It’s a hot afternoon and that tight piece of silk or microfiber around your neck is feeling pretty uncomfortable. It’s the obligatory necktie, and you would not be alone in asking: How precisely did we end up wearing these things?
It all began with 17th century warfare. During the Thirty Years War (1618 to 1648) in Central Europe, Croatian mercenaries supporting the French wore silk neckerchiefs. The French were impressed with them, and King of France Louis XIV, at a very young age, began wearing them in 1646, setting off a fashion trend among French nobility. The necktie again featured prominently later in the 17th century in the Battle of SteenKerque between France and European powers in present day Belgium, where French princes wore them into combat.
Since, the necktie has gone from being the attire of nobility in armed conflict to the attire of everyday business, undergoing continuous and somewhat dramatic changes and improvements in its appearance through the years. By the early 19th century, the bow tie had become a fairly common fashion component of men’s formal attire. Later, in 1926, a New York City fashion designer, Jesse Langsdorf, extended the necktie into three pieces of apparel in a style that has evolved by largely perpetuated since.
The necktie has undergone some tweaking in appearance and style, as it did following World War II when it became wider and its colors bolder, and in the 1980s when it was narrowed considerably, only to be subsequently widened.
Today, four options of knots are mostly used with ties—the four-in-hand knot (probably the most common), the Pratt knot (developed by an employee at the United States Chamber of Commerce), the half-Windsor knot (creating a crisp triangular knot) and the Windsor knot (creating the widest tie knot) out of The 85 Ways to Tie a Tie.
It can be stated safely that, at no time, has the necktie been comfortable per se, so it’s also not surprising that executives have pushed back against it in recent years—first in the introduction of casual Fridays and now (not so uncommonly) in the more informal workplace, where ties are ditched completely.
The tie’s death is not complete, of course. But The Wall Street Journal’s John Ortved felt comfortable enough, in 2013, to publish a quasi-obituary for it in his article, “The Tie is Dead. (Long Live the Tie).” It featured a photo from the G-8 Summit in Northern Ireland, where leaders of the world’s great powers (at the urging of former British Prime Minister David Cameron) all appeared tieless.
As even world leaders have opted out of the tie, it’s reasonable to ask if the tie will live to endure in 21st century business especially. “The tie is definitely not dead,” Saks Fifth Avenue’s men’s fashion director told The Wall Street Journal, “it’s just not a growing business at the moment.”Meanwhile with so many vibrant brand options, there’s no excuse to not tie the knot.