For men who are concerned with such things, there’s a burning question in the world of neckwear:
What is the difference between an ascot and a cravat?
To get right to the point, here are some terms that define each item:
- Cravat: A catch-all term for neckwear or a rouche.
- Ascot: A formal necktie worn with morning dress, tied with a rudimentary knot, worn over the shirt, and secured with a pin. A style of cravat.
- Day cravat: A neckerchief, which is a scarf-like patterned silk tied in the style of an ascot but tucked into the shirt and worn informally (that is, during the day).
There’s a rule in geometry that says every square is a rectangle, but not every rectangle is a square. Similarly, every ascot is a cravat, but not every cravat is an ascot.
Cravats Versus Ascots
As we mention in our page on the cravat, a cravat is a catch-all term for neckwear. It can refer to neckties, bow ties, neckerchiefs, and yes, ascots. The term comes from the French word for Croat (cravate) and only referred to the cloth tied around Croatian mercenaries’ necks.
The only thing on the market today that could be defined as a cravat and nothing else is a rouche or scrunchy tie. These are rare.
The term “cravat” is erroneously, constantly, and frustratingly misused. Many Americans use the word “cravat” for “ascot” when they’re actually talking about neckerchiefs. This happens so often it’ll make your head spin. Pictured below is an ascot:
An ascot, on the other hand, is technically a type of necktie. It is a formal necktie that’s only appropriate to wear with morning dress. It is indeed a type of cravat but is being worn less and less with the passage of time. More men wear simple silk neckties with morning dress than they do ascots nowadays. As morning dress is largely relegated to the English, this means that the ascot is quite rare!
British & American Terminology
Just as with braces and suspenders or vests and waistcoats, the Brits and the ‘Muricans don’t agree on what the right term is for a cravat or an ascot.
In the United States, the term “ascot” is used to refer to both a true ascot (worn outside the shirt and secured with a pin) and a neckerchief (tied about the neck and tucked into the shirt). The British, on the other hand, will sometimes refer to both neckerchiefs and ascots as cravats.
The British sometimes use the term “day cravat.” This refers to a neckerchief, which Americans erroneously but ubiquitously call an ascot. Americans rarely use the term “day cravat.”
Can I Wear Ascots & Cravats?
This is a simple question with a multi-faceted answer. Let’s break it down by ascots and cravats.
If we’re talking about true ascots (formal neckties), definitely wear one if you have the opportunity to wear morning dress. Such a rarity should be indulged whenever the chance comes along to do so.
If we’re talking about day cravats (neckerchiefs), we advise that you do so, but be careful about this if you’re under the age of 40. These accessories aren’t terribly commonplace, but when they’re worn, younger guys aren’t typically the wearers. Tread carefully, as you run a serious risk of coming off as affected, which is an egregious sartorial violation.
If we’re talking about a rouche (a scrunch tie), we advise against wearing them. To us, these reek of affectation and have a cheap, throwaway vibe to them. Steer clear.
The menswear world is typically one in which there are clearly defined terms and rules aplenty for any garment you can imagine.
For whatever reason, ascots and cravats have bucked this trend significantly. They’ve escaped standardization and the confusion only increases as we go from one English-speaking country to another.
For more information on neckwear in general, we invite you to take a look at your neckwear home page.