Dearest Gentle Reader,

This author was among the 45 million who inhaled the newest season of Bridgerton on its opening weekend.

While there is less horse riding than I would have liked, this Netflix smash hit has me pining for more. The story was romantic, and the steamy carriage scene was swoon-worthy. (Even if those of us who have actually ridden in horse draw vehicles know that they are not exactly comfortable enough for a make-out session.)

However, it is also horse show season, and something besides the dashing gentlemen caught my attention this time: neckware—those strange adornments each of us wear with our show coats, whether riding in English pleasure, hunters, or dressage.

For those who haven’t seen the show, it is based on a book series of the same name, in which the eight siblings of the wealthy Bridgerton household find love in Regency England. Set in the early part of the 1800s, it also draws heavily on influences like Jane Austen. This, of course, is also the period when neckwear such as cravats and stock ties were the height of masculine fashion.

I first thought about it after a rewatch of season two in which the character Anthony, the oldest Bridgerton sibling, rips off his stock in a jealous rage after he falls into a pond. While others were going gaga over the reference to Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy, I marveled at how Anthony untied the wet cloth.

In fact, the way it was tied up was exactly the same way I had watched in a YouTube video on tying stock ties. That video was so complicated that I immediately went out and bought a pre-tied one instead.

From that moment on, I took note of what was around men’s collars in every episode. I noticed that Benedict had a bejeweled stock pin that would have been fought over in a 21st-century tack shop and that men wore them in all kinds of colors, patterns, and fabrics. As Colin, this season’s main love interest, falls deeper and deeper in love, we notice that his neckwear is often disheveled, loose, or missing.

I have a short, thick neck, which means most of the pre-tied stock ties try to choke me to death. The first one I bought made me look like a pug. My boyfriend, who loves me in a pair of breeches, hates it when I put on a stock tie before going in the ring, referring to them as “the ugliest things I have ever seen.”

Then, thanks to the magic that is Etsy, I found a place that made pretty versions that fit me better, and I look at least a little less silly when I compete. I am especially fond of the matching scrunchy. At least I have that on the Bridgertons.  

While writing this, I, of course, had to learn the difference between a cravat and a stock tie.

A cravat is a piece of cloth tied up in various fancy styles worn around the neck, often holding up a starched collar.

A stock tie (sometimes just called a stock) simply has a buckle, clasp or a slit to hold it on. All men, regardless of station, wore them, but wealthy men often wore white because it demonstrated that it didn’t get as dirty as those worn by the working class and that they could afford more than one.

They are now worn at horse shows as a form of tradition, in homage to the days of fox hunting and the grand rides of the gentry. They were also once a safety precaution, a bit of cloth on hand just in case a horse or rider got injured on the trail.

Making fun of stock ties and cravats is almost as old as the garment. The 1818 pamphlet called Necklothtania or Tietania: Being an Essay on Starchers by one of the cloths smartly disguises itself as a guide to different tie styles. However, it was a satire, making fun of the men who were obsessed with them. My favorite entry states as follows:

The Horse Collar Tie,

The horse collar has become, for 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 places in these pages were it not for the purpose of cautioning my readers, from ever wearing it.

Hilariously, the document has been a constant reference for customers and historians alike, often offering more specific descriptions than many other primary source documents.

While the 18th-century rakes didn’t have Velcro on their stock ties like I do, researching the clothing item has changed my mind about them a little bit. What if they are supposed to be a little bit ridiculous, and now, after reading, I am in on the joke?

So, if you see me smirking in my stock tie at the next horse show, you too will know what I am smiling about.