As with many fashion trends emanating from Paris, the practice of wearing a tie almost immediately found favour among well-heeled Europeans, and within a few years the upper and middle classes across the Continent commonly took to sporting a piece of a fabric around their neck. By the turn of the eighteenth century the lace cravat had become the most popular variation of the tie, with silk versions a costly alternative. These were often incredibly ornate and required a great deal of patience on the wearer’s part, with the process of fixing the cravat in position with cravat strings, arranging it evenly and tying a complex bow often taking upwards of an hour.
In the centuries following the first appearance of ties, the garment underwent numerous changes which saw dozens of different styles emerge from the original design. One of the earliest of these was the Steinkirk which, like the tie itself, originated from a conflict situation. Legend has it that princes dressing for the Battle of Steenkerque had no time to tie a neat knot, and instead simply twisted the fabric ends together and fed them through a buttonhole in their jackets. French philosopher Voltaire gives a similar account of the Steinkirk’s origin, writing that the French gentry were forced to fight with their cravats untied after a surprise attack was mounted by the Allies.
The stock tie followed in the early eighteenth century. Such ties were originally nothing more than a small square of muslin which was folded into a thin strip, wound around the collar of a shirt several times and pinned at the back of neck. These were often worn in conjunction with the then-popular men’s hairstyle known as the bag wig in which the ends of the hair were held in a black silk bag at the nape of the neck. While such fashions have, thankfully, fallen by the wayside, the tie avoided a similar fate and continued to evolve over the years.
Later in the century, the standard cravat returned to prominence when a group of young Englishmen educated on the Continent brought back contemporary French and Italian fashion. This led to ties being widely worn in England for the first time, with their popularity giving rise to a debate as to how they should be properly tied. Indeed, one of the bestselling books of the time was Neckclothitania, which contained detailed instructions concerning the fourteen different methods of tying a tie. Notably, this was also the first book to formally use the word tie to describe the item of neckwear which had almost invariably been known as a cravat up to that point.
By then ties had become deeply entrenched in men’s fashion habits, with white silk ties the neckwear of choice for formal evening occasions, and black ties a necessary companion to men’s smart day-to-day outfits. Since that time ties have come to play a number of new and different roles in fashion, and nowadays the tie may be donned by everyone from presidents and prime ministers to teenage punk rockers.
In fact, in recent years ties have come to be increasingly associated with the young and trendy, with Justin Timberlake, Ne-Yo, Jay-Z, P Diddy and Lady Gaga all sporting ties of surprisingly traditional designs in their music videos. The tie also remains a fashion staple of pop rockers across the globe, with the standard short-sleeved schoolboy shirt matched with a thin, black tie remaining very much the look for such musicians and their fans. Rythm and Blues stars like Usher and the aforementioned Justin Timberlake popularised the tie-and-waistcoat look late last in the 2000s, taking the bold step of matching the core components of the classic men’s work suit with white trainers.
There are, however, celebrities who continue to wear the tie as originally intended. George Clooney, for example, is often seen sporting ties with wide strips paired with a pinstriped suit and a crisp white shirt, a look which has been a men’s fashion favourite for over thirty years. Prince Charles is a prominent individual who refuses to let the traditional tie die, and indeed his preference for wearing striped ties under double-breasted suits with matching pocket squares earned him Esquire’s recognition as the best dressed man in 2009.