What do Queen Nefertiti of Egypt, Beethoven, and Snoopy have in common? Answer: scarves. We’ll never know if Queen Nefertiti, in 1350 B.C., was having a bad hair day when she chose to be pictured wearing a finely woven scarf under her conical headdress. But we can guess why Beethoven, in 1810, adopted fashionable suits, shirts and neck scarves to pursue his new love, Therese Malfatti; and why cartoonist Charles Shultz pictured his beagle character, Snoopy, wearing the aviator scarf, along with helmet and goggles in his role as WWI flying ace.
For millennia, especially from the time of the early Romans on down through the ages, for both women and men, scarves have played an important role as a versatile clothing accessory. Historians believe that as early as 230 B.C., Chinese Emperor Cheng’s warriors donned cloth scarves to mark military rank. Officers’ scarves were made of fine silk or linen; lesser ranks of cotton.
Cloth kerchiefs, popular with Emperor Nero and the ancient Romans, were worn for practical purposes, not fashion, and were called sudariums, or “sweat cloths.” Made of absorbent linen or cotton, knotted around the neck or waist by men, they were used for wiping sweat from the face and neck in hot weather.
In many countries around the world, and particularly in Europe from the 17th century to WWI, much of men’s fashion was of military origin. From the “kravata,” a scarf used in the 1600s by Croatian mercenaries, evolved many versions of the cravat, including an elaborate silk or lace trimmed necktie, favoured by French King Louis XIII and worn with formal morning dress.
King Charles II, on returning to England from exile in 1660, brought with him the latest new word in fashion: "A cravatte is another kind of adornment for the neck being nothing else but a long towel put about the Collar, and so tyed before with a Bow Knott; this is the original of all such Wearings; but now by the Art and Inventions of the seamsters, there is so many new ways of making them, that it would be a task to name, much more to describe them." (*sic*) (Randle Holme, Academy of Armory and Blazon, 1688.) The cravat was the forerunner of the modern tailored necktie and bow tie.
Scarf colour has long been used to demonstrate political affiliations; sports fans wear and wave them to support their team of choice. Some cultures and religions with traditions of modesty use scarves as cover-ups; in the early 1900s, Swedish actress Greta Garbo and later Grace Kelly popularized them as glamorous Hollywood accessories.
But for fun and sheer versatility, scarves have never been more popular than they are today. With minimal financial outlay, they can add fashion flair to any outfit; make a statement and add chic to an otherwise plain or unflattering garment. They can work as a summer or evening cover-up; provide warmth and colour to keep out winter chills. Made of silk, cotton, wool or blended fabrics, long or short, rectangular, square or round, scarves can add year-round pizazz to any wardrobe.
I became a scarf-o-holic years ago when, as a single mom, my outgo was way larger than my income. Needing to dress well for my job, I discovered that adding a bright scarf to a tired old dress, sweater or coat, would not only give it a fresher, newer, smarter look, but lift my mood as well. Black is not my colour, but with a white/black patterned or coloured scarf knotted at the neck, I could wear it well.
Scarves were practical and fun. I began my collection. I looped them, knotted them, wrapped and tied them. For a stylish look, I’d twist two together, one patterned one plain; an animal print produced a dramatic effect; soft pastels complimented my skin colouring.
Sold in a huge variety of colours and patterns, priced to fit any budget, scarves run the gamut of choice. You’ll find them in thrift shops, gift shops, consignment stores, department stores and designer collections. And far from being “but a long towel put about the Collar,” manufacturers of scarves and wraps are always striving to develop fresh new innovative designs.
The round or infinity scarf, which can be wrapped once or twice around the neck (cosy fabrics for winter, light for spring and summer), take top marks for popularity at a store that specializes in high-fashion accessories and carries a huge selection of scarves year round.
Another favoured design is a pretty lace-edged long or square scarf. When folded into a triangle with the point at the front and ends wrapped round the neck, adds a soft feminine touch to the classic cardigan and T-shirt.
“The Medallion, a jewelled scarf by Artizan, has been far and away our best seller for the winter and spring seasons,” says Linda McKinley, owner/manager of a gift shop in North Delta. Made of 100 per cent wrinkle-resistant polyester, in a wide range of colours, the beaded scarves replace the need for jewelry and can be worn any number of ways – as a scarf, a wrap-around shawl, a bow or belt. Priced around $20, they make interesting and unusual gifts.
Joni Light, a Ladner gift shop owner, says fine hand-knit and crochet summer scarves are popular in her store. For winter wear, unique from England, incorporating micro-encapsulation fabric technology, Aromatherapy and Ayurveda scarves are made of finest lambswool, and are scented with a sophisticated blend of pure essential oils that are released with each wear. Reversible, in strong, vibrant colours, the Ayurveda line – relaxing Vata, calming Pitta, and stimulating Kapha, are also infused with a blend of natural aromatherapy oils.
Metallic scarves were hot for fall and winter; light weave and inexpensive (as low as $5), silver threaded viscose make an excellent choice for summer. Cut in 6x3 foot lengths, they can be looped once or twice around the neck for day wear, or opened up to make an ideal evening cover-up or wrap for travelling. The choice is endless.
And, once the perfect scarf is chosen, you can discover a hundred elegant ways to wear it, each bringing a new beauty to your outfit.
JULY 2012 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE