Sunday 5 July 2020

The Cravat

Bowes Museum cravat with original end
As the band replaced the ruff for neckwear in the first half of the seventeenth century, so the cravat replaced the band in the second half of the century. Randle Holmes laconically described the cravat thus;- “A Cravatt is..nothing else but a long Towel put about the Collar, and so tyed before with a Bow Knott.” (Holme, 1688) Historically it has been viewed as something that came about in imitation of the linen scarf worn by Croatian mercenaries, and adopted in France before it became popular in England. 

It is notable that at the time of the English Civil War it was fashionable to tie up the band with a ribbon, as can be seen in various portraits, for example William Dobson’s portraits of Richard Neville, Edward Hyde, and others. At this point the cravat had already appeared, in a 30th March 1643 letter Oliver Cromwell requests Cornet Squire to ““Bring me two pair of boothose from the Fleming’s who lives in London Lane; also a new cravat.” (Cromwell, 1848)
If has been suggested that the earlier cravats were worn by women rather than men, in the General Account book of Rachel, Countess of Bath, Rachel pays her band woman, Miss Watson in 1648 for “making 2 crabets 6d.” (Gray, 1996) This assumption may be  based on the changing definition of cravat in the dictionary Glossographia. In the first edition in 1656 Blount has “ often used Substantively for a new fashioned Gorget which women wear,” but by the fourth edition in 1674 this has changed to “ of late well known with us to be that Linnen which is worn about Mens (especially Souldiers and Travellers) Necks, instead of a Band.” (Blount, 1656 )
Later in the century it is more often associated with men than women, and although there are occasional mentions in the 1640s and 1650s, it really takes off in the 1660s when many appear in probate inventories and household accounts. Cravats could be plain or laced, with a considerable difference in price depending on the quality of the lace. In the account books of James Master on the same day in 1671 he pays 5s for a plain cravat and 25s for a laced one. He also buys set of cravat and cuffs, plain at 10s, laced at £3.  (Robertson, 1889) The most common fabrics mention for cravats are cambric and muslin, and often the lace ends will survive, but the muslin or cambric does not. One complete survival from c.1690 is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, this is fine muslin with Venetian needlelace ends, a sign of its wear is that it has several darns. 

Detail from Laroon's Seller of baked pears, 1688
Cravats could be worn in a variety of ways, the ends might be simply tied with a ribbon or cravat string, as in the reconstruction by Luca Costigliolo using a surviving cravat end in the Bowes Museum Collection (above right) There is a blog post from the Bowes on this work.  Another simple style of cravat, also in the VandA, is worn by the doll Lord Clapham, it is of fine linen with a yellow silk fringe at the ends. The doll wears it in Steinkirk fashion, so named after the 1692 battle, instead of being tied the ends are twisted and pulled though a buttonhole on the coat. There is also a 1693 engraving by  Jean Dieu de Saint-Jean, depicting Femme de qualité en Stenkerke et falbala, wearing a Steinkirk with normal dress rather than riding dress, and a falbala, a type of long wig. The ends of the cravat could be loosely knotted, as in the 1680 engraving of Charles II, or in Laroon’s seller of baked pears (above left). It could also be tied in a bow as in the Lely portrait of the Earl of Sandwich .

By the 1680s cravats were not just for the fashionable, Laroon’s 1688 engravings show many of the criers of London wearing cravats. (Shesgreen, 1990) It was possible to purchase ready-made cravats from mercers, haberdashers and others in provincial towns, the mercer Margaret Justice had some in stock at Wellington in Shropshire. (Trinder B. and Cox, J. , 1980). At the bottom end, for the common man, the merchant Richard Finch in Bristol had coarse cravats valued at only 6d each in stock. At the top end of the market, James II for his coronation in 1685 wore a Venetian point lace cravat costing £36 10s. (Levey, 1983)

Blount, T., 1656 . Glossographia: or a dictionary of all such hard words .... 1st, (2nd 1661) (4th 1674) ed. London: Tho. Newcomb for George Sawbridge, London.
Cromwell, O., 1848. Thirty five unpublished letters of Cromwell. Littell's Living Age, p. 221.
Cumming, V., Cunnington, C. W. and Cunnington, P., 2010. The Dictionary of Fashion History. Rev. ed ed. London: Bloomsbury.
Evelyn, J., 1690. Mundus muliebris: or, the Ladies dressing-room unlock'd, and her toilette spread. In burlesque. Together with the Fop-Dictionary, compiled for the use of the fair sex.. London: Printed for R. Bentley.
Gray, T., 1996. Devon Household Accounts 1627-59. Part 2. Exeter: Devon and Cornwall Record Society, new series, vol. 39, 267.
Hayward, M., 2020. Stuart style: monarchy, dress and the Scottish Male Elite. London: Yale U.P..
Holme, R., 1688. The academy of armory. Chester: The Author.
Levey, S., 1983. Lace: a history. London: Victoria and Albert Museum.
Maitra, K. K., 2007. Encyclopedic dictionary of clothing and textiles. s.l.:Mittal.
Robertson, S., 1889. The expense Book of James Master 1646-1676 [Part 4, 1663-1676], transcribed by Mrs Dallison.. Archaeologia Cantiana, pp. 114-168.
Shesgreen, S., 1990. The Criers and Hawkers of London, engravings and drawings by Marcellus Laroon.. Aldershot: Scholar Press.
Trinder, B. & Cox, J. , 1980. Yeoman & Colliers in Telford: Probate Inventories for Wellington, Wrockwardine, Lilleshall and Dawley, 1660-1750.. London: Phillimore.

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