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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)