, the young executives will follow suit and ties will remain a key to the boardroom. On the other hand, there does seem to be some aesthetic value in wearing a tie. In addition to covering the buttons of the shirt and giving emphasis to the verticality of a man's body (in much the same way that the buttons on a military uniform do), it adds a sense of luxury and richness, color and texture, to the austerity of the dress shirt and business suit.

Perhaps no other item of a man's wardrobe has altered its shape so often as the tie. It seems that the first question fashion writers always ask is, "Will men's ties be wider or narrower this year?"

In the late 1960s and early 70s, ties grew to five inches in width. At the time, the rationale was that these wide ties were in proportion to the wider jacket lapels and longer shirt collars. This was the correct approach, since these elements should always be in balance. But once these exaggerated proportions were discarded, fat ties became another victim of fashion.

The proper width of a tie, and one that will never be out of style, is 3 1/4 inches (2 3/4 to 3 1/2 inches are also acceptable). As long as the proportions of men's clothing remain true to a man's body shape, this width will set the proper balance. Though many of the neckties sold today are cut in these widths, the section of the tie where the knot is made has remained thick--a holdover from the fat, napkinlike ties of the 1960s. This makes tying a small, elegant knot more difficult. Yet the relationship of a tie's knot to the shirt collar is an important consideration. If the relationship is proper, the knot will never be so large that it spreads the collar or forces it open, nor will it be so small that it will become lost in the collar.

Standard neckties come in lengths anywhere from 52 to 58 inches long. Taller men, or those who use a Windsor knot, may require a longer tie, which can be special-ordered. After being tied, the tips of the necktie should be long enough to reach the waistband of the trousers. (The ends of the tie should either be equal, or the smaller one just a fraction shorter.)

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