It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a day bow tie must be in want of a wife – and that he is unlikely to get one. Maybe that is overstating the case but, in a recent post by Will, the mere mention of wearing a day bow tie, provoked a torrent of Jeevesian protest from some readers; one of whom even suggests that those men who wear day bow ties are exhibiting a personality disorder. Mixed opinions also often rage over the informal ‘cravat’ or ‘ascot’ worn inside the shirt collar and this seems, by some, to have become associated with the image of either a crusty, retired colonel or the bounder, the rotter, the stinker, the ‘absolute shower’, the cad. But let us look at the facts.
Until the early seventeenth century, ruffs, lace jabots, and bands constituted the usual neckwear for men. Then, in 1635, Parisians spotted Croatian soldiers in Paris wearing neck-cloths and a gathering fashion was born which, corrupted in pronunciation, became ‘cravat’. Charles II’s return from his exile in France, after the English Civil War, and his restoration to the British throne in 1660, brought the cravat across the Channel, where it gradually replaced the lace jabot at Court and then in general wear. From old pictures, the early cravats seem to have been tied in a similar way to a modern informal cravat, with a simple folding of right over left and bringing the right, up through, and over. Anyway, it’s much older than the ‘four-in-hand’ knot which is the most common knot for what is regarded now as a standard, straight day tie, deriving from its popularity with the Four-in-Hand carriage club in the nineteenth century. The earliest ties of this kind are, these days, called ‘scrunchies’ and lack much body by way of interlining or folds of material. Shirt-makers Washington Tremlett claim that they gave the world the prototype for the crisp, modern, straight day tie in a design for an unusual evening tie which they made for an American called Wright in 1892.
However, a hundred years before that event, the Bucks and Beaux of the top drawer had devised many different knots for the cravat, which was worn day and evening, and Brummell, aided and abetted by his valet Robinson, famously went to excruciating lengths to achieve a proper degree of apparent negligence in the accomplishment of his cravat. Interestingly, it is still true that no tie should appear too neat and symmetrical. Several of the Georgian knots resulted in a tie which closely resembles a modern bow tie and this persisted through the nineteenth century, along with the stock, which became shortened into a day tie but retaining the knot and folds of the stock. The hunting stock is slightly different in that it is passes twice around the neck and one end threads through the neckband but the beginning of the usual modern knot for the stock begins like a standard bow tie knot (although a lazy alternative is the informal cravat fold-over). Lord Queensbury, before he brought his prey to book, wore a stock to his own trial for allegedly uttering criminal libel against Oscar Wilde and, when James Bond first meets Francisco Scaramanga in the novel called The Man With The Golden Gun, Scaramanga is wearing a stock with a lounge suit, which Bond thinks should have appeared theatrical but, because of the man’s impressive presence, it did not. There’s a lot in that and it is probably not a good idea to wear anything that is as unusual as a stock (or even a day bow tie) unless you are sure of yourself.
King George V and Sir Rider Haggard sometimes wore another alternative over their collars: a neckerchief, and this was secured by threading the ends through a ring.
Famous successful twentieth century proponents of the day bow tie included: Winston Churchill, Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Ian Fleming, Robin Day and Maurice Chevalier; whereas the most famous British cravat men are probably the comedy actors Terry-Thomas and Leslie Phillips – luckier examples, by the sound of things, than Thurston Howell III! Still, I see no reason to be intimidated in our choice of styles of clothes by the fear of association with unfortunate types who happen to favour them.
The moral of it all is that a well-chosen bow tie or cravat (ascot) can work perfectly well, if it is worn with ease.
Don’t be tied by prejudice.
Words and photo by Nicholas Storey