What The Hell Is A Cravat, Anyway?!

Ed Ruiz

25 September 2017

What the hell is a cravat?!

Is it a tie?

Is it a bow tie?

Or an ascot?

Maybe all of the above?

None of the above?

…an animal? …a country?

What is a cravat?

Cravat, Corbata, Krawatte, Gravata, Cravate…

I remember many years ago when I first came across the word “cravat”.

Spanish being my first language, it initially reminded me of the Spanish word for tie, which is “corbata”, so I simply concluded they must be related.

To my surprise the language casualities didn’t end there.

With time, and being the freak of languages that I am (you can read about my adventure with Swedish here), I eventually realized how closely related the word “cravat” was to the standard word for “tie” in many other languages, not only Spanish.

Here are a few examples from widely spoken languages:

Spanish – corbata

Italian – cravatta

French – cravate

German – Krawatte

Portuguese – gravata

Polish – krawat

This all led me to believe that in fact, “cravat” was pretty much a synonym for “tie”. A weird, outdated synonym for it. And it kind of is. But at the same time, well… it isn’t.

Read also: Here’s To Tie Collectors!

History Lesson: Origin Of The Word “Cravat”

Imagine you’re a member of the French army in 17th century Europe.

You don’t think much about style, you pretty much focus on fighting for your King, Louis XIII in his battle against the Duke of Guise.

“Who has time to think about style in times of war?” you tell yourself.

But your opinion suddenly makes a 180 once a group of mercenaries from Croatia (called “croats”) are enlisted to help you and your King in this war.

You see, what happens is that this group of fashionable mercenaries from Croatia happened to really dig wearing cool pieces of cloth around their necks. Some will say their purpose was to separate military ranks within their army by the use of different fabrics.

Other historians claim it was only to prove they were a dapper bunch.

Whatever the real version of the history is, one thing is for sure, you and your French buddies simply went crazy for how these pieces of clothing looked and decided to adopt them so you could up your style game.

It didn’t take long before all the classy Parisians were rocking the look, but there was still a problem to be solved. How to call this unique garment?

Challenging, but why would you overcomplicate things? Simply name it after those who brought the style and from whom you borrowed it.

And so the word “croat” evolved into the French word “cravate”, which was then adopted in English as “cravat” and other languages followed suit with their own variations of the name.


Okay, you can come back to the 21st century now. That was a nice story, wasn’t it? It must’ve been nice to be right there in the time and place when this all happened, I could do without the war stuff, though.

But I still haven’t responded to your most burning question, have I? What the hell is a cravat in this day and age?

So, A Cravat Is…

Simply put, a cravat can refer to any type of neckwear derived from the original cravat.

Ties, bow ties, and ascots, all of them can be considered cravats as they all evolved from the initial cravat, as your 17th century French self now knows. 😉

You see, the most common misconception that people have about cravats is that they’re actually the same thing as ascots.

But that’s not quite right.

Read also: 7 Silly Misconceptions People Have About Suit and Tie Wearers

Here’s the thing, there is another moment in history, in the 19th century to be specific, when ascots made their appearance in the menswear world, and ever since, there has existed this strange mixup between the term “cravat” and “ascot”, and I would gladly take you back in time to the 19th century now with another guided story, but this is not Quantum Leap and I might just end up confusing you even more.

So if you want a simple takeaway, here’s one for you:

Ascots are a type of cravat, so we could say that all ascots are cravats, but pay attention now: not all cravats are ascots, as they might as well be ties or bow ties.

Three of the most prevalent types of cravats.
From left to right: the necktie, the bow tie and the ascot.
Yes, they’re all cravats.

Keeping The Confusion Alive And Well

Unfortunately, it seems the future of the word “cravat” will remain as confusing as it is right now.

Even well-known fashion writers and bloggers have embraced the incorrect definition of what a cravat is, thus perpetuating the error and blurring the lines between different types of neckwear.

If this remains constant and we consider that languages are living entities that are always evolving, there is a very high probability that the meaning of “cravat” will change to being a synonym for “ascot”.

Who knows what’ll happen? Maybe this article will be wrong in a few years time, but for now, I simply took the opportunity to try to clear up the confusion.

So that’s it for this piece. I hope it is easier for to you know what a cravat is and what it is not, but if you still have any questions or any comments you’d like to share please leave them in the comments section. I’d love to read your take on this topic.

A question for you to begin the discussion: do you think “cravat” and “ascot” will soon be absolute synonyms and no distinction will exist between these two terms? What do you say?

Until next time!


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