History of 1920s Mens Ties, Neckties, Bowties

1920s mens bow ties

1920s Spur Bow Ties

The 1920s was the year of the necktie as we know it today. For several decades the preferred neck wear was the bow tie, preceded by the cravat and ascot for more formality. The bow tie was sill worn in the 1920’s in loud vibrant colors just like the necktie. They were especially enjoyed in summer with lighter colors of suits or year round with conservative men. The necktie, also called a neck scarf, became the most common men’s neck wear in the 1920’s.

Early in the 1920’s ties were subject to poor construction and heavy use. They were a simple cuts of 2 inch wide cloth backed with a heavier flannel material. The constant knotting, tying and pulling made them crease and wrinkle badly as well as shorten their lifespan. Then in 1924, along came Jesse Langsdorf, a New Yorker, who redesigned tie construction into what it is today. Instead of one strip of fabric cut straight on the grain he cut three pieces on a 45 degree diagonal, sewed them together and then folded the outer edges inwards to make the triangle point of the tie.  It meant that  the necktie retained its shape and did not wrinkle or wear out quickly.

1920s Tie Shapes

1920 men tie

1920 Scarf Tie, Short and Wide Point

Neckties were usually a long rectangle piece of fabric that had pointed V ends. Some had straight ends. The width of the tie changed over the decade from narrow 2 inches to a wider 3- 3.5 inches. In the early years scarf ties were very thinly knotted but flared out to create a wide point. Since ties were worn under three piece suits with the vest rising high  to mid sternum the necktie was short and mostly unseen. They came to point around the bottom of the ribs. If a vest wasn’t worn a longer tie could have been worn but usually not. It was a faux pas to show your tie points in public. This was most often done by the working classes who could not afford a three piece suit, nor cared for fashion etiquette.

Tie Materials

1920s man in tie, knit tie

Working Class Man in a Knit Stripe Tie

mens 1920s tie

1920’s Knit Tie

The silk tie, just like today, was the most popular for the elite classes. At any given year the vogue fabric could change from linen, to satin, to wool/silk and back to all silk again. The only exception to a fabric necktie was the knit necktie. Mostly worn by working classes or poor college students after the stock market crash, the knit tie was long and skinny. In came in solid colors as well as wide diagonal stripes, polka dots, and narrow stripes too. Whatever the silk tie looked like the knit tie tried to copy it. These were usually hand knit ties made by family and friends.

1920s Tie Colors and Patterns

Just like most mens wear in the twenties neckties were loudly colorful. One fashion surveyor for Menswear Magazine commented “the bright-yes, verily, vidid-cravats adorning the necks of those sons of ragtime are so dazzling that even the rainbow is paled into insignificance.” Bright colors of blue, grey, maroon, silver and gold were popular as solid colors ties for a few years but the biggest trend was for stripes.

1920s mens ties

Brooks Brothers Striped “Club” Ties

The wide striped Club tie or British Regimental tie was striped from high left to right. The two color tie was first worn by officers and men who belong to gentlemen clubs. The colors matched their club’s official colors.  In America the stripes changed from high right to low left. There are rumors as to the reason for this but the simplest explanation is that British tailors cut with the fabric facing up while American’s cut the face fabric facing down resulting in opposite stripe placement.  Wearing a club tie meant you belonged somewhere, a feeling that was missing after the war when men returned to a bitter and unwelcoming community. Club ties sporting no particular color combination made it possible for every man to look like he belonged somewhere. Pink and navy, green and purple, red and yellow- all colors were possible.

1920s mens necktie

Gold and Blue Macclesfield Tie

Another British tie to come to America was the Macclesfield which was a silk tie with a small repeating design of circles, square, triangles, ovals, etc. The polka dot tie also falls under this category with the dark blue or light blue tie and white dots being the trendiest pattern. The Macclesfield tie was high style for the elite in the late 1920’s. The name comes from the English town of Macclesfield in Lancashire, NW England. This tie pattern has never left in the history of the 20th century. Even today you can find Macclesfield print ties in modern wardrobes. Besides stripe and print ties one small trend in neckwear came from cubists artists. Art deco colors and designs were hand painted on women’s dresses and scarves. Designer Jean Patou used the same colors and patterns on mens ties. Ladies loved them, buying them for their gentlemen beaus.  Stylish young men, like the Great Gatsby, were fond of these bold colors and “new” forms of art.

1920s mens ties

1928 – A Colorful Array of Mens Neck Ties

Just like bold shirts neckties came in a myriad of bright stripes, plaids, and paisley prints. Paisley prints were especially common in the early 1920’s. The image below shows the ties worn in Boardwalk Empire’s first season set in 1920. Neckties often clashed against the also brightly colored shirts. The more clashing the colors the more stylish a young man was.

1920s mesn ties

1920 Ties as seen in Boardwalk Empire

How to Tie  a 1920’s Tie

The Four in Hand knot tie was the most common and versatile knot for all types of 1920s ties. It created a thin and tight knot at the neck which fit all traditional club and point collars.

1920s  how to tie a tie

How to tie a Four in Hand knot

The Windsor knot was the trendy tie knot to wear. The Price of Wales set the fashion trend although its unclear if he really invited it. Its bulky knot is caused by thick lining behind the silk. Worn best with wide spread collars to give the knot room.

1920s how to tie  a tie

How to Tie a Windsor Knot

Buying 1920s Style Ties

Picking out a 1920s ties isn’t too difficult. You can still find many wide striped ties, Macclesfield print ties, and even knit ties.  For the early ’20’s a paisley tie with lots of gold or silver print on a black or brown background will be a good choice. The Club striped necktie or bow tie is good for the early to mid 1920s. The wild color cubist ties are fun for the mid twenties. And finally the polka dot ties can come out for the late 1920s. No need to buy vintage ties (although they are very nice to have.) New silk ties will work just as well for your 1920s look. Just remember to tie them short and in a Four in Hand or Windsor knot. Shop 1920s stylemen’s ties I selected some great choices for ’20s pattern ties and bowties from my favorite online retailers:

1920s style guide

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3 thoughts on “History of 1920s Mens Ties, Neckties, Bowties

  1. Karen Stephens

    Hi Debbie. I am doing costumes for a play set in the 1930s. One character wears a bow tie. Will we have to tie this properly? How do you do it? When did ready tied bow ties become available? Could we get away with one of those?

  2. Dorothy Moore

    Hi, I purchased a box of old ties from an estate sale this morning. Most are wrapped in original packaging which read Long Fellow made by The Slidewell Neckwear co. 583 Broadway New York. It also has a paper label attached to the bag of tie which reads Broadway’s Latest. Any information would be very appreciated. Thanks in advance.. Dorothy


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