A Hundred Years of Knit Ties

If you spend time looking at menswear from the 1920s, as I did recently when writing about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s clothes, it can be striking how stylish and even contemporary much of it looks one hundred years on. A booming interest in classing menswear has meant that three-piece suits, high-waisted trousers, Fair Isle sweaters, and even the occasional straw boater or pair of plus fours might pop up on your Instagram feed (I’m thinking here especially of users like @vintagemannen, @stiffrhythms, or @elegant_ness, though there are ample examples to choose from). 

One of the most long-lived trends from the 1920s is the knit tie. 

For many, the phrase ‘Roaring Twenties’ conjures a time of lavish parties, profligate spending, and flourishing artistry; an era of flappers, jazz music, and the Charleston. Knitting, one might image, would be the last thing on people’s mind, although it turns out the opposite is true.

The ‘20s saw a great boom in knitting and knitwear. Spurred on in some measure by the push to knit for the troops during the First World War, people could not get enough of it when the Jazz Age rolled around. Sweaters, formerly only worn by children and athletic types, made their way into everyday dress. Jumpers, socks, accessories — even swimsuits were knitted. Fair Isles became so popular at the time that they’re still occasionally called ‘jazz jumpers’. It seems natural that the knit tie would follow.

Prince of Wales in a Fair Isle jumper
The Prince of Wales, later the Duke of Windsor, pictured wearing a Fair Isle sweater
Image credit: Lisa Dusseault / CC BY 2.0

A modern age called for a new way of dressing. Suits broadened in the shoulders, narrowed at the hips, and flared out again in wide trousers (an inversion of the hourglass aesthetic long associated with the female form and in stark contrast to the unbroken vertical lines and dropped waists of the flapper silhouette). Ditto country- and sports clothing became part of conventional dress, and spivvy footwear like spectator shoes became all the rage. Knit ties proved the ideal match for this growing trend toward informality (wearing a knit tie on more formal occasions would still be considered a faux pas today). 

Shirts similarly began to change, with a gulf emerging between formal and informal styles. In contrast to the starched rigidity of previous decades, soft shirts with attached cuffs and collars became increasingly popular. And what better to accompany the casual roll of a soft collar than a knit tie?

Ties from this period differ in some respects from today’s. They were typically shorter, often featured more elaborate knitting patterns, and were sometimes even crocheted (the crocheted tie is now all but extinct, having fallen completely out of style by the 1960s). Knit ties these days can be found in silk, wool, or even alpaca, and, unlike their ancestors from a century ago, can be woven from synthetics like polyester at the cheaper end of the price range

Although, if you really want to recapture the spirit of the century prior, you might consider grabbing some knitting needles or a crochet hook and having a go yourself.

Man playing violin wearing a knit tie
Image credit: The Library of Congress / No known copyright restrictions

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