Patrick McMurray - Silk Ties and Accessories


A History of the tie 19th & 20th Century

This fascinating history of the tie (Neckwear, Necktie, Cravat, Bolo, Bow Tie, and Bandanna) is brought to you courtesy of After all isn't it worth knowing a little background about the things we like to wear or offer as gifts. We hope you enjoy reading our collection of stories. If you have any historic anecdotes you would like to add, then just click here to contact us.


19th Century

Who created the first business suit?
The well-dressed man about town should wear clothes that are simple, functional and discreet, George Bryan "Beau" Brummell commanded in the early 19th century. By advocating well-cut, tailored clothes, Brummell essentially invented what has come to be known as the "British look"

Brummell rejected 18th century frills. His mandate, a dark blue coat, buff-coloured pantaloons and waistcoat, black boots and a clean white neck cloth, survives today as the dark business suit, white shirt and silk tie.

He was particularly adamant about the whiteness of his cravats. As he made his daily rounds from the park, various gentleman's clubs and fashionable homes, Brummell would stop and change his cravat as often as three times a day. He preferred neck cloths that were lightly starched and carefully folded.

The simplicity of Brummell's uniform was adopted by everyone from many working men to his friend, the Prince Regent, later King George IV. For the first time, poorer men hoping to make their way in the world could easily imitate upper class fashion.

The tradition continues and designers like Ian Flaherty and Shane McCoubrey exercise their creative imagination to produce stunning silk ties Due to demand and modern manufacturing technology these fashion items are affordable to even lower income earners.

Who created the first sporting tie?
The I Zingari Cricket Club, founded by a group of Cambridge University students in 1845 is believed to have created the first sporting colours. They designed a flag of black, bright, orange-red, and gold, symbolizing "out of darkness, through fire, into light." Blazers, caps, and ties were eventually created in these colours.

Who created the first school tie?
In 1880, the rowing club at Oxford University's Exeter College One men's club, invented the first school tie by removing their ribbon hat bands from their boater hats and tying them, four-in-hand. When they ordered a set of ties, with the colours from their hatbands, they had created the modern school tie. School, club, and athletic ties appeared in abundance. Some schools had different ties for various grades, levels of achievement, and for graduates.

Such ties had enormous appeal to the vast Victorian middle class. As industrialization allowed for mass consumption of material goods, men wanted to stand out, to assert their social superiority, or to proclaim their allegiance to a group.

Today four-in-hand refers to both the standard necktie and the most common knot used to tie it. It's the ideal knot for ties with thicker interlining and heavy silk. The full Windsor knot is more suited to ties made from lighter weight silks with thinner interlining.

When did military officers start wearing regimental ties?
In the 1880s the British military finally decided to abandon its array of brightly coloured uniforms that had always made such good targets. But they retained the beloved old military colours on the stripes of the neckties each regiment would come to adopt. These ties not only preserved the traditional colours, they provided the only creativity for the drab new uniforms.

The Royal Rifle Corps sported rifle green and scarlet ties, while the stripes of the Artists' Rifles were black, grey, and red; the Inns of Court wore green and blue stripes.

Rules on who may wear the more than 200 regimental ties can be quite strict. Some of the prestigious London stores sometimes ask customers to indicate they have the right to wear a particular tie. This pushes up the price collectors are willing to pay for an especially rare tie. Some unusual or rare ties will change hands for thousands of dollars.

Who created the Bow tie?
The bow tie gets is name from the French, jabot, (pronounced ja-bow), a type of readymade 17th century lace cravat. In the 18th and 19th centuries, bow ties came in various materials and styles.

White bow ties were formal, but others were coloured. For example, 19th century Irish immigrants to America favoured brown, green, or red bow ties.

The enduring popularity of the black bow tie dates to 1886, when Pierre Lorillard V invented the tuxedo as an alternative to the tailcoats worn with white bow ties. The new dinner jacket got its name from the resort of Tuxedo Park, New York, where it was first worn.

Black bow ties and tuxedo are now standard at high school proms and weddings. But bow ties have lost favour for business because they are complicated to tie and must be made in the correct collar size.

Did Mark Twain wear ties?
It was too hot in the American south to wear lace or silk cravats. However, in the early 1800s plantation owners displayed their social superiority by wearing wide ribbons tied in bows. Worn with a low-collared shirt, the plantation tie was the first American neckwear.

The tie went west, becoming part of Mississippi River boat culture. Mark Twain himself was painted wearing a plantation tie. It is also part of the uniform, along with a fancy white shirt and a light suit, of the riverboat gambler. The leading proponent of the plantation tie nowadays is Colonel Sanders of chicken fame, who is never pictured without one.

Country music singers and square dancers occasionally sport plantation ties as well.

What is a Byron?
Ironically several ties have been named after the romantic poet, Lord Byron, who seldom wore any sort of neck cloth. The first Byron was a big floppy bow in white; brown or black appeared in the 1820s. In the 1840s, a Byron was made of string or narrow ribbon, while after the 1860s it was a large, often readymade bow.

