Thoughts on the origin of the ‘ruffle’ and tie in fashion

The origin of the ‘ruffle’ and tie in fashion is interesting.

In the 1500’s it became popular, particularly in Germany, to wear two layers of cloth.  The outer cloth was usually thick, colored, and often had design work on it.  The inner cloth was thin and white, usually.  It became popular to ‘slash’ the outer cloth so you could see the inner cloth.  By ‘slashing’ I mean they’d make slits in the outer cloth, often in rows or in other decorative patterns.  These ‘slashings’ supposedly became fashionable because guys came back from war with torn and worn out clothes . . . perhaps as a sign of solidarity or patriotism?

German Landsknechte

(German Landesknect’s showing different forms of ‘slashed’ clothing.  Click to enlarge.)

It wasn’t uncommon for them to pull the inner cloth through the ‘slash’ for decorative effects as seen below.

(King Henry VII of England by Holbein)

As a result of wearing the inner thinner clothe it was not uncommon that it would show around the collar and wrist.  Naturally, the inner cloth would ‘wrinkle’ or develop waves in it at these areas.  As time went on this became fashionable.  They’d soon modify clothes to get this effect.  Around the neck, for example, they’d have a string around the outer rim of the clothe and pull it tight to deliverately give it a ‘wrinkled’ effect.

(This is Francis I of France.  It was painted by Jean Coulet.  Here it shows the wrinkling around the collar and wrist which became so popular.)

But you could only go so far with the natural clothe.  And so, in Spain in the 1500’s, a man invented the ‘ruffle’ to accentuate the decorative effect of the wrinkled clothe.  He made a collar as a separate piece that you attached around your neck.  As a separate piece it can be fashioned as a person wants, creating a really nice ‘wavy’ ruffle, and be as large as a person wants.  At first, these were small, but they gradually got bigger and bigger.  I’ve heard that they may of got as big as 36″ in diameter.  People could not put food in their own mouths because it was so big!  It seems it reached its largest diameter around the 1570’s.

(A large ruffle from a painting by Cornelius de Vos)

In the early 1600’s the ruffle would be replaced by a lace collar.  This was a result of the influence of the Netherlands which was a major power at the time.  They excelled in lace and this, plus their power, made lace fashionable.  The ruffle continued on into the 1600’s in various forms (it seems mostly court wear) but it was no longer fashionable for the general population.


(A self portrait of the painter Rubens with his wife.  He has the new laced collar, popular in the early-mid 1600’s.  She has the older ruffle collar.  Click to enlarge.)

In male fashion the collar disappeared in the late 1600’s and really didn’t appear til the late 1700’s.  This was a result of the new clothing coming from England where they wore a collarless jacket, which was in imitation of clothing in India.  This was started by King Charles II of England. 

Since there were no longer anything like a collar or ruffle on the new clothing it is only natural that they’d want to put something around the neck.  Remember that the ruffle and collar had been there for over a hundred years.  And so, with the collarless jacket, they put something like a small scarf, or cravat, around their neck.  


(A painting of William Bowdain by Robert Feke, 1748, showing the collarless jacket started by King Charles II of England.  This was popular from the late 1600’s to the late 1700’s.  He is also wearing the small scarf, or cravat, around his neck.)

Often the cravat would be made of lace and could be quite large.  It was not uncommon for it to hang down in front, forshadowing the coming of the tie. 


(The new style of laced ‘scarf’, or cravat, from the late 1600’s, that was used with the new collarless coats started by King Charles II.)

I should point out that, in the 1700’s, female fashion often quit using the double layered clothe pattern which had been in use for several centuries.  This was very popular in France and, no doubt, was probably to better accentuate the female form.  But since the ruffle effect of the inner clothe was still considered decorative they would sew on pieces of ‘wrinkled’ white clothe around their wrists and collar of their dresses.  This would lead to the use of various ruffles and ‘wrinkled’ effects in fashion that is still seen today.  These ‘wrinkling effects’ would even go beyond the wrist and collar and be used in various places on the clothing for decoration.

(Mary Antoinette, 1783.  This painting shows the use of ‘wrinkles’ at the collar and wrists and even along the sides of the dress, for decorative effect.) 

As time went on the cravat turned into a tie which, really, is a smaller cravat.  There were other variations of the cravat/tie such as one made out of paper.  They also developed various ways to tie their ties as well as different shapes and colors.


(Here is a fancy decorative cravat from the early 1800’s)

By the mid 1900’s the scarf or cravat had primarily solidified into the from we know it as today and was primarily worn with a suit.

man 1950s

(An American man from the 1950’s)

With this you can see that the tie originated from the cravat, which originated from the ruffle, which originated from wearing two layers of cloth.


Copyright by Mike Michelsen

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