Today is International Necktie Day which is celebrated primarily in Croatia, but also in various cities around the world such as Dublin, Tübingen, Como, Tokyo, Sydney and other towns. The celebration is not of major importance anywhere, of course, but it has a certain resonance in Croatia because wearing the original version of ties began in military regiments in Croatia and spread outward, first to France, then to the rest of Europe and beyond – evolving along the way. The original word for a tie in many European languages, cognates of “cravat,” are also cognates of the Croatian word for a Croatian – Hrvat. Hrvat actually sounds more like “cravat” when spoken than might appear when written because the /h/ is guttural and the /r/ contains a slight vowel sound. Ties these days are nothing like their original Croatian version, and they are finally going out of fashion; but the trend is desperately slow. I am going to use the word “tie” here, not “necktie.” “Necktie” is American English, and even though my spelling these days is generally American English rather than British English, because I lived and worked as a writer and professor in the United States for 35 years, and my vocabulary is not British at all (I say “elevator,” “apartment,” “hood” and “trunk” (for a car)), I just can’t bring myself to say “necktie.”
The modern fashion of the tie traces ultimately back to the 17th century. The passage of the tie from Croatia to France (thence beyond) is a bit murky, but common legend has it that Croatian mercenaries from the Croatian Military Frontier in French service visited Paris during the Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648) in celebration of a hard-fought victory over the Ottoman Empire. There, the soldiers were presented as glorious heroes to the boy king Louis XIV, and it so happened that the officers of this regiment were wearing brightly colored handkerchiefs fashioned of silk around their necks. In imitation, Louis XIV began wearing a lace cravat around 1646, when he was seven, and set a fashion for French nobility which then started a fashion craze in Europe of both men and women wearing pieces of fabric around their necks. The first lace cravats, or jabots, took time and effort to arrange stylishly. They were often tied in place by cravat strings, arranged neatly and tied in a bow. From there the tie evolved.
In 1715, another kind of neckwear, the stock, made its appearance. The term originally referred to a leather collar, laced at the back, worn by soldiers to promote holding the head high in a military bearing. The leather stock also afforded some protection to the major blood vessels of the neck from saber or bayonet attacks.
Stock ties were initially just a small piece of muslin folded into a narrow band wound a few times round the shirt collar and secured from behind with a pin. It was fashionable for the men to wear their hair long, past shoulder length. The ends were tucked into a black silk bag worn at the nape of the neck. This was known as the bag-wig hairstyle, and the neckwear worn with it was the stock. The solitaire was a variation of the bag wig. This form had matching ribbons stitched around the bag. After the stock was in place, the ribbons would be brought forward and tied in a large bow in front of the wearer.
Some time in the late 18th century, cravats began to make an appearance again, and this fashion recall is usually attributed to a group of young men called the macaronis (of “Yankee Doodle” fame). These were young Englishmen who returned from Europe bringing with them fashion from Italy. At this time, there was also much interest in the way to tie a proper cravat and this led to a series of publications. This began with Neckclothitania, a book that contained instructions and illustrations on how to tie 14 different cravats. Soon after, the immense skill required to tie the cravat in certain styles, quickly became a mark of a man’s elegance and wealth. It was also the first book to use the word tie in association with neckwear.
It was about this time that black stocks made their appearance. Their popularity eclipsed the white cravat, except for formal and evening wear. These remained popular through to the 1850s. At this time, the neckerchief gained in popularity. It was often held in place by slipping the ends through a finger or scarf ring at the neck instead of using a knot. This became classic sailor neckwear which is still common. It is also common for Boy Scouts, and as a teen I had a large collection of both neckerchiefs and rings (called “woggles”).
With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, more people wanted neckwear that was easy to put on, was comfortable, and would last an entire workday. Hence ties were designed long and thin that were easy to knot and did not come undone over the course of a long day. This is the tie design that is still worn today. Other styles of neckware also evolved in the 19th century including the bowtie, which is a simplification of the bow of the cravat strings, and the Ascot tie worn originally during the day at the races at Ascot.
Since the tie has origins in Croatia, a Croatian recipe is appropriate. The cuisine of Croatia is quite eclectic with regions varying considerably. In a broad sense it can be divided into inland cooking and coastal recipes. My travels in Croatia have focused on the Dalmatian coast and its islands so I am more familiar with those traditions than inland ones. I’ve been more than content with feasts of fried whitebait and squid along with black risotto. But the ubiquitous dish which you will be served everywhere, and which I love, is salata od hobotnice – octopus salad. To make this dish well is no small feat because octopus is notoriously hard to cook so that it is not tough and leathery.
To cook octopus well you should start with frozen octopus. The freezing begins the tenderizing process. Thaw the octopus and heat a pot of water and white wine to a bare simmer. Some cooks believe that putting the wine cork in with the liquid helps tenderizing, but I think this is just a Croatian superstition. Do it if it makes you feel good. I don’t. Simmer the octopus until it is just cooked and no longer (about 10 minutes per pound). Longer cooking makes the octopus tough and there is no recovering once this happens. Remove the octopus from the poaching liquid and when cool enough to handle rub off the skin. Chill completely and then cut into bite-sized servings. I like to cut the flesh into paper thin rounds to ensure extra tenderness. Toss the octopus with chopped greens, green onions, and tomatoes dressed with extra virgin olive oil, and serve well chilled with crusty bread.