An often used word to mean many things, the cravat is an elusive piece of fabric to say the least! Depending on where you leave, it can indeed mean something altogether different.
In this guide, we will define the cravat while also offering an overview on the history of cravats and their place in Croatian culture. Simply use the following links to jump ahead or scroll down to read it all:
Otherwise, if you’re looking for information on ascots or neckerchiefs, click the preceding links.
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What Is A Cravat?
As briefly mentioned above, a cravat can actually be many things! In most cases, it’s an umbrella term used to describe any kind of neckwear. However, it’s usually associated with Ascot ties or neckerscarves.
In the UK, the term is almost exclusively used as a synonym of the Ascot tie. Meanwhile, it’s a far broader term in the USA.
Generally, a cravat can be defined as:
- A rouche, which is essentially an ascot with a scrunchy four-in-hand knot worn with a wing collar shirt, which we describe below.
- An Ascot Tie in British English.
- Any necktie, bow tie, ascot, or variant thereof.
Overall, it can be argued that a cravat is any type of neckwear worn in a more antiquated style. For instance, you may have seen a tie that’s referred to as a “scrunchy tie,” “scrunch cravat,” or “rouche.” These are actually Ascot ties worn in a formal fashion and usually with wing collar shirts. If anything nowadays is referred to as a cravat, these ascot-like silks fit the bill.
An interesting additional observation is that the French call Ascot ties “lavallières” but will then refer to regular neckties as “cravates.”
Where Does The Word “Cravat” Come From?
You may be familiar with the French word cravate and its English equivalent, “cravat.” This is where the story of the modern necktie begins.
Modern neckwear (as pictured above), like so many of the garments we don every day, has a military origin. In the 1630s, France’s King Louis XIII was at war with The Duke of Guise and Marie de’ Medici (the Thirty Years War).
King Louis enlisted a regiment of Croatian mercenaries to aid in his military efforts. Interestingly, these Croatians wore ornate, knotted scarves around their necks. Enlisted soldiers wore coarse, tough cloths, while officers wore more delicate, silken or linen ones.
At any rate, the French word for Croatian is croate; the French adopted the neckwear style and wore them “a la croate.” It isn’t a huge leap to see that cravate is a corruption of this word, as the pronunciations are quite similar.
In a nutshell, this neckwear was named “cravat” due to the widespread use of a false cognate. The Italian word for tie is cravatta, and the Spanish word is corbata. Literally (and misguidedly) translated, we are all wearing Croatians when we put a tie on.
The French adopted the cravat into their everyday wear years later. Given the increasing interdependence of Europe at the time, the garment made its rounds to other locations in the world.
Beau Brummel, the famous British dandy who ushered in minimalism, simplicity, and use of dark colors that we still use today in modern dress, was known for wearing a starched white neckcloth in the early 19th century. Our neckwear -ties in particular- is derivative of that neckcloth.
Outfits were not complete without such a neckcloth in his time, and one can argue that an outfit is incomplete without a tie in ours.
Cravats & Croatian Culture
Given that Croatians are responsible for what has become a centuries-long, nearly-worldwide sartorial phenomenon, they see it as a pretty important part of their culture. Croatia celebrates Cravat Day on October 18th, and there are even websites dedicated to the preservation of the cravat as a cultural item.
To this day, there is a Cravat Regiment of the Croatian military that wears the uniform of 17th-century Croatian soldiers. This uniform includes the original cravat, which we can see is the clear forerunner of the modern necktie:
How To Tie A Cravat
First and foremost, let’s get on the same page: when we talk about how to tie a cravat, we’re going to be specifically referring to an Ascot tie as indicated below:
There are a number of ways to tie an Ascot tie, and we detail them in our dedicated Ascot guide. However, we’ll focus on knotting what is sometimes referred to as a “wedding cravat,” here’s how to tie one, both graphically and with step-by-step instructions.
Note that the tie is very similar to the Kelvin necktie knot but with a different starting point:
- Hang the cravat around your neck with one end slightly longer than the other.
- Wrap the long end across the front of the short end.
- Keep wrapping the long end around the short one until you make one complete loop.
- Wrap the long end around the short end a second time, creating a double fold of fabric.
- Start going around again, this time threading the long end up into the loop from behind.
- Pull the long end through both loops of the knot that’s formed.
- Adjust as needed.
Best Cravat Brands
If you want to see some of the best brands that produce cravats, it’s essential to first make sure whether you’re referring to an ascot tie or a scarf. Once you’ve decided, you’ll find our recommended brands in the following guides:
Conclusion: Defining The Cravat
There is no industry-wide standardization as to what a cravat actually is. Is it a specific product, or is it a catch-all term for something a man wears around his neck?
We feel that it’s technically correct to refer to a necktie, bow tie, ascot, neckerchief, or neckerscarf as a cravat. With that said, using the term in such a way is unnecessarily confusing and perhaps even a bit insufferable.
We’re also comfortable using the term to refer to rouche ties. With that said, these ties are extremely rare and are often sold in cheap fabrics with matching pocket squares by tuxedo rental establishments and similar businesses. As such, it’s best to avoid them and opt for a true ascot if you’re dressing so formally.
Feel free to head to the menu above to see all of our neckwear guides. Otherwise, check out some of our favorites below:
Very useful. I had forgot how to. So good reminder.
Happy to help!