Sunday, 18 October 2009

Cravats: swains and more

Nige, rightly, is celebrating cravat heroes in a series of posts (could a calendar be in the offing?). We've had two so far and one common feature is that they are men of mature years who are most famous for appearing on Radio 4. This would be one of the demographics least prized by advertisers. Not usually a consideration for me, but in this instance a clear indicator that the cravat hero may well be a dying breed.

The demise of this distinctive item of neckwear along with its eponymous aging heroes would be a minor tragedy. The cravat has a number of unique advantages, which, as the lawyers say, include but are not limited to the following:

1. The cravat is not as formal as a tie nor as casual as an open-necked shirt. It is surely then the epitome of smart-casual, a mode of dress that's so popular now it can only be a strange oversight that the cravat isn't as commonly worn as a pair of chinos or a sports jacket. What's more it's unisex, when worn by a lady offering a marvelous complement to a monocle.

2. It's exotic and not just any old exotic. Cravat comes from the word 'Croat', denoting a Slavic inhabitant of the Eastern Adriatic littoral. It's at one with the jewel of a city that is Dubrovnik, the string of pearls that make up the Croatian archipelago, the lacustrine pleasures of sparkling Plitvice. Along with overwhelming aftershave and waxed moustaches it also surely forms an integral part of the winning formula that has helped the Balkan playboy cut such a swathe through the bored woman-folk of the Riviera (I'm sure Gadjo will confirm this lesser known fact).

3. It provides a wonderful opportunity to wear extravagantly flowery material, but in a very sensible, understated way. You can participate in the let-it-all-hang-out spirit of hippy paisley but in practice have things safely tucked away around your neck. No kaftan required - rather, an elegant Sunday lunchtime gesture towards the alternative spirit, which will set you apart from the 'squares' down at the club.

4. There's something romantic about the cravat - and not just its links to Balkan lotharios. Brightly-coloured and spotted, it's the neckwear of choice for the bargee, that free-spirit of our inland waterways. I've also always pictured Heathcliff wearing one out on the moor. And it was surely the preferred neckwear of the off-duty Battle of Britain fighter pilot, supping from a dimpled pint pot in a hop-strewn pub whilst charming the local dolly. When you wear it yourself you're sharing in this romantic heritage - quite simply you'll be cutting a dash.

5. It removes any practical justification for the neckerbeard, or as the more sophisticated call it, the cravabarbe. Anything that contributes to the suppression of this mental* excrescence is of value.

Powerful considerations, I think you'll agree. This piece of our heritage must not be allowed to unravel. Do you dare pick up the baton from Nige's cravat heroes? I'm sure there's a classic bit of Tootal out there waiting for you - go on, express yourself.

* I've just learnt that as nasal is to nose so mental is to chin. I always thought wearing a goatee indicated mental issues.


worm said...

haha that gave me a good chuckle!!!

whats your view on the neckerchief? Is this how you view the bargee's neck gear?
good example here:

I do believe these are favoured by morris-dancing types, which leaves me uncertain as to their benefit

Gareth Williams said...

I'd forgotten about the neckerchief. But in my defence it can look indistinguishable from a cravat. Could we incorporate it as the lower class cousin of the cravat? But only when the knot is to the rear, obviously.

There was a profile of the lead singer/flautist of Jethro Tull in the paper the other week. In the Money pages. He was talking about how he and his accountant wife keep a tight and careful grip on their finances. Rock and roll, eh?

Gareth Williams said...

It's also worth pointing out that I discount altogether the 'wedding cravat' - tied at the front and worn beneath the collar and over the shirt - as it's essentially a loose and extravagant neck tie.

Sir Watkin said...

Curiously the word cravat, being a French approximation to the word Hrvat [i.e. Croat - the H is pronounced like the -ch of loch], got borrowed back into (Serbo-)Croat to mean any form of necktie ("kravata").

"Croat" mercenaries served all over Europe in the eighteenth century. They wore a distinctive neckerchief which became widely fashionable, and to which their name was applied.

Ironically, though they came from the military frontier of Croatia, these "Croats" were actually Serbs (their descendants today are the Krajina Serbs - insofar as any such remain in Croatia after the wars of the 1990s). Their ancestors had been kicked out of Kosovo by the Turks/Albanians, and their general resentment of this expulsion, allied to their warlike nature, made them an ideal bulwark against the Ottoman Empire.

Some of them got bored of this and went moonlighting, hence their service as mercenaries wearing Nige's favourite neckgear.

Ah, the joys of Balkan history ....

Gadjo Dilo said...

Gadjo can indeed confirm this, and already has made plans to visit the Croatian island of Brac next summer with 4 - yes, 4 - ladyfriends.

Sir Watkin, you are an admirable student of Balkan history and the brackets you have put around "(Serbo-)" may yet save your skin!

Nige said...

We've started something here, Gaw - I've been talking up a cravat revival for ages, now I feel it's under way at last, given a fair wind by your exciting talk of Balkan playboys. Tie on the Tootal, walk the walk - we must not lose momentum. Say it loud - I'm cravated and I'm proud...

Sir Watkin said...

As a linguist, Sir Watkin finds the assertion that Serbian and Croatian (and even "Bosnian" - heaven help us) are separate languages as convincing as the claim of certain North Britons that Scots is not a dialect of English.

Bunny Smedley said...

My son's school uniform includes a cravat. Should I be worried about what, exactly, he's learning?

worm said...

I was on the Croatian island of Hvar last summer and I didn't see a single cravat, although I did see a lot of naked breasts instead.

Personally I'd rather the naked breast thing caught on in a big way

Brit said...

A cravat: the shortcut to debonair.

Gareth Williams said...

Sir Watkin: Thank you for your learned explanation. Brave, too. Not only with regard to Gadjo's point but perhaps even more so in removing a piece of Croat cultural history and granting it to Serbs!

Gadjo: You seem to make a habit of this sort of swathe cutting. I think you've spent so long in the Balkans you're now indistinguishable from the eponymous playboy.

Nige: I think anything may be possible right now. Worm informs us that trashy grey tracky bottoms are being worn by Sloanes and I hear a creature called the Hackney Farmer is abroad (barbour, cheesecutter cap, skinny jeans and daps apparently). We may be pushing at an open door...

Bunny: I have an image of a mini-Terry-Thomas, purring squeakily "heellloo..." Best lock up your daughters!

Worm: As I think Eric Morecombe used to say, there's not a lot I can say about that.

Brit: Excellent slogan that will get people marching, I'm sure.