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What is "Cravat" - Definition & Explanation

A cravat is the neckband that was the forerunner of the modern tailored necktie. From the end of the 16th century the term "band" applied to any long strip of cloth worn round the neck that was not a "ruff." The ruff itself had started its career in the earlier 16th century as a starched and pleated strip of white linen that could be freshly changed to keep the neck of a doublet from getting increasingly grimy. A "band" could indicate a plain attached shirt collar or a detached "falling band" that draped over the doublet collar.

The modern form of the "cravat" originated in the 1630s. Like most male fashions between the 17th century and World War I, it had a military origin. The traditional outfit of these Croats aroused curiosity in Paris on account of the unusual and picturesque scarves distinctively tied about their necks. The scarves were made of various cloths, ranging from coarse material for common soldiers, to fine linen and silk for officers. The word 'cravat' comes from the French cravate, and many sources state that this is a corruption of "Croat," or "Hrvat," as it is said in Croatian. However there is evidence that the word was in use in France in the 14th century and in Italy in 16th century. In one of his ballads, the French writer Eustache Deschamps (c. 1340-1407), used the phrase 'faites restraindre sa cravate' (pull his cravat tighter). Considering the interdependency of many European regions (particularly the French) with the Venetian Empire, and the fact that this empire at one time occupied the bulk of the Croatian coast, that type of cross-culturalization would not be unprecedented. Whatever the origin of the word the new form of dress became known as a cravate and the French were quite ready to give up the starched linen ruffs, that they had been wearing and adopt the new fashion of loose cravates made of linen or muslin with broad edges of lace.

On his return to England from exile in 1660, Charles II brought with him this new word in fashion:

“A cravatte is another kind of adornment for the neck being nothing else but a long towel put about the Collar, and so tyed before with a Bow Knott; this is the original of all such Wearings; but now by the Art and Inventions of the seamsters, there is so many new ways of making them, that it would be a task to name, much more to describe them.” —Randle Holme, Academy of Armory and Blazon, 1688.

A gentleman's cravat would be made of fine lace. Grinling Gibbons the famous carver and sculptor, made a highly realistic one, carved out of a piece of white limewood.

During the wars of Louis XIV of 1689 - 1697, the flowing cravat was replaced, except for court occasions, by the more current and equally military Steinkirk, named for the battle in Flanders of 1692. The Steinkirk was a long narrow, plain or lightly trimmed neckcloth worn with military dress, wrapped just once about the neck in a loose knot, with a lace of fringed ends that were twisted together and tucked out of the way into the button-hole (of either a coat or a waistcoat) The steinkirk proved to be popular with both men and women until the 1720s.

The Macaronis reintroduced the flowing cravat in the 1770s and the manner of tying one became a matter of personal taste and style, to the extent that after Waterloo, the neckwear itself was increasingly referred to as a "tie".

Neckwear worn in a slipknot with long ends overlapping vertically in front

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