Neckties, bowties, scarfs and cravats. Men’s neckwear is one of the most fascinating elements of vintage men’s apparel. With just the change of a tie a man can alter his persona from 20s gangster to 50s rebel to 60s ad men. At first glance through 20th century men’s tie history you may think a tie is a tie is a tie but with a keen eye on the subtle differences between colors, patterns, materials and size you will be a vintage necktie expert in no time.
1910-1920s Men’s Ties
During the teens and most of the 20’s men’s neckwear came in such a variety of colors, shapes and styles that I would call it the best era of men’s ties. It was also the start of the modern necktie as we know it today.
Previously the bow tie was very popular for day wear with patterns of horizontal stripes, plaids, and polka dots in light pinks, purples, greys and greens. Neckties too were full of color from the “club” or “regimental” striped ties started in Europe to the gold toned paisley prints that were especially popular in the USA. All over prints of stripes, checks, and diamond patterns also reigned in Europe.
Neckties were thin- about 2 and 3/8 inches- and made of very fine silk. The quality of the man was often judged by the quality of his silk tie.
One forgotten tie of the 20’s was the knit wool necktie. Made of one long 2 inch thin strip with fringed or straight bottom edge it is a tie that has resurfaced again and again in history. I recently saw them in my local department stores so clearly they are back in fashion once again.
The scarf tie is also somewhat back in style too. Worn as a simple wrap and tied knot today, in the 1920’s it was made of a large silk or rayon scarf that was tied in a Windsor knot and then tucked under a pullover vest or sweater (also in style this year.) Shop 1920s style men’s neckties.
1930s Men’s Ties
By the 1930’s scarf ties and bow ties were out of style leaving only the silk necktie to dominate. Multiple colors of horizontal stripes, plaids, checks, windowpane, small paisley
, large dots, pin dots and art deco motifs clashed with men’s shirts. It was a wild and colorful time in menswear. Earthy greens, yellows, peach and blues were the predominant colors of the 30’s in the early years with bold blues, reds, grey and black popping up in the later years. Hand painted art deco designs started in the 20s but really found a place in the 1930s. Famous artists would hand paint ties as a way of bringing art into everyday life. Necktie widths grew wider (about 3.5 inches) and shorter to go with the wider suit lapels and oversize shirt collars of the 30s. Shop 1930s style men’s ties.
1940s Men’s Ties
When war time struck so did restrictions on men’s ties. Silk was in short supply so rayon and wool knit ties were the thing to buy or better yet make (thanks mom!) Shortly after WW2 men’s ties took a radical shift in style. No longer confined by fabric rationing men’s ties got wide- very wide (5 inches)- and short to ending above the belt line, which was already high on the waist. Men amassed huge collections of them and tie-swaps and tie-swapping clubs were popular. Geometrics, curly lines, monograms and art deco style patterns were made in bright colors of blues, reds, golds and browns. Animals, plants, flowers, birds, western and tropical printed themes were everywhere. Hand painted ties were often themed around the wearer’s hobbies and interests, like painting, fishing or hunting. This trend continue into the early 50’s. Shop 1940’s style men’s ties.
One American trend was the “Belly Warmer” tie, with a hula girl and palm trees painted on it. Introduced as a joke, the belly warmer ties became trendy after actors like Bob Hope, Alan Ladd and Danny Kay were seen wearing them. Soon after, scantily clad pin-up girls painted on the back side of a tie became a fashionable secret.
1950s- 1970s Men’s Ties
Wide ties gradually narrowed again by the mid 50’s to a “normal” width of about 3 and 1/8 inches. They kept on narrowing into the 1960’s when the 2 inch skinny tie came in vogue to go with skinny suits. Solid colors were preferred in most of the 50’s business attire while mod art designs entered in the 60’s. Both traditional pointed neckties and square end ties had their place. Pink, purple, yellow, and aqua colors were seen with large geometric shapes, wide stripes, and square dots. As a collector you just have to love 60’s neckties. Shop 1950’s or 1960’s men’s ties.
If you like crazy patterns as well then the 70’s are you for. Earth tones and plant life, large paisley and animal prints made of wool and polyester materials gave the ties a new texture. Once again ties expanded to about 4.5 inches wide but longer this time (some of those men’s pants were low riders.) One popular new tie in Europe was the neckerchief. A square silk scarf was tied around the neck and held in place with either a square knot or a tie ring with ends pointing to the sides.
The 1980’s is where I draw the line at my vintage research. Born in the 80’s its always hard to think of your youth as “vintage” now. I do however remember buying my dad a tie every year for Christmas. He liked wide horizontal striped ties in navy blues, reds and grey the most. Occasionally we would get him a funny Christmas tie with cartoon characters all over it. I am pretty sure that has been a tradition among families for most of the century.