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The Many Neckties of Sense & Sensibility

In this post, designer Mariah Hale takes us a deep dive into the Regency neckware featured in Sense & Sensibility. Check out her costume sketches for more backstage insights, and read on to learn how Mariah uses different styles of neckties to help define the colorful characters of Sense – particularly when one actor is playing multiple roles!

From Mariah: 

The internet abounds with good stories about men’s Regency neckwear. I won’t be telling you anything you couldn’t find elsewhere. But I can let you in on the challenge of shaping, cutting, edging, starching and tying a pristine neckcloth on a man who will subsequently hurl himself across stage a few dozen times in the next two hours.

There are many pieces of contemporary research in men’s neckwear, the favorite at many sites being “Neckclothitania”, a satirical article describing more than a dozen styles and ways of tying the neckcloth. So many choices with titles like the “American” (a simple square knot), the “Mathematical” (which looks to me just like a square knot) and the “Irish” (which appears to be a square knot). However, I do see a difference in the size of the knots, the number of creases in the knot and the way the tie hangs.  Quite honestly, this seems difficult and tedious to re- create. But obviously, this is serious fashion:

The adoption of increasingly complex neckties by fashionable young men in the 1810s and 1820s swiftly attracted the attention of satirists and caricaturists. Famous dandy Beau Brummell’s own legend revolved around a description of his morning dressing rituals, whereby his valet would present a gathered audience of friends and followers with Brummell’s failed knots on a silver platter – evidence of the master’s perfectionism in matters of the wardrobe.

In comparison, our process was fairly simple. I read a few historical examples of size, cut and folding formula and surmised that a 10- 12 inch band of bias cut cotton lawn, voile or swiss cotton would do the trick. However, the instructions said the material would need to be 50-60 inches long. “Seriously?” I thought, “That can’t be correct”. So we measured actor Jamie Smithson‘s neck with a tape measure. Wrapping once across the front, crossing in the back and tying in a square knot in front again and  yes, we would indeed need 50-60 inches with tails long enough to tuck into his waistcoat.

Examining our copy of “Neckclothitania” that has been up on the cork board outside the Folger wardrobe room for as long as I can remember, we decided together on a simple, tailored square knot with short tails. Call it the “Horsecollar”. That seemed suitable for the quiet, unfussy brother Edward Ferrars. This would require folding the 12” width of the bias into 4 layers. Wrapping once across the front, crossing in the back and tying in a smart neat square knot in front, leaving short tails sticking out to the sides.

For Edward’s brother Robert Ferrars, also played by Jamie, We decided on something much more flamboyant. Using a slightly longer piece of bias, we pleated it in one layer across the front, crossing in the back and tying in the front again in a large looped bow. Tucking the loops and ends into the waistcoat leaves a peacock puff at his neck – an appropriate and funny look for the self aggrandizing Robert.

For Jacob Fishel as the rakish Willoughby (image above) nothing but the finest would do. Same width and length, pleated in one layer, front, back, front tie in a large loose square knot that matches the size and shape of Willoughby’s ego.

You can tell a lot about a man by the style of his cravat.

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