Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre wearing a tie on a boat trip in the Oslofjord in 2022 together with Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Etiquette tips could have helped Støre avoid a wayward tie.

Why do we actually wear ties?

People have always struggled with their tie knots – hence the creation of the clip-on tie.

In the 1600s, some Croatian military groups wore a scarf-like neckwear.

Some linguistic misunderstandings turned the word Croat into cravat. The Sun King in France promoted the cravat as the latest fashion in the early 18th century. The cravat came to stay, but has changed form.

Long, narrow, short, and wide

“They were long, narrow, short, and wide. Some could be bows, while others hung down more or less,” says Bjørn Sverre Hol Haugen, cultural historian and chief curator at the Norsk Folkemuseum.

The tie as we know it today, a suit accessory, is much newer and less varied, Haugen explains.

It began in the 1870s.

King Louis XIV with a cravat at his neck.

British monarch behind tie knot fashion

“The old etiquette dictates that your jacket should be buttoned when you’re standing. That way, your tie won’t end up in the potato salad,” advises cultural historian Bjørn Sverre Hol Haugen at Norsk Folkemuseum.

"It became very fashionable to tie an oblong neckcloth, and some of the first knots that we know today as tie knots became popular. There was also a period when no one tied their own tie. It was pre-tied,” he says.

Perhaps we should rather blame King Edward VIII of Great Britain. Many know of his short reign in 1933 and that he abdicated in favour of his love for divorcee Wallis Simpson.

He favoured the Windsor knot, which was named after him, Haugen explains.

But individuals, historically important or not, cannot alone explain the tie's entire popularity.

A daily outfit

“It’s related to the development of men's fashion in a slightly larger context. We rarely wear just a tie,” Haugen points out.

For many, a tie and suit are the go-to outfit for any formal occasion.

The suit emerged early in the 1900s, not as a festive garment.

“Back then, the suit was a daily outfit. If you read old etiquette books, you’ll see that the suit was considered less formal. The formal men’s outfit was white tie,” he says.

A tuxedo was an intermediate option. It was less formal than white tie but more formal than a suit. People were expected to wear a tuxedo exclusively in the evening – unlike a suit, which could also be worn in the morning.

“There has never been any acceptance of wearing a tuxedo with a tie,” says Haugen.

So what did people wear before the suit became a less formal outfit?

Constitution day outfits for royalty

There was no shortage of morning attire even though the suit did not become fully popular until after 1900.

There were two garments to choose from. One is still in use. The other you probably haven't seen in use for a while.

May 17th, 2003: Crown Princess Mette-Marit in Hardanger bunad. Crown Prince Haakon in a morning coat – and tie.

“The morning coat still exists. The king and crown prince of Norway wear morning coats on the 17th of May,” says Haugen.

What – don’t they just wear suits? No.

“In many photos, you can see Crown Prince Haakon and King Harald wearing ties with their morning coats,” he says.

If you don't want to follow the crowd - or at least the King and Crown Prince - you can go to a men’s clothing store and say: bonjour!

Ibsen's morning attire and other everyday outfits

The other outfit Haugen mentions is precisely that. Bonjour.

“It’s completely out of use. It was obviously worn during the day. It became very popular,” he says.

Ordinary Norwegian men wore a bonjour if they did not have a local folk costume to wear.

More famous Norwegian men like Henrik Ibsen are often depicted wearing the same outfit.

A bonjour is a long, black coat that is the same length in front and back. Unlike the morning coat, where the coat is long in the back and curved in the front.

Norwegians naturally struggled to pronounce the word in a somewhat less globalised Norway of 1870. Among the people, it became known as bånsjurfrakk.

“But Ibsen probably knew how to pronounce it correctly,” Haugen believes.

Most importantly: The bånsjurfrakk often featured something very similar to today’s tie.

“However, most of them were pre-tied by the tailor or factory,” he says.

Henrik Ibsen walking down Karl Johansgate in Norway’s capital Oslo – wearing a bonjour coat.

Fake ties. Humbug!

Pre-tied ties became increasingly common and acquired a slang name, Haugen explains.

“They were called humbug, meaning fake. You could buy both pre-tied bows and ties,” he says.

