A shiny, hard-won award medal and a classy bow tie may be enough fashionable neckwear for any esteemed gentleman in the 21st Century, but 500 years ago, your neck wear choices may not have been quite so unobtrusive.
The Great British Isles has had a long flirtation with different types of male neck accessories. We may now have settled on simple ties, bow ties and the occasional ostentatious cravat, but our neck wear history is much richer than our current tastes would suggest…
1. The Ruff
Here is diplomat Sir Henry Unton, painted in a very fetching single layer cartwheel ruff. For such a great, big style statement, the ruff has surprisingly humble origins. When shirts were held at the collar with drawstrings, a natural ruffle was created.
As buttons came into fashion, a separate ruff like piece of cloth remained to protect the shirt. As time went on, this little cloth ruff got bigger and bigger, more and more fashionable, until the mid 16th Century when ruffs were purely decorative and could feature up to 3 layers, complete with lace trimmings. By 1580, bigger was deemed better and ruffs could be up to a foot in width, supported by wire frames known as underproppers.
2. The Collar
It was a penchant for long, ringlet wigs for men which made the ruff into a thing of the past. But to maintain ostentatiousness, whilst not interfering with long curly dos, the gentlemen of the time hit upon flamboyant, wired collars like this beauty donned by George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham.
3. The Jabot
In the 1650s, a jabot consisted of lace sewn into the opening of a shirt collar. By 1700, the jabot had evolved into a loose, hanging accessory which could be pinned to the shirt collar or attached to the collar itself. Although most popular across the channel in France, the jabot, like the cravat, also became popular in England.
4. The Cravat
More fashionable neckwear, this time another necktie import from France, only this time originating from the bright scarves traditionally worn by the Croatian mercenaries. The style was brought back to British shores by the formerly exiled King Charles II:
A cravatte is another kind of adornment for the neck being nothing else but a long towel put about the Collar, and so tyed before with a Bow Knott; this is the original of all such Wearings; but now by the Art and Inventions of the seamsters, there is so many new ways of making them, that it would be a task to name, much more to describe them.
5. The Ascot
A more modern twist on the cravat, one which you can still see today at weddings and (very occasionally) at highly formal events held in the morning. Traditionally consisting of a wide, patterned piece of silk, held in place with a pin and tucked inside the collar, this is a historic piece of neck wear still worn today!