A cravat is an item of clothing worn around the neck, usually by men. The standard cravat is a piece of cloth, usually in silk but sometimes made from cotton and artificial fibre. It is between three and four feet (approximately 1.2m) in length and about five inches (13cm) in width, pleated lengthways into a narrow section in its middle. There is no standard method for tying a cravat: common styles include the 'puffed up' style, as used by Noel Coward; the 'floppy bow', as used by well-dressed cowboys in spaghetti Western movies; and the simple folded over or 'mailcoach' style, as commonly seen in BBC period dramas; but almost any tied, knotted or pinned style may be considered acceptable, as long as it looks good, and improvisation is encouraged. For best results, wear with open collar, in the Byronic tradition. This page shows that it's a matter of choice...
A Brief History of Cravats
The name is derived from the Middle French name for Croatia, the country from which the cravat originates. Opinion varies on the precise age of the cravat, but the garment was first introduced into Europe through the French court under Louis XIV in the 17th Century. It soon spread in popularity, replacing the ruff and the lace collar as the nobleman's preferred form of neckwear.
Its intended purpose was to keep the wearer's neck warm, thus preventing colds, sore throats and stiff necks, but during its spread through Europe it became more ornamental than functional, achieving its peak of fashionability in the early 19th Century thanks to Beau Brummel, sartorial innovator, royal confidant and noted dandy. A reversal of this trend began shortly afterwards with George Gordon, Lord Byron, demanding that the cravat be made simpler and more comfortable. Its period of popularity concluded in the late 19th Century when the cravat was largely outmoded by the modern necktie, an item of neckwear devised with the new clerical workforce in mind.