A Brief History of the Necktie

The Career Clothing Closet recently received a donation including eighteen clip-on neckties. Clip-on ties aren’t just for those who haven’t learned to tie a tie, although they guarantee a perfect knot every time. In fact, clip-on ties were invented in Iowa around 1928 (clipontie.com) to address the dangers for some occupations of wearing a tie while at work. As ties rose in importance among all professions, the clip-on tie meant that professionals in uniform—postal workers, police officers, firefighters—could wear a tie that wouldn’t snag and hold on, averting potential injury.

The necktie has a longer, storied history. Neck scarves can be found depicted in images from as early as the 3rd Century BCE, when warriors wrapped fabric around their necks to protect their Adam’s apples, believed to be a source of strength (Mathews). Fabric options for keeping the human neck warm, protected, and decorated proliferated.

Scholars trace the origins of the modern tie to 1636. In France, King Louis XIII hired Croatian mercenaries to fight the King’s cause in the Thirty Years War (Smithfield). The mercenaries closed their jackets with colorful pieces of cloth, tied at the neck. Fascinated with the comfortable, stylish look, the King soon favored the style over the popular ruffled collars and named it the cravate, a derivation of the French word for Croatian, croates. The fashion caught on and swiftly crossed the Channel to England, where cravate became cravat. Styles varied from fancy to plain, but were generally a long piece of cloth worn around the neck and tied in the front.

Sometimes called the “four-in-hand,” the slender modern tie’s truest ancestor emerged from coachmen who slip-knotted their cravats to prevent them from blowing in the wind as they drove their teams. Today there is still a popular knot called the Four-in-Hand. Considered a versatile, easy-to-tie, and reliable knot, you can learn how-to with this tutorial. (To learn more elaborate knots, visit this tutorial. Tie aficionados know that different tie knots best match different tie widths and shirt collars, be they button-down, forward point, or cut-away.)

Ties crossed into women’s fashion during the late 1800s when women started wearing more tailored clothing for activities like bicycling and hiking. As women headed into offices and factories during the first and second world wars, more styles included neckties (“Neckties”).

In recent years, necktie wearing has been waning. Nonetheless, tie fabrics, styles, and knots continue to reflect cultural shifts, with ties offering a splash of color, a distinctive pattern, and a hint of personality to otherwise uniform professional attire. Ties may be less relevant in many workplaces today, but they are always appropriate for formal occasions.

(In addition to clipontie.com, the following sources inform this post: John Mathews, “A Twisted History of Neckties,” Washington Post, Dec 8, 1999; “Neckties through the Ages | Women Tie the Knot, Too!,” Factmonster.com, Feb 21, 2017; and Brad Smithfield, “The Necktie Was Popularized by Croatian Mercenaries,” Vintage News, Dec 20, 2016.)

The CLS Career Clothing Closet model, Wommakin, wearing an outfit featuring a clip-on tie.
Visitors to the CLS Career Clothing Closet will meet Wommakin, our fashion-forward model donated by Alumni Council member Deborah Feir ’68. Here Wommakin wears a traditional professional outfit dressed up by a clip-on necktie, navy with tiny red dots.
By Robin Bourjaily
Robin Bourjaily Assistant Director, Exploratory Career Community