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In Praise Of The Ascot: Cravat’s Casual Cousin

Originally Posted: May 21, 2010

Douglas MacKaye Harrington

After witnessing the full blown comedic bataille en règle between "The Daily Show’s" Jon Stewart and CNN political analyst Roland Martin, the time to praise ascots has arrived.(ComedyCentral.com)

Southampton - I have, in past "After Shave" columns, threatened to address the silky issue of the ascot. After witnessing the full blown comedic bataille en règle between "The Daily Show's" Jon Stewart and CNN political analyst Roland Martin, I realize the time has indeed come to pay homage to the most stylist of all neck attire, the ascot.

The recent punch and counter-punch of witty repartee between the two new age political journalists has definitely created a buzz about the cravat's casual cousin from the country, the ascot, and I say bravo!

I wish I could actually better define the difference between a cravat and an ascot, but the best I can muster is to say that the cravat is more precisely tied and intended for formal wear. The ascot on the other hand has a less structured fold to it and is open to self interpretation on the part of the wearer. I will not even get into the Regency knotted neck cloth, which I think is just a little too dandy for even the most daring of male fashionistas. However, if Stewart would like to one up Martin, it is certainly an option for him to consider.

The ascot has never lost its luster. (bowties.com)

The cravat first found its way into male fashion at the close of the 17th century and like many aspects of men's traditional attire has its origins in military de rigueur. In this case Croatian mercenaries, who were enlisted into the French army of King Louis XIII, as they distinguished rank by the neckbands they wore. The French took a liking to it and like anything that has to do with clothing, once the French consider it fashion, it is fashion!

In High Society the ascot has never lost its luster and it has always been an option in The Hamptons since the turn of the 19th century, when the rich started migrating east for summer escapes from the city. I will admit I have seen a proliferation of these silky darlings over the past few seasons.

Whereas gray is the usual color of the formal cravat, often with a center pin, ascots come in every color and print design imaginable. Paisley print is always a favorite and like neckties, one can combine their ascot with a matching pocket square.

The ascot, also known as a "day cravat," is perfect for those semi-casual summer parties and events that permeate The Hamptons throughout the summer. This is particularly true at alfresco events in the August heat when a tie is just too body heat constricting in the afternoon sun. Personally I wear a sport coat or suit at every party and event I attend, however, I do suppose one could wear an ascot without also wearing a jacket. However, I would not suggest it.

Tying an ascot is actually easier than tying a necktie and much easier than a bow tie. There are numerous sites on the Internet that offer both written and video instruction. My personal suggestion is to be sure it is not too flat. It should have the visual effect of a silken waterfall with vertical creases running through it. And yes gentlemen, always silk!

All the better men's stores carry ascots and there are numerous sites on the Internet where one can e-shop. A favorite of mine is Forzieri of Italy (www.forzieri.com). They have a superb collection with most priced at $60.

So add a little color and panache to your wardrobe this summer, that goes for you too Jon Stewart. Yes, real men wear ascots but, admittedly, probably not in places like Duluth!

Frequently mistaken for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials and the iconic gray-bearded Sean Connery, DMH is the Senior Contributing Editor at Hamptons.com. www.hamptons.com Hamptons HamptonsOnline HamptonsOnline

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