Could the cravat make a comeback?
- 21 August 2014
Noted cravat-wearer Nicholas Parsons has lamented the neckwear's retreat from frontline fashion. Is it about to make a comeback, asks Jon Kelly.
Unfasten your top button and start polishing the brass buttons on your blazer. It's time for men to start wearing cravats again, insists Just A Minute presenter Nicholas Parsons, and who are the rest of us to argue?
"I have lots of lovely cravats," Parsons, 90, wistfully told an Edinburgh audience, adding that he'd "really rather like" other men to follow suit. "I've seen people with beautifully tailored jackets on, with an open shirt there with an awful Adam's apple," he shuddered.
For years the cravat was synonymous with a particular type of gin-quaffing, yacht-sailing, smooth-talking rake.
David Niven. Michael Caine. Alan Whicker. Edward Fox in The Day of the Jackal. Cravat-wearers to a man. And of course there is the gentleman who exemplifies smart-casual neckwear more than any other - Sir Roger Moore, who memorably sports a striking burgundy number in A View to a Kill.
The cravat was first popularised in the 17th Century when it was worn by Croatian mercenaries who distinguished themselves fighting for Louis XIII of France (the name is derived from a la Croate - in the style of the Croats).
It was a status symbol in Restoration England, while Beau Brummel's stiffer, more formal version ensured its popularity in the Regency era. By the 19th Century, when the look was adopted by Oscar Wilde and other members of the Aesthetic Movement, "it had become associated with this idea of the peacock, this very dandy type of look", says fashion historian Amber Butchart.
It mutated into different forms - notably the Ascot tie, worn with morning dress. But it was the day cravat - a silk scarf worn under an open-necked shirt - that became widely recognisable in the 20th Century, adopted by Cary Grant and the Duke of Windsor alike.
Thanks to Terry-Thomas and Leslie Phillips, however, the style became associated with a kind of parodic caddishness.
It became naff. Perhaps the most prominent cravat-wearer in 1970s Britain was Paul Eddington's put-upon suburbanite Jerry in the Good Life. Then there was Alan Partridge, who insisted a cravat was essential to looking like "the classic English gentleman abroad".
But the huge popularity of Alexander McQueen's 2004 skull scarf, and the modern dandy look popularised by Russell Brand, has made the cravat ripe for a comeback, Butchart believes. "It's very functional - in the sweltering heat, the silk helps keep you cool, and when it's cold outside it protects you from the elements," says fashion blogger and cravat enthusiast GM Norton.
The world's first Nicholas Parsons-driven fashion revolution is surely under way.
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