Tying a Cravat… Let me Count the Ways

Tying a Cravat… Let me Count the Ways

As I promised, today is a followup to my blog last month on The Somewhat Mysterious Evolution of Men’s Neckcloths. Click over to read a very brief history of men’s neckwear over time, particularly the eras immediately leading to the Regency cravat we all know and love on our manly Jane Austen heroes.

We all know that tying a perfect Regency cravat was arguably the most serious task a gentleman’s valet undertook. After all, powdered wigs and polished shoe buckles were out of style, so manservants had to use up their free time for something, right? Jokes aside, it does seem as if the whole purpose of a casual and easy neckcloth went out the window during the Regency. From the necessities of how to create and care of the perfect neckcloth, to the myriad ways to knot the thing, the cravat became such an important garment that books were written about it. The most popular was a 38-page pamphlet humorously titled, Neckclothitania; or, Tietania, an essay on starchers, by one of the cloth. Published by J.J. Stockdale on September 1, 1818 — read on Google Books HERE — the unknown author approached the subject seriously while also injecting heavy doses of ridiculousness into the text. So much so that famed satirist George Cruikshank provided illustrations of the cravat ties for the pamphlet.

In 1828, a serious and detailed 72-page French booklet titled The Art of Tying a Cravat was published in English. The names of the tie knots remained in French, but are easy to correlate with the English names. Written by H. Le Blanc, this “pocket manual” not only contained “sixteen lessons, including thirty-two different styles” of tying a proper cravat, it began with “a history of the cravat from its origin to the present time” and “remarks on its influence on Society in general.” Definitely worth reading, which can be done on Google Books HERE.

Now, for the meat of this blog post, here are a few of the popular cravat knots from the period, including photos with the instructions.

The Basic Knot

As the name implies, the Basic Knot is the fundamental knot, often used by itself but also as the foundation for many other knots, such as the Oriental, Mathematical, Osbaldeston, American, Trone d’Amour, Irish, and Horse Collar Ties. The basic manner of construction for the listed styles are the same as described in the images below, the difference being how they are arranged once they are completed.

Images courtesy of the “Tea in a Teacup” blog. Click for link.

The Barrel Knot

Essentially, the Barrel Knot IS the Basic Knot with minor differences. Note Mr. Darcy to the right with the neckcloth ends very short and left to frill open from the jacket front. Longer ends, as noted in the image below left, would be tucked unseen inside the jacket and waistcoat. Also note that the knot itself is lower, below the wrapped band, as opposed to Mr. Darcy’s higher knot situated over the portion wrapped around his neck. Believe it or not, such minor differences were intentional.

Another variant, as seen below right, is a double basic knot left loose, or “untidy” with the long ends tucked. Or, if desired, the short ends could be left to frill open.

The Osbaldeston Cravat

“This tie is very well adapted for summer; because instead of going round the neck twice, it confines itself to once.” ~Neckclothitania

Another cravat tie built upon the Basic Knot. The unique key to this cravat knot is the larger size of the knot itself (at least 4 inches by 2 inches) and the wide apart ends tucked along the shoulders or sticking straight out to either side, as opposed to hanging down the chest. To the right is an example image from a costuming class. Whether exaggerated for effect, I am not sure, but that is one big knot!

Based on the absence of definitive examples in Regency period portraits or fashion plates, the Osbaldeston was either not a popular style or not proper for formal portraits. The two examples below are from the mid 1800s, when the knot apparently became fashionable as there are many portraits and early photographs of men wearing what appears to be an Osbaldeston.

The Mailcoach, or Waterfall Cravat

“…is made by tying it with a single knot, and then bringing one of the ends over,
so as completely to hide the knot, and spreading it out, and turning it down in the waistcoat.
The neck-cloth ought to be very large to make this Tie properly…”  ~Neckclothitania

Named for the mail coach drivers who wore them as part of their uniform, this knot is simple enough to require no assistance in tying, yet quite distinguished looking.

