Cravats or Neckcloths: Tying Tips and Tricks

Cravats were the forerunner to the modern necktie and originated in seventeenth century Croatia, with “Cro-at … easily corrupted into cravat.”[1]* The first cravats were thought to have originated either to hide unclean shirts or to provide psychological protection by covering a man’s exposed neck during spear battles, and, later, in at least one case, a cravat saved a General’s life when it stopped an enemy’s bullet. Charles II in the 1660s used the word cravatte, which he described as “being nothing else but a long towel put around the Collar, and so tyed before with a Bow knot.”[2]


Cravat in the 19th century. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

By the late 1600s the bow knot cravat morphed into the Steinkirk, a long, narrow, neckcloth worn initially by military men. The Steinkirk became by the 1770s the flowing cravat worn by the Macaroni, and although “many varieties were introduced; … a fine starched linen cloth acquired … ascendancy over all other[s].”[3] But it was the fancy, well-tied cravat that captured men’s heart and became the item worn by fashionable dressed nineteenth-century men.

This cravat originated with the English wit and arbiter of fashion, George Bryan “Beau” Brummell. He was the first man to tie it around his neck and also the first man to dress in such a fashionable way. His style became known as dandyism.

Tying Cravats and Ties: A Young George Bryan "Beau" Brummell, Author's Collection

A young George Bryan “Beau” Brummell. Author’s collection.

The most popular fabrics for cravats were muslin or linen, but almost everyone agreed that a starched cravat supposedly gave a man “a look of hauteur and greatness, which can scarcely by acquired otherwise.”[4] Part of the reason for starching a cravat was that a starched cravat offered “a combination of substance, elasticity, and suppleness,”[5] but wearers were cautioned to make sure that their neck-cloths were “starched with care, [so that] they will [not] turn yellowish.”[6]

Cravats also tended to have a rough side and shiny side created from ironing, and after bringing them home from the wash, the rough side was worn during the daytime while the shiny, smooth side was reserved for nighttime wear. Although cravats came in all colors, black was reserved for military men and white considered the most versatile and the most acceptable for balls or soirées. Patterned cravats, such as ribbed, spotted, or checked, were worn at all other times and were considered half-dress.

There were also numerous ways to wear the cravat, with the Gordian knot claimed to be the following:

“[T]he parent of all the others, the most important, and by far the most deeply interesting … [as even] Alexander the Great would have given half his empire to have understood it.”[7]

But there were many other ways of tying cravats, which included folding them in certain ways and tying them with either a barrel knot or Gordian knot, as shown in the illustration below. Starting from left to right and from top to bottom, there was the Oriental, Mathematical, Osbaldeston, Napoleon, American, Mail-Coach, Trone & Amour, Irish, Ball Room, Horse-Collar, Hunting, and Marharatta,

cravats - Neckclothitania, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Neckclothitania. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Oriental Tie was made from stiff, rigid fabric, and, according to the Neckclothitania, care was to be taken so “that not a single indenture or crease should be visible in this tie; it must present a round, smooth, and even surface.”[8] Wearers were also advised that it should “not be made with coloured neck-cloths, but [be] of the most brilliant white.”[9]

The Mathematical Tie, also called a Triangular Tie, achieved its name because it formed a triangle and created three creases. To complete this tie, the instructions were the following:

“[Come] down from under each ear, till it meets the … bow of the neck-cloth, and a third, in an horizontal direction, stretching from one of the side indentures to the other. The height, that is how far, or near to the chin, is left to the wearer’s pleasure, recollecting however, that the nearer it is to the chin, the longer of course it will be, and consequently, the reverse, if it is distant from it.”[10]

The color suggested for this tie was “couleur de la cuisse d’une nymphe émue.”

A Regency-style cravat or neckloth tied in a bow on a Grafton collar. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Osbaldeston Tie was unique among all the cravats or ties. It was supposedly “well adapted for summer; because instead of going round the neck twice, it confines itself to once.”[11] To achieve this look the cloth wrapped from the back of the neck with the ends brought forward and tied in a large knot, “the breadth of which must be at least four inches, and two inches deep.”[12]

The Napoleon Tie apparently had no particular reason for being called the Napoleon, although it was thought that perhaps Napoleon Bonaparte had worn a similar tie on his return from Elba. To accomplish this look it was laid on the back of the neck and then “the ends … brought forwards and crossed, without tying, and then fastened to the braces or carried under the arms and tied on the back.”[13] Supposedly this particular cravat gave wearers “languishingly amorous look” and because of that a violet color was said to be best for this cravat.

