A mandarin of imperial China, returning from a journey in the West, told his friends: “Europeans all look alike, in their clothes and physical appearance. If it were not for the tie they wear around the neck, it would be impossible to tell them apart.” For centuries cravats and ties have been a permanent feature of the male wardrobe (though the late 1990s was a difficult period for manufacturers). The first men’s accessory that resembled a tie dates to the 3rd century B.C: in what is now China, Huang-Ti, the sovereign of the Celestial Empire, used to wear fabric hung around his neck. Augustus, the emperor of Rome, would often wear a sort of wool tie (known as a focal) for warmth and when he was sick, though only in private because, as Quintillion wrote, Roman men were not allowed to show signs of physical weakness. It was in fact almost a scarf, which was useful in combating tonsillitis or a sore throat. Augustus never wore it in public, because “only bad health can justify wraps for the legs, a neck scarf, and earflaps.” Focals were also worn by orators to protect their vocal strings. The bare neck was a sign of virility and power in ancient Rome for hundreds of years. It is necessary to move forward several centuries to find something similar to the focal, but as an article of clothing in the name of elegance rather than functionality or to protect the health. In the middle of the 17th century, the advent of the fashion for long, curly wigs rendered unnecessary the large collars previously worn by the Court and aristocrats, therefore, something else became necessary to give shirts a finishing touch. The Sun King understood this, and it is said that he spent a lot of money on lace ties, but at that time they were not yet known as cravattes. The pioneers of the tie as we know it were the officers and foot soldiers of a regiment of light cavalry that arrived in France as mercenaries around 1660 during the Thirty Years War. The regiment was composed of Croats who had been recruited in Bosnia. An item of their uniform was a string made of muslin, silk, or raw fabric that was knotted around the neck to indicate their rank. The ends hung loose on the chest and finished in a ribbon, a tassel, or a rosette. This colorful item knotted around the neck was known as a “croatta”, which developed into cravatte in French, and cravatta in Italian. Louis XV even created the post of the Cravatte-Bearer. Towards the end of the 17th century, the fashion of the lace cravat (a sort of embroidered napkin that dropped onto the chest) went into decline, in part because the Bosnian soldiers’ string was being taken up, and in part because sumptuary laws, which attempted to curb the display of luxury, forbade expensive necklaces and pendants. The successor to the Bosnian croatta was the Steinkerque tie: this was wound twice around the neck, then the deliberately rather shabby ends were tucked into the first buttonhole of the shirt. The effect created was one of refinement. A century later in France, it was still the military that dictated fashion, though they were quickly followed by the rising bourgeoisie. The trend this time was the black cravat, which was also wrapped twice around the neck and fixed with a simple knot on the chest. It became customary to wear a black cravat during parties at the Court, and as part of the military’s parade uniforms. But this did not last long because the Revolution was at hand and social change of course brought changes in fashion. Only the dour, dry Robespierre resisted the changes and continued to wear clothes typical of the old regime. The Revolution brought into being the napkin-shaped cravat with flapping ends, which was worn by Camille Desmoulins and became a distinctive sign of the Danton’s Jacobins, and therefore a political symbol. And the cravat became even more political when, with the guillotining of Robespierre and the passing of The Terror, the Counter-Revolutionaries wore a white cravat on a waistcoat decorated with lilies (another political symbol). And a small red ribbon worn around the neck (a direct reference to the guillotine) also became popular, substituting the lace jabot cravats worn by bourgeois women.Fortunately, the political earthquake passed in France and fashion naturally moved on as a result: but the concept of the cravat/tie remained and entered the Romantic age in triumph. A treatise on how to knot a cravat was even written by H. Le Blanc in 1828, titled The Art of Knotting a Cravat. The dandy of the century, Beau Brummel, claimed: “A man and his tie are one and the same,” and invented his own knot. No more loose folds of the muslin cravat, but precise knots of a fabric almost made rigid by starch: the result was a sort of plastering of the neck because the tie was circled around the neck three or four times and the shirt collar rose as high as the chin. Napoleon, on the other hand, did not care about elegance, as he had other things to think about, but the troops perceived his moods from the colors of his ties. At Waterloo he wore a large, loose, white one, and his soldiers believed he was feeling optimistic. He was: but in error.In the 19th century, neck accessories became more complex and followed very precise rules. Only certain fabrics could be used: batista, muslin, jaconet, or white cashmere. The assortment of knots multiplied: there were the Oriental, the American, the Herculean, and the Sentimental knots. The Mathematics knot was full of folds, a work requiring a degree in engineering; the Gastronome’s knot was favored by Gioacchino Rossini because he loved to eat and this particular knot altered its position with the movements of the neck. And the colors of the fabric used with the Gastronome’s knot matched those of good food: ham pink, pÀté yellow, Perigord truffle black, and pigeon’s neck gray-blue. The range of colors for cravats and ties once more took on political meanings: red was worn by the Revolutionaries in 1848, black by the Anarchists, and yellow by the Clericalists: but with the advance of the 19th century, the spot of color around the neck started to become more uniform in appearance and size. In France again, the silk or white piqué plastron made a come-back from the times of the Ancien Régime: it was large and straight and covered the entire shirt above the waistcoat, from neck to chest. One of the most famous examples was worn by Honoré de Balzac, embellished with a long scarf-pin.During the more contained social customs of the Victorian Age, ties were put on sale with a pre-made knot, both the classic form and bow ties, and with either a skimpy knot or an enormous one, according to taste. Even Gabriele D’Annunzio, who, when just 20 years old, was at the center of the salons of Rome in the late 19th century, perennially made use of the pre-made knot. It took the English king, Edward VII, to rebel against this trend. In the early 1900s he invented the “Free” knot, the forerunner of all the present-day models, of which he was prouder even than for his second invention: turn-ups on pants. The Free knot was popular at the same time as the lavallière neck-tie, with its large, loose ends, which became a symbol of anarchy, brilliance, recklessness, and non-conformism, in just the same way as the inventor of the knot, Duchesse Louise Lavallière, the lover of Louis XIV of France, had also been a non-conformist.The tie in the 20th century once again paid tribute to the British Royal Family. In the days of the scandal of Edward VIII, who had not yet abdicated the throne, and Wallis Simpson, the king took comfort in inventing a small and bulky knot (the Windsor) that later became immensely popular everywhere.Since then the tie has standardized on a uniform shape. Even the knot has now curbed its extravagancies, and fashion can only influence the tie’s dimensions: its width and length. Not even an American attempt to introduce a degree of invention was able to change the status quo. Alterations in color and patterns have been only transitory, likewise the penchant for pinning one’s tie with a diamond, like Lucky Luciano, and the various Polynesian and Californian ties worn by Gauguin. Fashions of the recent past have almost never affected the traditional tie. When a tie has to be worn — whether regimental, striped, cashmere, plain, floral, or patterned — the tie is the same in shape and manner of wearing. Today every maison or designer produces fresh designs: Ferragamo and Armani, Prada and Krizia, Versace and Ferré, Zegna and Fendi, Biagiotti and Missoni and Etro. In Japan, a tie by Mila Schön is a status symbol. In Italy, the equivalent would be a handmade tie by Marinella. In 1984 Mosconi and Villarosa published a book called 188 Ways to Knot a Tie.