AA Gill On... Cravats

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Dear AA,

I find myself drawn to cravats. For some years I've been buying them but have only once been brave enough to wear one "out". The barman called me "squadron leader".

What is the definitive style decision on cravats and why am I so vulnerable to their allure? Am I a closet character from Terrence Rattigan?

Rudolph, by email

Take a deep breath. You are not a closet character from Terrence Rattigan. You are a character in a closet. There are hundreds of you. Wan, fey, timid little men, afraid to wear tweed in the city or brown with a blue suit, worrying about spots and stripes, summoning up the courage to confront the newsagent in a beret. A cravat is not for you. A cravat has to be approached with consummate self-confidence and a devilish nonchalance. A cravat has to be grasped by a man who knows how to treat a cravat.

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But first a little history. A cravat is the only item of named after Croatians. Balkan mercenaries were brought to Paris by Louis XIV. Their strange and exotic attire attracted the French bon hommes, who were wearing formal ruffs, and who immediately took to the simple and relaxed military cloth tied at the neck. Because of the different knots you could use after a number of years it became known as a tie.

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The object you're lusting after is almost certainly a ready-stitched thing with two broad ends and a thinner neck bit. This is unwearably Charlie. It is the equivalent of an elasticated bow tie or an inflatable girlfriend. Would you go out with an inflatable girlfriend? Then don't attempt the ready-made cravat. Americans call them Ascots. That's because they're stupid. An Ascot is something different, done up with a decorative pin. But don't worry your receding little head about it. Neither is it a stock. But seeing as you don't ride you don't need to worry about that either.

I know you don't ride because you're too timid to confront a yard of paisley poplin, so you're not going to get on a horse. The only acceptable cravat is the original Croat one. A square of silk, cotton or fine wool, knotted at the neck, or tied four in hand (same as a straight tie) and tucked into your shirt. Got that? And when the barman calls you wing commander ask him if he does other impressions or is Pat Phoenix the only one? Next month, we'll tackle the beret, the Matterhorn of sartorial derring-do.