For those who dread tying a tie, this might sound like a dream. The humbug tie could be fastened with a clasp at the neck or an elastic band. The latter became common when the plastic age arrived and the possibility of fastening things with rubber bands became a reality sometime in the 1950s or 1960s.

Pre-tied neckties existed long before elastic bands. In the 19th century, neckwear could be fastened with a crescent-shaped, fabric-covered piece of cardboard and a pin that clamped through the shirt collar

“It’s a bit like a crude earring,” says Haugen.

“Perfect for people who didn't want to bother learning how to tie a knot.”

“I don't think it was about them not bothering,” counters the historian.

Declining aristocracy and busier days

“I think we can place this in the larger context of the industrial age and the rise of the bourgeoisie. The new ideal was the bourgeoisie rather than the civil servants and aristocracy,” says Haugen.

In short: The ideal status was to be ordinary yet wealthy – without any titular pretentiousness. You should live in a villa but not have special rights in society.

“In the 1700s and early 1800s, the elite often had someone to help them tie these intricate neckties. If they didn’t have help, they likely had the time to do it themselves,” he says.

The bourgeoisie, on the other hand, had to dress themselves in a more hectic daily life.

A backlash

Haugen thinks of the 18th-century fashion icon Beau Brummell. He was a trendsetter for British men. Achieving such style did not come effortlessly.

“He was meticulous. It was said that he changed outfits three times a day and that the process could take three hours. There wasn't much left of the day when he spent the rest of it parading on the streets and showing off. And what he showed off often became fashionable,” Haugen says.

Brummell was very keen to show off his neckwear, according to the historian.

Mass-produced and pre-tied ties emerged as a reaction to the aristocracy’s time-consuming practices, Haugen explains.

“A kind of early fast fashion.”

“No,” responds the historian.

Beau Brummell with his neckwear.

Remained the same for a hundred years

Compared to other garments, the necktie is one of the most enduring examples of slow fashion.

“It has seen various trends in colours and patterns, but essentially it has remained the same for about a hundred years,” Haugen says.

The tie offers a great opportunity to add variety to an otherwise quite generic formal outfit, which often consists of a black jacket and trousers and a white shirt.

But it takes a bit of boldness for a man to choose the most daring ties. Or does it?

“I think there’s a distinction between those who appear in very formal settings and the average person,” says Haugen.

Many ties, but also some bow ties among these gentlemen in the Masonic lodge. The photograph is believed to have been taken between 1915 and 1940.

An opportunity for variation

Ordinary people have had more room for variation. If you maintain your shape, a suit can last for many years.

“Getting a new tie is an opportunity not to appear identical from one occasion to the next,” he says.

In formal settings, the overall look is usually more polished.

In the past, a suit without a tie was almost unthinkable, says Haugen. Now, just wearing a shirt is perfectly acceptable and can also make the suit less formal.

Haugen recalls the term slipstvang (tie mandate) was common when he started attending parties in the 1980s.

Ties and casually held cigarettes at a party in Festiviteten at Løkken Verk. The photo was likely taken between 1950 and 1963.

Denied entry to a restaurant

The term first emerged in the 1950s in Sweden, the historian explains. Many newspapers, including Finnmarken, published a remarkable notice about this in 1951:

‘A new phenomenon called slipstvang (tie mandate) has appeared in Stockholm's entertainment scene. A young man, otherwise impeccably dressed, was denied entry to a dance restaurant on Sunday because he was not wearing a necktie. The press is making a big deal of it, characterising the tie mandate as a new growth on the solid Swedish tree of compulsion.’

In Haugen's hometown, Boxing Day was both an occasion for partying and for dressing up.

“Some found it very uncomfortable to have to wear a dark suit, and especially a tie. I remember a queue outside a party venue where someone asked if there was a tie mandate. The doorman said no, and he immediately tore off his tie,” Haugen laughs.

Do you know the button etiquette?

Have you ever found yourself standing over the buffet with your tie hanging into the potato salad?

Firstly, there are many nice tie clips available that prevent this, Haugen suggests.

But you can actually avoid the problem if you know your etiquette.

“The old etiquette dictates that your jacket should be buttoned when you’re standing. That way, your tie won’t end up in the potato salad,” he says.


Translated by Alette Bjordal Gjellesvik

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