These days, ties are a necessity to communicate elegance or authority. It’s uncommon to dress for a semi-formal or formal event without one. But, hundreds of years ago, ties originated out of utilitarian function.
The first ties on record were referred to as cravats, an all-inclusive term for all types of neckwear. Cravat was a derivative of the French word “cravate”. In the 1630s, enlisted Croatian mercenaries wore cravats made of linen or silk as part of their uniforms.
Nearing the early 1700s, the Steinkirk cravat emerged through France. At the Battle of Steenkerque, soldiers simply draped cravats around their necks before engaging in battle.
The original cravat style maintained its popularity for nearly 200 years. It wasn’t until the 1920s that the tie as we know it emerged. During that decade, designer Jessie Langsdorf began cutting the tie fabric in a way that allowed wearers to unknot their ties and return them to their original shape.
In the 30s, the Art Deco movement led to wider ties with bolder colors and patterns. The Windsor knot was common during this time. The industry remained staid until the arrival of the skinny tie in the 50s.
As a move in the complete opposite direction, the ultra-wide Kipper Tie went into heavy production and characterized much of the 60s and 70s. The 80s served as the wild, wild west for tie making before uniform width of roughly 4 inches became the norm in the 90s.
To date, ties are sold in a wide variety of styles but guys are varying their looks with patterns and fabrics now instead of width. It’s generally thought that wide ties are a fashion faux pas while skinny ties are primarily hipster territory.
Though ties have gone through several incarnations and evolutions, they’ve always been a mandatory staple of menswear.