Cravat: The Ancestor Of The Modern Neckwear

We’ve presented the woven ties, knit ties and even bow ties in the previous episodes. So now let’s go further back in time to visit the ancestor of all modern neckwear – the cravat. The modern cravat isn’t technically the same as what the Croatian mercenaries wore during the Thirty Years’ War. It is, however, the one that evolved the least, and yet is still applicable in the modern day classic menswear. So let’s dive into the equally elegant, and yet relatively unknown neckwear.

Close-up to the chest of a man wearing a pink, open necked shirt, and a small patterned, black day cravat underneath the collar, layered with a pin striped charcoal jacket.
A modern day cravat exudes a casual, laid back flair, but is nevertheless still elegant looking.
Image by Sarah Mirk of Flickr, under Creative Commons Licence

A Very Short History Of The Evolution Of Neckwear

Previously, we’ve shared that the modern neckwear descended from the neckwear of the Croatian mercenaries during the Thirty Years’ War. Their French aristocrat employers took a liking to their unique style, and adopted it for their own. Throughout the centuries thereafter, the western civilisation slowly evolved the cravat, until it became the modern tie and bow tie. But somewhere along the way, one of the branches stopped evolving. And this branch became the modern day cravat.

Modern-day Cravat Regiment in full uniform regalia reminiscence of the Croatian mercenaries (Croats) of the Thirty Years' War, showcasing the famous neckwear in bright red, the ancestor of all modern neckwear.
The Cravat Regiment, based in Zagreb, Croatia. Their uniforms are replicas of those worn by the Croats during the Thirty Years’ War. Was this unique neckwear the direct ancestor of all modern neckwear?
Image licensed under Creative Commons Licence, Wikimedia

That’s enough history lesson for now. History buffs can click here to learn more. Instead, let’s turn our attention towards the modern day cravat.

Cravats Are Less Formal Than Ties… But Yet They’re Also More Formal Than Ties?

There are generally two major ways to wear cravats. One is the “day cravat”, a more casual iteration of the neckwear. And the other is the “formal cravat”, also known as wedding cravat.

Image of a double-sided cravat displayed flat on a table.
This is the typical modern cravat as shown in the outfit examples below. This model is available for sale at Trendhim.
Image by Trendhim

Cravats are broader than regular ties, and have two equally broad ends. Generally cinched together at the centre to allow it to wrap around your neck easily. Also unlike regular ties, there’re no front or rear ends, nor front or rear facings. So you can tie it from either end and either side.

(1) The Day Cravat

The day cravat, the more common variety, is the casual way of wearing a neckwear with an open neck. You typically wear it under your collar, right against the skin of your neck. Not exactly suitable for any business related activities, but it looks right at home in a country club.

Close-up of the chest area, with the garments and accessories as described in the caption.
A day cravat, tucked underneath an open collar of a white shirt. Layer it with a sport jacket, and you’ve got a sharp looking casual outfit, suitable for formality level #5.
Image by Author

Having brunch by the pool of your members-only country club, or lazing on the deck of a yacht. The day cravat brings out the elegance whilst remaining laid back at the same time.

(2) Formal Cravat

Unlike the day cravat, you wear the formal cravat over your collar, just as how you’d wear a regular tie. But unlike a regular tie, a cravat is unlined, making it rather flimsy. Also unlike a regular tie, a cravat is very much shorter and broader too. So when you tie a four-in-hand knot like a regular tie, it’ll end up looking rather short and crumpled. But that’s the beauty of a formal cravat. Tuck it under a waistcoat, and you’ll end up looking very elegant indeed. Layer with a cutaway coat of your morning dress, and you’re all decked up for any social formal morning event.

Close-up of the chest area, with the garments and accessories as described in the caption.
Same cravat and same shirt, but this time around knotted over the collar like a regular tie. Note the ruffles of the characteristically oversized knot of a formal cravat. Attending a formal morning event? Just layer it with a white piqué waistcoat, a solid charcoal jacket, and you’re good to go.
Image by Author

Sometimes also known as the wedding cravat, as it’s also a common part of a groom’s ensemble. At least you’ll know that your guests won’t outdress you at your own wedding.

Why Did The Cravat Fall Out Of Fashion?

Technically speaking, cravats didn’t exactly fall out of fashion. The whole world underwent a paradigm shift of menswear. Suits were the appropriate corporate attire right up until the mid-20th century. The commonly accepted corporate uniform if you will. After that, dress-down Fridays movement started getting more popular. By then, suits were no longer the ubiquitous corporate uniforms anymore. You only break them out of the garment bag for the occasional formal events, probably once or twice a year. For the rest of the year, they hang quietly at the far end of every man’s closet.

Close-up of the chest area, with the garments and accessories as described in the caption.
Attending a “Jackets Required” luncheon, but don’t want to appear too stiff? Keep your jacket and swap your regular tie for a day cravat. You’ll look more relaxed than everybody else there.
Image by Author
Close-up of the chest area, with the garments and accessories as described in the caption.
Want to tone the formality down even further? Swap the jacket for a waistcoat instead. Even without a jacket, you’ll still look more dashing than most of the men in the room.
Image by Author

And being less worn than the regular ties, cravats (and bow ties) simply weren’t popular anymore. At least you still can wear a tie for any formal work functions. Cravat, which was the casual option, simply wasn’t casual enough anymore. In its place, polo shirts and jeans became the mainstay of casual attire.

