Fashion is often dictated by function, and such is the case with the humble necktie. Military and royal costumes in ancient China often included a band of cloth used to close off the neck opening. This Chinese neckband was more akin to a scarf than a modern necktie, however. The wearer would simply wrap the band around his or her neck and allow an overcoat to hold it in place. A soiled neckband was much easier to replace than the shirt and undergarments it protected.
The Roman military also adopted a form of neck protection in the form of a squared-off necktie, although it functioned more as a food bib than a decorative element. It wasn't until the Middle Ages that both the decorative and functional aspects of a necktie were fully integrated. Lace or muslin ruffs were generally considered the standard neck covering of the day, but these frilly collars were not always very practical, especially for working military officers. When various European governments began to recruit Croatian mercenaries, they were impressed with the Croatian military uniforms they wore.
The Croatian soldiers routinely wore large neckties to protect their shirts and buttons from damage during battle. Other Europeans soon discovered the advantages of these neckties over their ornate ruffled collars. The actual term for these rudimentary neckties was cravat, believed to be a French corruption of Croat. The Croatian mercenaries who inspired this fashion trend, however, were said to be more concerned with their perception as skilled fighters rather than fashion mavens.
The cravat remained in fashion for several centuries, but by the 1800s men had already found new methods for cinching the material around their necks. One of the first knots created for the necktie was called a "Four in Hand," possibly inspired by the knots used by coachmen to tie off the reins of their horses. The "Four in Hand" knot allowed men to loop the necktie around their necks and then cinch it snugly against the throat. One theory suggests that the modern necktie was used to cover the front buttons of military uniforms, since these buttons were often fashioned from expensive metals or pearl material.
Eventually the necktie became more narrow and tailored. The thinner material of a modern necktie allowed for even more elaborate knots, including the "half-Windsor" and "full Windsor". Although the Windsor knot was named for the Duke of Windsor, he actually favored a simpler knot formed with a thicker necktie. The half-Windsor and Windsor knots added loops to the neckline before the necktie was finished off in the front. The result was a large triangular knot which could be cinched snugly to the wearer's neck. The bottom point of the triangle would create a fashionable dimple in the material, then the rest of the necktie would hang down the center of the shirt, covering the buttons.