Actually, I didn't set out to write a trilogy on neckwear, but sometimes one thing leads to another, right?
At first I wrote about "Black Tie versus White Tie" -- and thanks to a comment from Angela M, that article led to the next essay "Ascot or Tie?"
Then the Ascot article brought a comment from Lillian in New Hampshire that said: "I'm not clear on the difference between a cravat and an ascot. Would you mind elaborating? I've done a google search but I still haven't found a good comparative study."
Well, Ms. Lillian, you're not alone in this confusion. You'll hear as many unclear definitions as there are fashion consultants and related magazines in this world. But I'll be happy to add my two-cents and see if I can clear things up a bit.
Until recent times, all throughout history -- from ancient Persia to Greece and Rome -- men's fashions have been influenced by military uniforms. In fact, I think it was Alexander the Great who adopted a Persian fashion and introduced long pants into Europe.
Even the hippies bell-bottomed pants in the 1960's were pre-established by sailors in the U.S. Navy, right?
Continuing on this theme, in the mid 1600's, fashion-conscious King Louis XIV of France was intrigued by a style of neckwear worn by his Croatian mercenary soldiers. (And it's generally agreed that the name "cravat" comes from the mangled French pronunciation of their "Croat" guests.) Here's a link to the original Croat's cravats.
So, Louis Fourteen popularized the style -- and in it's varying shapes and knots over the centuries, it's also generally agreed that the cravat was the forerunner of all modern neckwear.
So the puzzlement as to exactly "what is a cravat" can be reduced to this:
(1) It's not only a specific shape of tie similar to what the Croats wore, but also (2) since it's the forerunner, the word "cravat" itself is used to describe almost all outside-the-collar neckwear, including modern-day ties and bowties.
And thus all the confusion -- because it's both specific, and general at the same time.
Does that help?
To elaborate, "outside-the-collar" means just that, over the shirt and around the neck. Some forms of formal wear allow the collar to stand up and you see the band of the tie all the way around the neck.
But in less formal dress, we usually fold the shirt collar down over the tie, like in a business suit, and we don't see the band around the neck -- unless you're really sloppy at this and the band peeks out!
By comparison, an ascot (neck scarf) is usually worn inside an open collar, against the flesh, usually with one simple knot to hold it in place. (But caution here. An ascot can also be worn outside the collar, even tied like a tie or bowtie!) Here's a link to Google images of ascots, both inside and outside the collar.
These neck scarves, by the way, were named "ascot" due to their popular daytime wear at the Royal Ascot horse races during the Edwardian age in England -- part of the morning suit, as opposed to the more formal dinner jacket.
Some say that neckwear was originally a form of bib to protect the shirt. Still others suggest it was a way of distracting the eye from an unclean shirt -- bearing in mind that laundromats and dry cleaners are relatively new in human history.
Both opinions are probably correct. But lets not forget that all clothing was originally about warmth, right? In equatorial climates we don't see much in the development or evolution of neckwear, do we?
Warmth or not, in modern times neckwear has become a mandatory ornamentation in a gentleman's dress and is worn year round -- even in the most hellacious summer climates. Go figure. (It's one of the circles of hell that men must endure, not unlike pumps and stilettos are for women!)
I seriously apologize for the unusual length of this post, but I hope it has provided some clarity.
For a closeup look at ascots and morning suits, here's a link to the hysterical Ascot Opening Race from the film "My Fair Lady". You've gotta see this!
Thanks for stopping by tonight.