By: Patrick McMurray

It�s well documented that in 1880, the rowing club at Oxford University's Exeter College, invented the first school tie. After an emotional win over their rivals, they celebrated by removing their ribbon hat bands from their boater hats and tying them, four-in-hand around their necks. When they ordered a set of ties, with the colours from their hatbands, they had accidentally created the modern school tie. School, club, and athletic ties appeared in abundance. Some schools had different ties for various grades, levels of achievement, and for graduates. Thanks to historians and their method of accurate documentation all the original college colours are still available from archived samples and replicate ties can be made to order.

The four in hand knot used to tie their hat ribbons, which later became one of the most popular ways to tie a tie has its own unique origin. Coachman who lead a team of two horses en route would take the four reins, two for each horse, and tie them in particular fashion across their hand , thus four reins in hand, or, four in hand. Later the knot and the phrase the coachman used were adapted to neckwear. Two unrelated occurrences made contribution to a style that survives in tact to this day. And interestingly both working class and upper class made equal contribution, the coachman�s phrase and the university student boating hat band.

Let�s not leave Cambridge University out of the race; they also played a part in establishing an everlasting style, albeit forty five years after the first Oxford school tie. A Cricket Club, founded by a group of Cambridge University students in 1845 is believed to have created the first sporting colours. They designed a flag of black, bright, orange-red, and gold, symbolizing "out of darkness, through fire, into light." Blazers, caps, and ties were eventually created in these colours.

It took another one hundred and twenty years before the tie saw any significant change. In the 1920�s a pioneering Paris fashion designer Jean Patou invented the designer tie. He made silk ties from women�s clothing material. Targeted towards women purchasers, his expensive ties were highly successful. In fact in America three out of four ties are bought buy women.

Jesse Langsdorf, an American tailor, discovered that by cutting the tie on the bias of the cloth, the tie would be much more resilient and long- wearing. Cut slightly off bias, the tie would pull off-centre and fall crookedly, but if cut at exactly 45 degrees, the aprons of the tie would drape elegantly, straight down from the knot. He also constructed his ties using three different pieces of silk (the blade, the gusset and the under end) sewn together. He patented his idea and sold it to the world.

Throughout the ages the striped tie has remained a favourite style of men who don�t want to step outside a conventional framework. Didn�t some one once say �style is constant, fashion comes and goes�?

So maybe the next time you knot your favourite stripe tie four in hand around your neck, you�ll appreciate its colourful history. A word of warning, when tieing the knot, don�t� think too hard about the coachman pulling tight on the reins, four in hand, you might choke yourself.

About the author:

Historic Fashion Anecdotes

Fashion Accessories


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