Re: The Origin of The Cravat (Was: Are Ties Phallocarps?)

Gerold Firl (
17 Nov 1995 12:52:20 -0800

In article <48h9ir$> (Joel and Lynn GAzis-SAx) writes:

>And I still don't think the tie was a phallocarp in the first place!

Can you explain why?

It appears to me that several contributors to this thread have not really
understood Tom's original hypothesis, which suggests that the tie may
activate an instinctive male dominance reaction based on penis size.

For instance, Lennart asked why the tie would be discreetly hidden beneath
the jacket, and just flaccidly hanging there, if it was part of a phallic
dominance reaction. To understand how this works, some background in the
research of otto tinbergen (_a study of instinct_, I believe) would be
helpful. Instinctive reactions depend on the detection of a particular
class of sensory inputs, which are sometimes mediated through fairly
sophisticated, high-level mental processes (such as the detection of a
verbal "attack") or which may satisfy the detection criteria through a very
mechanistic pattern-match. The curious phenomenon of the "supernormal
stimulus" is instructive: a classic experiment demonstrates the effect with
the nesting plover.

Plovers recognize their eggs by their distinctive shape and coloration. If
a plover returns to her nest to find that an artificial egg has been placed
beside her real egg, she evaluates the sensory input to determine where she
should sit. If the false egg is the same size as the real egg, she is just
as likely to incubate one as the other. If, however, the fake egg is larger
than the real egg, she will sit on the false egg - even if it is
ridiculously large, say, as big as she is! Her egg-detection algorithm
returns a stronger recognition-signal for the larger "egg". Tinbergen calls
this the supernormal stimulus; it's way beyond the possible range of
parameters ever found in the natural state, but it pushes all the right
buttons to activate a particular instinct.

Getting back to ties, and Lennarts question, the trick within western
cultural parameters was to activate the phallic-dominance reaction without
explicitly trying. Certain orchids achieve pollination by convincing a
particular species of insect (males, of course) to try and mate with them;
the deception is accomplished with very simple cues. Assuming that Tom's
hypothesis is correct, and I think it deserves a more complete hearing than
it has so-far received, the tie operates analogously.

>Here are the patterns that I see of potential interest in discussing the
>1.) What is the role of fashion? What does the adoption of the cravat as the
>leading implement for closing up the collar in men's formal wear signify? (A
>nasty-sounding buzzer and the judge cries "WRONG!" as someone suggests it is a

Again, on what do you base this dismissal?

>2.) What is the spread of the necktie linked to? (I note that it "caught on"
>in a particular imperialist culture a few centuries back and spread from

Note that prior to the adoption of the cravat, codpieces were a prominant
feature of male attire. The codpiece could have expanded to phallocarpian
dimensions, but it's a little inconvenient in terms of manueverability as
well as being inconsistant with the sexual sublimation which has been an
increasing feature of western culture until the early 20th century.

Here is a hypothesis: the rise of the cravat is linked to the decline of
the codpiece. This shift can also be placed within a context of an
increasing emphasis on a symbol-mediated culture instead of a more directly
material-mediated culture - think of the shift from coinage to credit.

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf