The History Of Bow Tie

The bow tie is a type of necktie. A modern bow tie is tied using a common shoelace knot, which is also called the bow knot for that reason. It consists of a ribbon of fabric tied around the collar of a shirt in a symmetrical manner so that the two opposite ends form loops.

There are generally three types of bow ties: the pre-tied, the clip on, and the self tie. Pre-tied bow ties are ties in which the distinctive bow is sewn onto a band that goes around the neck and clips to secure. Some “clip-ons” dispense with the band altogether, instead clipping straight to the collar. The traditional bow tie, consisting of a strip of cloth which the wearer has to tie by hand, is also known as a “self-tie,” “tie-it-yourself,” or “freestyle” bow tie.

The bow tie originated among Croatian mercenaries during the Thirty Years’ War of the 17th century: the Croat mercenaries used a scarf around the neck to hold together the opening of their shirts. This particular look was then brought to France by French soldiers at the end of the war, and by the 1700s the upper classes had embraced neckties, marking the time when neckties became a primary feature in men’s fashion. This was soon adopted (under the name cravat, derived from the French for “Croat”) by the upper classes in France, then a leader in fashion, and flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is uncertain whether the cravat then evolved into the bow tie and four-in-hand necktie, or whether the cravat gave rise to the bow tie, which in turn led to the four-in-hand necktie.

In October of 1886, Pierre Lorillard designed a new style of formal wear, and wore it to a formal ball held at the Tuxedo club. Named after his family’s estate in Tuxedo Park (an area just outside of New York City), Lorillard’s tuxedo became an instant hit among other wealthy fashion enthusiasts. The tuxedo and black bow tie look, which became known as “black tie” attire, quickly outmoded the antiquated tailcoat and white bow tie as the primary formal outfit for men, a fashion change that has yet to be overturned to this day.

Over the past few decades, high-profile bow tie connoisseurs have pioneered a movement that has led to a redefining of the bow tie. By articulating it in ways in which it was not originally intended to be worn, the bow tie has been moved outside of its rigid categorization of only being appropriate for formal wear. From the foppish looks of style mavens Karl Lagerfeld and Manolo Blahnik, to the quirky guise of comedians Charlie Chaplin and Pee-wee Herman, to the iconic stud looks of Fred Astaire and Frank Sinatra, to the nerdy looks of Bill Nye the Science Guy and Sir Winston Churchill, the bow tie has found itself as a compliment to a great many varying ensembles.

Embedded in a long history of being thought of as a strictly male accessory, bow ties officially crossed gender lines into women’s wear in the 1920s and 30s when the look was picked up by silver screen stars Marlene Dietrich, Sylvia Scarlett and Audrey Hepburn. Paving the way for the acceptance of women wearing “masculine” garb, both famous actors became known for dressing in what was considered to be male attire including: tailored suits, top hats, button down shirts, and of course, the bow tie.

Marlene Dietrich, most known for her quintessential bow tie and top hat look from the film, Morocco, in the 1930s, says it all with her statement about her own style, “I dress for the image. Not for myself, not for the public, not for fashion, not for men.”


The early cravats of the 17th century have little resemblance to today’s necktie, yet it was a style that stayed popular throughout Europe for over 200 years. The tie as we know it today did not emerge until the 1920s but since then has undergone many (often subtle) changes.

Because lots of change has happened to the design of the tie in the past century I decided to break this down by each decade:

221 BCE


Around 8,000 warriors make up the terracotta army that protects the tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. Neckcloths adorn many of the sculptures, showing that neckwear has been worn for both protective and symbolic reasons for millennia. Ancient neckcloths are also depicted on Trajan’s Column, which was finished in 113CE, around the necks of Roman soldiers.


Cartwheel ruff

The item that defines the Tudor wardrobe more than any other is the cartwheel ruff. A symbol of wealth and status, the ruff was incredibly labour intensive as the expensive lace had to be re-starched and reset with heating irons on each wearing. As a symbol of excess, the Puritan pamphleteer Philip Stubbes decried ‘great and monstrous ruffs’ in 1583.


The birth of the cravat

The cravat in style and etymology is thought to originate from the Thirty Years’ War when Croatian cavalry units were engaged by the Imperial Army of the Holy Roman Empire. Coming into contact with French soldiers, their distinctive style of neckwear caught on.


As the ruff fell out of favour, a wide, flat collar known as a falling band became popular. This evolved into bands, oblong pieces of cloth that survive today in ecclesiastic, legal and academic dress. The diarist Samuel Pepys wrote in October 1662, ‘Got me ready in the morning and put on my first new laceband; and so neat it is, that I am resolved my great expense shall be lacebands’.


Steinkirk cravat

The late 17th century saw lace cravats reach such outrageous proportions that one playwright labelled them ‘slabbering bibs’. One notable style was the Steinkirk cravat, which was left untied and drawn through a buttonhole on the coat. Named after the 1692 Battle of Steenkerque, it was said to have been improvised by soldiers on the battlefield who had no time to tie it.


Louis XIV’s jabot

The Sun King Louis XIV was a force to be contended with in the history of fashion, power and style. His championing of the fashion industry ensured that France became the arbiter of style and taste that it remains today. Louis’s lace jabot, along with other Sun King trademarks such as red high heels, can be seen in a majestic portrait of him by Hyacinthe Rigaud.



The 1818 satirical publication Neckclothitania was published in the wake of Beau Brummell’s obsession with the cravat. Brummell led a new breed of sartorially conscious young men known as the Dandies. Crowds of men would arrive at his London residence each morning to watch him dress, and Brummell could easily go through a number of cravats before achieving the desired effect.


The club tie

Ties have long been used to signify social status through membership to a particular group, whether it’s a school, university, a military regiment or a club. As legend has it, the first club tie came about via the rowing team of Exeter College, Oxford, when the competitors took off the striped bands from their hats and fastened them around their necks.


Ascot tie

‘A well-tied tie is the first serious step in life,’ was one of the memorable lines from Oscar Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance that premiered in 1893. In the second half of the 19th century the Ascot tie began to take prominence, named for its association with the races at Ascot. The wide tie, often fastened with a pin, is still worn for formal weddings.


The tie was a must-have clothing accessories for men in the first decade of the 20th century. Most common were Cravats which evolved from the early 17th century ties that were brought to France by the Croatians. What was different however, was how they were tied. Two decades earlier, the Four in Hand knot had been invented which was the only knot used for cravats. While other tie knots have been invented since, the Four in Hand is still one of the most popular tie knots today. The two other common neckwear styles popular at the time were bow ties (used for evening white tie attire), as well as ascots (required for formal day time dress in England).

The second decade of the 20th century saw a decline in formal cravats and ascots as men’s fashion became more casual with haberdashers putting a stronger emphasis on comfort, functionality, and fit. Towards the end of this decade neckties closely resemble the ties as we know them today.

The 1920s were an important decade for men’s ties. A NY tie maker by the name of Jessie Langsdorf invented a new way of cutting the fabric when constructing a tie, which allowed the tie to spring back into its original shape after each wearing. This invention triggered the creation of many new tie knots.
Neckties became the predominant choice for men as bow ties were reserved for formal evening and black tie functions. Furthermore, for the first time, repp-stripe and British regimental ties emerged.

During the Art Deco movement of the 1930s, neckties became wider and often displayed bold Art Deco patterns and designs. Men also wore their ties a bit shorter and commonly tied them with a Windsor knot – a tie knot that the Duke of Windsor invented during this time.

The early part of the 1940s didn’t offer any exciting change in the world of men’s ties – possibly an effect of WWII which had people worry about more important things than clothing and fashion. When WWII ended in 1945 however, a feeling of liberation became evident in design and fashion. Colors on ties became bold, patterns stood out, and one retailer by the name of Grover Chain Shirt Shop even created a necktie collection displaying sparsely dressed women.

When talking about ties, the 50s are most famous for the emergence of the skinny tie – a style designed to compliment the more form fitting and tailored clothes of the time. Additionally tie makers started experimenting with different materials.

Just as ties were put on a diet in the 50s, the 1960s went to the other extreme – creating some of the widest neckties ever. Ties as wide as 6 inches were not uncommon – a style that got the name “Kipper Tie”

The disco movement of the 1970s truly embraced the ultra wide “Kipper Tie”. But also worth noting is the creation of the Bolo Tie (aka Western Tie) which became Arizona’s official state neckwear in 1971.

The 1980s are certainly not known for great fashion. Instead of embracing a certain style, tie makers created any kind of neck-wear style during this period. Ultra-wide “Kipper Ties” were still present to some degree as was the re-emergence of the skinny tie which was often made from leather.

By 1990 the style Faux Pas of the 80s slowly faded away. Neckties became a bit more uniform in width (3.75-4 inches). Most popular were bold floral and paisley patterns – a style that has recently resurfaced as a popular print on modern ties today.

Compared the the decade before ties became a bit thinner at about 3.5-3.75 inches. European designers further shrunk the width and eventually the skinny tie re-emerged as a popular stylish accessory.

2010 – 2020
Today, ties are available in many widths, cuts, fabrics, and patterns. It is all about choice and allowing the modern man to express his own personal style. The standard width for ties is still in the 3.25-3.5 inch range, but to fill the gap to the skinny tie (1.5-2.5″), many designers now offer narrow ties that are about 2.75-3 inches wide. Besides the width, unique fabrics, weaves, and patterns emerged.

As fashion develops everyday and takes a new form with new designers innovating and creating new ideas there are no limits how far the necktie can go. We shall wait and see…


The Self-Tie Also known as the freestyle bow tie, the self tie bow is one that needs to be manually tied yourself. Once tied the look will be slightly askew than the pre-tied. The self-tie has a natural uniqueness and a bit of asymmetry that gives it a natural charm. It might not have the precision of pre-tied bow tie but this is what makes you able to be different and not like the rest of the crowd.

The Pre-Tied The Pre-tied type usually comes with an adjustable neck strap on which it is attached to. It is so easy to size it down or up till you get that perfect fit. It can also be worn in just a few seconds.

The Clip-On A clip on bow tie is basically a type of a pre-tied with a metal clip on it that hooks it onto a shirt’s collar. Young children and infants are the only ones who should wear these.

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