Croatia has a lot more to offer than viral memes and World Cup defeats. Without Croatia, there’d be no 101 Dalmatians: the breed takes its name from Croatia’s Dalmatian coastline, the narrowing belt of land along the Adriatic coast where the dogs were first bred in the seventeenth century. Without Croatia, there’d be no argosy ships: these merchant vessels, so large that their name became a byword for an entire fleet of ships, take their name from Ragusa, the Latin name for Dubrovnik. And without Croatia, the foppish dandies of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries would not have been correctly attired:
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DANDY was first applied half in admiration half in derision to a fop about the year 1816. [Early slang lexicographer] John Bee gives as their peculiarities, ‘French gait, lispings, wrinkled foreheads, killing king’s English, wearing immense plaited pantaloons, coat cut away, small waistcoat, cravat and chitterlings immense, hat small, hair frizzled and protruding. ’
No, it’s not their ‘plaited pantaloons’ that these dandies can thank Croatia for: pantaloons take their name from Pantalone, a stock character in Italian Renaissance comedy, who typically wore a pair of ridiculously tight trousers. Nor is it the dandies’ immense ‘chitterlings’ that are Croatian; more familiar now as the name of a type of sausage, but back in the late 1500s a chitterling was an ornate type of neck ruff, so called because its frilled edge looked like the folds of a slaughtered animal’s entrails. (No, really.)
In fact, it’s the humble cravat that we owe to Croatia – although its association with the foppish dandies of the eighteenth century, like those described above, might be about as far removed from its fierce, soldierly origins as it’s possible to go.
Cravat literally means ‘Croat’, and the word has its roots in the Croatian name for ‘Croatia’, Hrvatska. It was borrowed into English from French in the mid seventeenth century, but the garment to which it refers dates back to the late 1500s at least – around the time that bands of fierce mercenary cavalrymen from Eastern Europe were being drafted into the armies and conflicts of Central Europe.
At the time, much of the continent was embroiled in what would eventually become known as the Thirty Years War: a series of bloody religious conflicts fought from 1618 to 1648, between the constituent states of the Holy Roman Empire and several neighbouring and intervening foreign powers. To bolster their strength, many of the forces involved recruited mercenaries from the east, including Cossacks and Tatars from Russia and Ukraine, as well as fighters from Yugoslavia, Hungary, Poland and Romania. But it was under just one geographical name that this entire motley bunch came to be known to much of Europe: they were the Croats – and they were known for a little something else besides their military prowess.
Many of these Croat mercenaries wore a long linen neck scarf, tied or knotted loosely at the collar, which protected the neck and chest from the elements without restricting movement in battle. As the conflicts of the early 1600s rumbled on and more and more Croat troops began to be seen in the West, this style of neckband steadily grew in popularity, becoming less of a military necessity and more a chic fashion accessory. The ever stylish Parisians were probably the first to see the scarf’s sartorial potential, and it’s from France that the style caught on elsewhere; according to legend, it was Charles II and his supporters who brought this new style of scarf to England on his return from exile in the mid 1600s. Whatever its origins, however, before long the flamboyant pleated ruffs of the sixteenth century had become a thing of the past, replaced by these lighter, looser and lower-maintenance scarves and neckbands. The Croats’ cravat had finally arrived.
Oddly, despite its origins among fierce mercenaries, the cravat was initially a unisex garment, but by the late eighteenth century all that had changed: as ever more colours, patterns, fabrics and styles of knot became available, the cravat became an ever more foppish accessory, and soon established itself as the pre-eminent gentleman’s fashion statement of the day.
An anonymous pamphlet of 1818 outlined as many as fourteen different ways of tying one’s cravat, from ‘The Mathematical’ (‘so-called from its triangular form’) to ‘The Oriental’ (best made with a ‘very stiff and rigid cloth’, apparently) and ‘The Ballroom’ (‘quite delicious’ when worn well). As any self-respecting cravat wearer knows, of course, one should always avoid the ‘Horse Collar’ look:
The Horse Collar has become, from some unaccountable reason, very universal. I can only attribute it to the inability of its wearers to make any other. It is certainly the worst and most vulgar, and I should not have given it a place in these posts were it not for the purpose of cautioning my readers, from ever wearing it.
The cravat fell into and out of fashion over the decades that followed, virtually disappearing towards the end of the nineteenth century before seeing a revival in the 1960s and 1970s. Regardless of its popularity, however, the word itself at least has remained current throughout.
In these early commedia dell’arte comedies, Pantalone was meant to be a stereotypical caricature of a Venetian merchant: a wizened, money-grubbing old man, prowling the streets of one of Italy’s most important trade ports looking for any opportunity to make money. Although there are a number of etymological theories behind his name, it’s likely that Pantalone derives from St Pantaleon, one of the most important religious figures in Venetian culture (and the patron saint of lottery winners).