Double The Options, Or Halve The Price

Just like the bow tie, cravat has no distinctive front or back. And just like bow ties, some manufacturers sew two different colours or patterns together on opposite facings. So instead of buying a single cravat with a single pattern, you’ll get a double-sided cravat with two different patterns.

The close-up of the double-sided cravat, showing the two sides with different patterns.
This is an atypical cravat as viewed in the examples above, a double-sided model. The “front” side with the blue floral pattern, and the “rear” side with the blue/black stipe.
Image by Trendhim

Not too sure how to tie a cravat? Not to worry, just watch the two videos below to learn. It’s all just a matter of familiarity. Once you’re familiar with it, you’ll be tying your cravats like tying your shoelaces.

This is how you tie a day cravat. Also known as “ascot” to Americans.
This is how you tie a formal cravat.

Lack Of Popularity Also Means Lack Of Supply Too

A sad fact, but absolutely true, we can hardly expect to find cravats at the local department stores. Most of the sales assistants there probably don’t even know what a cravat is anyway. The only place that you can find cravats these days are at specialty menswear retailers and haberdashers. And, as mentioned in the previous episodes, even these specialty stores are few and far in between. The most convenient place to purchase cravats are still in cyberspace.

Image of a red paisley cravat, laid flat on a table.
I bet most sales assistants at your local menswear department stores don’t even know what a cravat looks like. This is a typical “regular” cravat, with equal widths at both ends, and same facings on either sides.
Image by Author

One reliable online specialty haberdasher is Trendhim. They don’t only carry cravats as part of their permanent inventory, they even carry other obscure accessories too. Take a look at their extensive range of cravats here.

You Suit Up Because You Want To, Not Because You Have To

With the resurgence of classic menswear, more men are rediscovering the art of dressing up once more. Our forefathers had to suit up for work. They didn’t have a choice. But the modern day office has no such requirement. Those who suit up today do so because they want to. It’s an expression of their personal brand, to relive the age of chivalry. If you identify yourself as a modern-day gentleman, perhaps you’d also take pride in your personal presentation too. And if you’re already assembling your basic attire, like suits and jackets, you should do the same for neckwear too. Regular ties alone just aren’t sufficient to present a variety of outfit to meet every formality level.

Close-up of the chest area, showcasing a red paisley day cravat, pale blue shirt with blue and red stripes, topped with an unbleached linen sport jacket.
Wanna stand head and shoulders above everybody else during your next social gathering at your members’ only country club? Then consider a bright red day cravat and pocket square. You’ll guarantee to turn heads.
Image by Author

So are you ready to turn heads when you make your entrance? Then start building a wardrobe that will help you project that image. And if you’re ever in a bind of not finding the right garment or accessories, look up Trendhim. I’m sure you’ll be able to find exactly what you’re looking for there. Feel free to leave your comments below if you have any exciting accessories to add to the mix.

Do you wear cravats. If so, how many do you have in your wardrobe?
38 votes

About CHOW Wei Ming

Brand consultant, photographer, creative director, storyteller, and a true believer of the power of visual communications. Outwardly expresses a friendly disposition, but hides a perfectionist nature deep inside him.

6 Replies to “Cravat: The Ancestor Of The Modern Neckwear”

  1. Hello,
    What’s the broad consensus on wearing a pocket square with a cravat? I tried it (different patterns) but found that I thought it looked fussy and over-accessorised.

    • Hello Mike. If you want my personal opinion, I’d wear a pocket square every time I wear a jacket with an open breast pocket. It doesn’t matter whether I’m wearing a tie, bow tie, cravat, or even open neck shirt. Regardless how formal or casual your overall ensemble is, wearing a jacket without a pocket square seems rather… “naked”.

      Unless, of course, you’re wearing a uniform jacket, and the uniform code dictates that you DON’T wear a pocket square with it… Examples like school uniform blazers, hotel and restaurant staff uniforms, personal body guard suits, etc.

      So if you can only have ONE accessory with your ensemble, make it your pocket square. 😎

    • Hello Sam. I assume that you’re referring to shooting as in game shooting, in the traditional English/Scottish countryside estates. If that’s the case, the traditional neckwear for shooting is the regular tie, often made of wool, not silk. Some may also sport repeating patterns that reflect on the shooting activity itself (e.g. images of pheasants or dogs).

      That being said, I’m not certain if a cravat is the proper attire for shooting. I usually imagine cravats as city attire, not country attire. Not unless if you include sipping your martini next to the swimming pool, in a members-only country-club.🍸😎

  2. Pingback: Pocket Square: Not Just An Afterthought After All - Espoletta

  3. Pingback: Bow Tie: How To Stand Out Amongst The Well Dressed - Espoletta

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