The American Tie was similar to the Mathematical Tie, except the “collateral indentures do not extend … near … the ear, and … there is no horizontal or middle crease.”[14]

The Mail Coach Tie, also known as a Waterfall, was worn by coachmen, guards, ruffians, and “the swells of the fancy.”[15] It used little if any starch and was best made from a “Kushmeer shawl.” It was accomplished “by tying … with a single knot, and then bringing one of the ends over, so as completely to hide the knot, and spreading it out, and turning it down in the waist-coat.”[16]

Of all the cravats or ties the Trone d’Amour Tie was considered the most austere. It was well starched and stiff, and supposedly acquired its name because of “its resemblance to the Seat of Love.”[17] It was formed with a “single horizontal dent in the middle.”[18]

You might think an Irish Tie would look best in the color green, but, in fact, cerulean blue was the color suggested for it. This particular tie resembled the Mathematical Tie but had a few differences. For instance, one difference was that instead of being above, “the horizontal indenture is placed below the point of junction formed by the collateral creases.”[19]

The Ball Room Tie “when well put on is quite delicious.”[19] Perhaps it was delicious because it united the qualities of two other ties, the Mathematical and the Irish Tie, “having two collateral dents and two horizontal ones, the one above as in the former, the other below as in the latter — it has no knot, but is fastened as the Napoleon.”[20] It was suggested this tie never be colored but be of “the purest and most brilliant [white].”[21] This particular tie was also sometimes tied with the Gordian knot, as shown in the above illustration.

Of all the cravat styles, the Horse Collar Tie was deemed to be the worst and most vulgar of all ties. In fact, readers were cautioned against wearing it as it looked like “a great half-moon or horse-collar,”[22] and hence its name. But despite the warning, it was worn by men universally because it was easy to create and because of an “inability of its wearers to make any other.”[23]

The Hunting Tie, was also known as the Diana Tie for some unknown reason. It relied on techniques used to accomplish the Ball Room and Napoleon cravats. The color noted for it was Isabella and it was “formed by two collateral dents on each side, and meeting in the middle, without any horizontal ones.”[24]

The Maharatta, also called a Nabob Tie, was made from fine muslin cloth. It was “first placed on the back of the neck, the ends … brought forward, and joined as a chain-link, [with] the remainder … then turned back, and fastened behind.”[25]

There were several other tips to ensure success when wearing cravats. For instance, when folding a cravat, it was to be folded to the depth or size of the wearer’s taste and then “the right-hand end, to be turned down, the left-hand end, to be turned up … [to remove] the awkward appearance caused by crossing the ends behind.”[26] After making the knot, the wearer was then directed to perform the following:

“Take a piece of white tape, and tie one end of it tight to one end of the neck-cloth, then carry the tape under your arm, behind your back, under the other arm, and fasten it tightly to the other end of the neck-cloth. The tape must not be visible [to prevent] … the knot from flying up, which would thereby shorten the length of the cloth, and in short greatly injure its appearance.”[27]

Léon Cogniet in a Red Cravat in 1818, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Léon Cogniet in a red cravat in 1818. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Additionally, when wearing a neck-cloth, the wearer was to ensure it was tied tight against the chin as nothing “gives a person more the appearance of a goose, than to see a long part of the jaw and chin projecting over the neck-cloth.”[28] But more important than whether or not the cravat was perfectly aligned or perfectly tight, most men agreed:

“A well-tied cravat is better than the most flattering letter of introduction … [and] it is the cravat that instantaneously stamps the character of its wearer.”[29]

Cravats - Henry Cruttwell

Portrait of James Henry Cruttwell wearing a cravat. Courtesy of the British Museum.

*As pointed out to my @judy_rudoe, “Croatia in Croatian is Hrvatska, it’s a guttural h so easily transliterated as ch or c, and the Hr is almost a separate syllable. So the word is a transliteration of the Croatian name.”


  • [1] The Odd Volume, 1835, p. 283.
  • [2] Randle Holme, Academy of Armory and Blazon, 1688, p. 17.
  • [3] The Odd Volume, p. 284.
  • [4] Neckclothitania, Volume 4, 1818, p. 36.
  • [5] H. Le Blanc, The Art of Tying the Cravat, Volume 4, 1828, p. 26.
  • [6] The Edinburgh Literary Journal, 1829, p. 162.
  • [7] Ibid.
  • [8] Neckclothitania, p. 18.
  • [9] Ibid., p. 19.
  • [10] Ibid., p. 21.
  • [11] Ibid., p. 22.
  • [12] Ibid.
  • [13] Ibid., p. 23.
  • [14] Ibid., p. 24.
  • [15] Ibid., p. 25.
  • [16] Ibid.
  • [17] Ibid., p. 26.
  • [18] Ibid.
  • [19] Ibid.
  • [20] Ibid., p. 27.
  • [21] Ibid.
  • [22] Ibid., p. 28.
  • [23] Ibid., p. 27.
  • [24] Ibid., p. 28.
  • [25] Ibid., p. 29.
  • [26] Ibid., p. 31.
  • [27] Ibid.
  • [28] Ibid., p. 32.
  • [29] Ibid.

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