The cravat first appeared around 1660. Stylish men wore long, flowey wigs at the time, which obscured the lace collars previously in style. But men still had to accessorize their neck somehow, so the cravat came into style. Originating in Paris, as most of the best trends do, the cravat was first seen on a regiment of Croats, called cravates by the Parisians, who wore cloths wrapped around their necks as a charm against injuries. French men thought this was rather dashing, and so adopted the style themselves, calling the new cloth wrap a cravat.
Early cravats were made of a long strip of white fabric, and could be decorated with embroidery or lace at the ends. Already there were several options for the method of tying it, from a simple knot with the ends hanging down to a dashing bow to the steinkirk, named for the style in which French soldiers wore their cravats at the Battle of Steinkirk in 1692.
Johnny Depp wearing a 17th century cravat in The Libertine.
In the early 18th century, the cravat began to be replaced with the stock, a stiff folded cloth that encased the neck and buttoned or buckled in the back. This new style was noted by poet Laurence Whyte, who wrote “The stock with buckle made of plate/Has put the cravat out of date” in 1742. But a simple stock wasn’t decorative enough for the stylish 18th century male, so some flair was added with a frilly jabot and a solitaire-a black ribbon attached to a small bag encasing the ponytail of the wig or hair, which was brought around the neck and tied in a bow in front.
1749. The frilly thing is a jabot, and the black thing is a solitaire.
Ralph Fiennes in an 18th century cravat and jabot in The Duchess.
During the French Revolution and Directoire periods at the end of the 18th century, stylish men were all about enormous exaggeration and the cravat was no exception. Growing to enormous heights, the cravat started to edge in on the face, one contemporary saying that “the white muslin cravat is a big thing, it is higher than ever, covering not only the chin but the mouth as well”.
As cravats entered the 19th century, it became fashionable to wear two- a white one wrapped around the neck like a stock and a colored cravat wrapped on top and tied in a decorative manner.
Colin Firth in a Regency style cravat in the BBC Pride and Prejudice miniseries.
Soon the white cravat was replaced with a high linen collar, much like the stocks of the 18th century. Innovation was not limited to technology in the 19th century, and cravats were being tied in every imaginable way.
Rupert Friend in The Young Victoria, set in the late 1830s.
Paul Bettany in The Young Victoria, set in the late 1830s.
By the middle of the century, cravats could be tied in small, narrow bows- the very first bowties. Although by this point the cravat was made of black or colored fabric, a white cravat was always worn for formal occasions (this is why ‘white tie’ is dressier than ‘black tie’).
By the end of the 19th century, the cravat had evolved into the tie we all know today. At first the tie coexisted peacefully with other styles, including the popular ascot style, but eventually the tie dominated fashion and became the standard for all men.
Robert Downey Jr. in Sherlock Holmes, set in the end of the 19th century, wearing a cravat tied in the ascot style (ish).