Captain Wentworth in “Persuasion”

The neckcloth needed to be unstarched and very long, often made using a cashmere scarf for proper volume. Unlike the Basic Knot, the Waterfall starts with the cloth in front, crossing on the back of the neck, and then bringing back to the front for a simple knot. The “fall” of one end to completely cover the knot is the final touch that sets this cravat tie apart as particularly elegant. Add a jeweled tie pin, and Viola! A sharp dressed man indeed!

The a La Byron, or Ascot

No big mystery here. A bowtie, basically, with the short or long ends left to dangle loosely. This casual cravat style was worn during the daytime, often with colored and pattern neckcloths. Below are a pair of Willoughbys to model the Ascot cravat.

The Horse Collar

“It is certainly the worst and most vulgar…
It has the appearance of a great half-moon, or horse-collar.” ~Neckclothitania

Despite the distain and warning from the author of Neckclothitania, the Horse Collar was worn by men universally because it was easy to create. After the Basic and Barrel knots, portraits from the Regency are replete with examples of this cravat style. The renown pamphlet gave no instructions in how to create the Horse Collar, for obvious reasons, but it is easy to figure out.

Again, essentially a basic knot after wrapping the cloth around the neck smoothly two or three times, with the very short ends left to stick out sharply, at any angle. 

There were many other established cravat knots, obviously. Probably even more than are detailed in the two publications listed above since skilled valets undoubtedly created unique knotting techniques, much as a talented lady’s maid created unique hairstyles. For a bit more information, the following links helped me put together this blog:
Historical Designs – How to Tie a Regency Cravat
Obstinate Headstrong Girl – Word of the Week
Regency Gentleman – Cravats and Stocks
Jane Austen’s World – Art of Tying a Cravat
Geri Walton – Cravat Wearing Tips

I hope y’all enjoyed this peek into the fine art of tying a Regency cravat.
Which style is your personal favorite? Inquiring minds want to know!
Comments are always welcome!


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10 Responses to Tying a Cravat… Let me Count the Ways

  1. As my husband says, they must have felt like they were choking. He can hardly stand a tie. Fun post! Thanks.

  2. Interesting post, thank you. Amazing how people survived those days – women with tight corsets and men cravats (seems like a counter part of corsets but placed higher ;). Some novels I read, Mr. Darcy gets choked on this (usually for other reasons) but just looking at some styles, it looks like it will.

  3. How interesting. I love these posts and you really did your work in finding examples of those cravats. Well done. I’ve read fanfiction where there seemed to be a competition between the valets for the BEST tied cravat. In this particular story, Brummel was present and Darcy, who hated to create a scene, let his valet have a free hand in creating his new masterpiece. Brummel was, of course, impressed and Darcy gave him the name his valet has christened his creation. LOL! You are north of me and got the worst of our weather, please be careful, stay safe, and healthy. Blessings!!

  4. Some of those look so uncomfortable! But the Waterfall is very elegant, isn’t it?
    For a while my son was into fancy tie knots. He found some instructions on-line for all sorts of elaborate ways to do it. When he started university, he was in huge demand as the one person around who knew how to tie a tie! He even does his own bow tie knot for his choir. I can hardly tie a shoelace!

    • Quite the skill! I am far from knowledgeable on modern ties, but didn’t think there were that many ways to tie them. At least the basic suit-tie that business men wear seems to be the same. Yet there are always the scenes in movies where the man needs help with his tie… although that is probably an excuse to get the woman close to his body, right? LOL!!

      What I found interesting is that for all the apparent multitude of cravat knots, when looking at portraits, or movie stills (which must be taken with a grain of salt for costume accuracy), essentially there are only about four obvious cravat styles seen. I say “obvious” since paintings can be tough to discern the exact cravat knot, and many of the knots were only different in how many creases were in the cloth or something as minor as that. Styles that were truly different, like the Nabob or Napoleon (which I didn’t add to this blog), aren’t seen in any paintings I’ve come across.

  5. I think I like the barrel knot the best! It looks very elegant. Some of the others look like they are being throttled!lol

    • LOL! Very true, Cindie! No matter how easy the knot, it came after wrapping the neckcloth around the neck two or three times. Maybe even with a stock placed first. That is a lot of material around the neck. I can barely tolerate a loose turtleneck sweater so can’t imagine having my neck bound like that.

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