The often-hated necktie worn by men, and in some circumstances women, has a long history. No matter how uncomfortable, confining or outmoded we periodically decide this accessory to be, the fact remains that neckties have been a part of male dress for thousands of years. Versions of the necktie as markers of male status even appeared in ancient Egypt, Rome and China.
Many also consider the necktie to have descended from the codpiece. Certainly, the necktie may be a more subtle bit of fashion, but it is, as detractors point out, no more useful.
The journey towards the modern necktie probably began in the 17th century, in the military uniforms of mercenaries who severed under the French banner. This began the fashion of a neck scarf worn by both men and women that most resembles today’s cravat. Moving in the 18th century, the cravat was simplified into something known simple as a “stock.” Exclusively worn by men, this was merely a piece of linen folded several times and wrapped around the neck and collar of a shirt. Stocks were generally white or black.
By the 19th century, increasingly elaborate versions of the cravat were back in fashion, but mostly for men. Fashionable men were constantly inventing and using new ways to tie their cravats, and the styles were often elaborate and sometimes, to the modern eye, absurd.
Beginning around the time of the Civil War, ties began to move towards the forms they take today, with bowties becoming wildly popular, and the ascot coming into fashion. The long, straight tie as we know it today was, however, a purely 20th century invention; it came about as the result of better fabric technology and understanding that allowed the fabric to be cut so that it would lie flat. These early long-ties were often hand-painted and sometimes absurdly wide to the modern eye.
While the 20th century has seen a range of tie fads in terms of styles, colors and width changes ( skinny in the 60s, wide in the 70s), the long tie has become the dominant form of necktie, despite some men favoring the ascot or bowtie as a personal fashion quirk. The use of the bowtie has become standard in black-tie and white-tie formal wear.