Women’s neck wear, in spite of its common modernistic appearance, encompasses more than the casual kerchief or scarf. Actually, examining the history of women’s use of traditionally masculine neck wear, particularly the necktie, reveals a rich history of acceptance and rejection.
From the 1920’s onward, especially into the 1940’s, when the necktie exploded in popularity, it was not uncommon for women to be caught sporting a tie as part of the mainstream trend. Granted, a woman would not likely turn up to a party in an evening gown complete with paisley tie, but office positions and even more menial jobs required their workers to wear ties.
As the 1950’s approached, it did not matter what the requirement was, because wearing neckties was the in thing in all senses of the word. We would not be surprised if we saw photos of the landscaping guys in ties. Neckties were just that popular. The years progressed and various women’s and civil rights movements began to move forward.
At this time, the number of necktie wearing women dramatically decreased. Ties became more associated with men’s fashion. In fact, ties became associated with white, middle class, white collar job working men’s fashion. The younger set rebelled and some even stopped wearing ties altogether. Women’s neck wear entered an almost definite scarves only period as the 1970’s and ’80’s got into full swing.
As the rebels of the ’60’s matured, they broke out against their initial rebellion by unveiling wide neckties with bold colors and patterns. Ties became so quintessentially masculine, which was exemplified by the power ties worn by Ronald Reagan, that ERA seeking women wanted nothing to do with the tie. However, the eighties were also a time when the skinny tie began to creep into being among punk rock groups. In this way, women’s wearing of neckties was, in a small degree, preserved.
After the greatest threat to the tie the dot com era and its attendant business casual dress code began to subside, the punk rock tie surged once more. Alternative rock came to the fore front in the musical realm, borrowing fashion from previous musical eras along the way. At the same time, because many private school uniforms required boys, and some times girls, to wear ties, the casual approach to tie wearing was seen as a hip, trendy sort of way to mix style with rebellion.
The Avril Lavigne-Ashton Kutcher look of the unbuttoned shirt and loosely knotted tie especially began to take off after the turn of the millennium. While it was not every high school girl who wore the loose necktie after all, any sort of fashion trend would defeat the whole purpose of individualism in between spates of fishnets, short skirts, or rugged jeans, the casual tie continued to appear.
The necktie as something of a rebel look among women persists even today, occasionally gracing album covers and frequently appearing among the musically and artistically hip. Scarves and necklaces hold their ground as the fashionably conservative women’s neck wear, but bare necks work, too, today, but ties remain in force in counterculture.