When did women start wearing ties?
Although women have probably always adorned their necks, they did not wear neckties until the later 1800s. Feminine versions of men's neckties began to appear along with the more tailored clothing women wore while bicycling, skating, hiking, or boating. A pioneer of the Rational Dress Movement, Englishwoman Amelia Bloomer, invented a pair of long, loose woman's pants, which bear her name.

Even more women began wearing ties, and trousers, during World War I, as millions of women headed to offices and factories to fill the vacancies created by men at war.



20th Century

Who created the first designer ties?
In the 1920s a pioneering Paris fashion designer, Jean Patou, invented the designer tie. He made silk ties from women's clothing material including patterns inspired by the latest art movements of the day, Cubism and Art Deco.

Targeted toward women purchasers, his expensive ties were highly successful. Today women buy 80 percent of ties sold in the US. Therefore ties are often displayed near the perfume or women's clothing departments.

Designer ties made quite a splash in the 1960s, when designers from London's Carnaby Street devised the Peacock Look and churned out wide, colourful ties in a variety of flowered, abstract and psychedelic patterns. Know mod (for modern) styles were the forerunners of the hippie movement, which often dispensed with neckties altogether, often favouring colourful scarves at the neck, or wearing open shirts with chains or medallions.

Today, designer ties abound. Designers create some themselves, while others are made by manufacturers under licensing agreements. Designer ties are also popular with women, who associate them with high fashion.

Celebrities and rock stars
With the advent of mass media, celebrities such as sports heroes, movie actors, and popular singers would create a variety of neckwear trends.

Humphrey Bogart often sported bow ties, while another actor, Ronald Colman, was considered one of Hollywood's sharpest dressers with his tailored, elegant look. Elvis Presley sported an old fashioned neckerchief, and helped prolong an out of date style a few more years.

Game show host Regis Philbin became influential with his luxurious looking ties in solid colours to match his shirts.

What is an Ascot?
In Europe an ascot is a wide cravat of pale grey patterned silk only worn with very formal morning wear, to weddings, or England's Royal Ascot races, where it gets its name. In the U.S., ascot means cravat. The ascot was commonly worn for business in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

What is a Bolo?
The bolo, or bola, tie is so common in the west today that many people are surprised to find that it is relatively new.

In the late 1940s, a silversmith named Victor Cedarstaff went riding with friends in the Bradshaw Mountains outside Wickenburg, Arizona. When the wind blew his hat off, Cedarstaff removed the hatband, which had a silver buckle he did not want to lose, and put it around his neck.

When his friends complemented him on the new apparel, Cedarstaff returned home, and wove a leather string. He added silver balls to the ends and ran it through a turquoise buckle.

Cedarstaff later patented the new neckwear, which was called the bolo because it resembled the lengths of rope used by Argentine gauchos to catch game or cattle.

Now mass-produced, and bolos are usually made of leather cord, with a silver or turquoise buckle. They are common throughout the west and are often worn for business. In 1971 Arizona legislature named the bolo the official state neckwear.

Turtleneck: the anti-tie
The turtleneck could be called the anti-tie. British writer Noel Coward started wearing turtlenecks in the 1920's and created a new fad. French intellectuals and their counterparts in the United States popularized black turtlenecks in the 1950s.


"And what about now?"
Designers like Ian Flaherty, Kenzo Takada, Louis Feraud, Timothy Everest, Michelson, Shane McCoubrey, Neil Bottle and Cressida Bell carry on the tradition of creating unique designs that are transformed into high quality handmade silk ties.

Call them what you like, ties, neckties, neckwear, cravats, bolos; they are the epitome of male self expression.

What is English Madder Ties?
The "madder" part of this lovely phrase refers to a natural dye from a Eurasian herbaceous plant, Rubia tinctoria, the root of which was used since ancient times as a regal dyestuff, thus "ancient" madder. Since the 19th Century the dye has primarily been used on silk, producing beautifully deep, muted and soft colorations of red, green, chocolate, medium blue, and yellow. Silk dyed in this manner is characterized by a dusty-looking finish and a feel (referred to as a chalk hand by the experts) very much like fine suede, and a matte finish. And not just any silk. A special "gum" silk, is used. The silk is first boiled to remove its natural gum (an organic resin), dyed, and then the fabric is bathed in a new gum-based solution that gives it its characteristic soft handle and heft.

Today the process is employed mainly for neckwear printed in England in a paisley or small geometric pattern. The colouring agent in madder root - called alizarin - was in fact first chemically extracted and then synthesized in 1869 by two English chemists. Although the dyeing process, even today, requires a variety of painstaking steps, synthesized alizarin brought the price within the reach of commercial producers, and paisley-designed silks of ancient madder became popular in the second-half of Victoria's reign for neckwear and scarves. [Editor's note: the photo at left shows the same silk both before and after the application of the colouring agent.]

Paisley madder ties have been a status symbol on college campuses since the 1930s, as a natty alternative to the traditional striped tie. Paired with a tweed sports jacket, they're as conservatively colourful and slightly idiosyncratic today as ever.