Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Art of Tying the Cravat.

Appendix 1.

In the previous Installment Chapter 80, entitled "Taking Stock of the Cravat," I had made reference to two little volumes published in the early nineteenth century; and these innocuous tomes are so invaluable, (and in some ways so misunderstood,) it warrants a further and closer look at them. The original post imbedded the scans as presented from GoogleBooks. In this Appendix, they have been re-edited and presented with minor helpful annotations and insertions to make it more readily accessible for my readers, most notably the inclusion of the original illustrations.

(These books are currently hosted and imbedded with GoogleDrive; which features onerous restrictions on bandwidth -- if the limit has been reached, and they do not appear below, click the "download" link in the window, which will switch the window from a GoogleDrive viewer to a PDF viewer. If this continues to be a problem, I'll try to find a more suitable hosting service.)

The Art of Tying the Cravat is a serious essay on the history and crafting of cravats, and would be an invaluable resource to those that actually want to learn what the various styles were and how to tie them -- if it were possible to actually read this rare book online with the illustrations, which are never scanned and included. Thus, I have produced a version myself for Dress Like A Grownup! that contains the illustrations for you. Read through it, and you will discover not just a slice of history, and how to form the historical cravats from a contemporary source, but you will discover within its pages the direct forerunner of every variety of modern neckwear, from ties to scarves.

Neckclothitania, on the other hand, has been referenced by many online sources that proport to expound the ancient art of the starched cravat. The illustrated frontispiece is most often shown, unfortunately separate from the text of the book. Well-meaning costumers, living history aficionados, and amateur historians have gone so far as to attempt to recreate the illustrations in actuality.

What all of these people fail to recognize or make mention of, is that Neckclothitania is a college student's work of social satire. It is not to be taken seriously -- it is a humorous work, the subtlety of which is lost on modern readers; largely because we are not familiar with the style of the serious Essays published at the time, that this work is lampooning.

The first clue is the title itself: To young scholars, "Titania" would have been a well-known reference to both Ovid's Metamorphoses, as the daughters of the Titans, and as the name of the Fairy Queen in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, (make of that what you will,) so the pun of TIEtania would have been instantly understood. Virgil's quote on the title page holds a sly double entendre in this light. Nods to the formal essays of the time that you may notice, are the ridiculously pompous Dedication, the liberal sprinkling of high-sounding French and Latin phrases throughout (notice especially the description of cravat colors!) and the many referenced "sources," which are themselves contemporary works of satire.

Notice, too, that half of the cravats shown are exactly the same, differing only in the number and position of creases in the starch! (These are not the "actual" forms of the starchers; for that you must go to The Art of Tying the Cravat.) The other half dozen are roundly ridiculed for their ridiculousness. The subtext is that to the untrained eye, all Starchers look the same, and the endless minutiae and variations lavished upon them can be seen as just a bit silly -- much like those today that agonize over the proper tie knot to use, when the average person can't tell a Four-in-Hand from a Half Windsor.

Tietania does have its purposes, though, aside from the first recorded use of the word "tie" to refer to a cravat. Namely, it is an invaluable contemporary look at the culture of the "Starcher" from the perspective of a sardonic student with a keen sense of humor. Read it with tongue firmly in cheek!

Click here to go back to the original installment that this Appendix references: "Taking Stock of the Cravat."


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