Monday, August 11, 2008


I was privileged to take part in the launch of the 2008 edition of the literary mag Ping Pong ( this past Saturday. This journal has its home at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, which is where the event took place. (Fans of Miller, the library, or Big Sur will be happy to know that the library survived the recent fires there, though it was a narrow escape and fire season isn't over in California.) We heard part of a fine story called "Long Distance" by Richard Lange, which featured, among other things, a gentleman with an ascot. On the trip back, one of our party was honest enough to admit that he didn't know what an ascot was. Now this is truly in the spirit of this blog, and even if I thought I knew perfectly well what an ascot was, this would still be sufficient reason for me to post about it here.

However, more in the spirit of this blog, it turns out that I may well think I know what it is without really having more than a vague sense of it. One of the other people in the car said, "It's a large cravat." Jim paused and said, "That doesn't help." She then asked, "Did you ever watch Gilligan's Island?". "Yes." "Do you remember what Thurston Howell the Third wore around his neck?" "Oh, now I understand."

So, yes, it's neckwear, and I'm thinking of the scarflike, billowy kind. But the more I think about it, the less I can visualize it. And what does it have to do with Ascot, the horse race? (It is a horse race, isn't it? I feel sure they must be related.)And what exactly is a cravat?

...Well, according to Ralph Lauren (and who, really, could be more authoritative on this score?), an ascot is a man's scarf worn looped under the chin for a sophisticated style. And it does indeed originate as a style from the horse races at Ascot Heath, which began under the reign of Queen Anne in 1711. The RL Style Guide, though copious, is not so clear on when the ascot became known as suitable racetrack wear.

And, since we have him so handy, we may as well consult dear Ralph on the matter of the cravat as well. He or at least his website says that nowadays, any style of neckwear may be described as a cravat. Well, this is not the rigorous, or semi-rigorous definition that this blog looks for. It is much more interesting to know, also per RL, that this was the prototype of the modern necktie, and was introduced to the French Regency by visiting Croatian cavalrymen who wore colorful pieces of fabric around their necks.

Can you see this scene of the French Regency hanging out at court, and the Croatian cavalry making an appearance, and everyone fancying their ties?

The mind boggles.


  1. Right on, Martha! It really should be coming back in vogue right about now...

  2. This is an amazing piece. It's been a long time but, long live ascot!