Scarves Throughout Time
By Paige McKirahan
Calling all scarf lovers! Have you ever wondered how this beloved trend came into circulation? Well, wonder no more! With origins tracing their way back to ancient Eastern cultures, the high-brow accessory has come a long way since its days of being used as a sweat cloth!
The use of a scarf as an accessory is said to be pioneered by none other than Queen Nefertiti in 1350 BC Egypt; the headscarf at that time was a status symbol that alluded to royalty and nobility, both of which were qualities possessed by the Queen. She is said to have worn a tightly woven scarf (or scarf-like fabric) under her iconic cone-shaped headpiece. China used the scarf as a symbol of status as well, but in the military more than in government or with royalty. Scarves were used as early as 1000 BC in Chinese military uniform to denote rank; higher ranks typically had scarves made of finer materials and lower ranks were cut from fabrics like cotton. It also has less glamorous roots in Rome, where its general purpose was not for style, but to help people keep clean. The utilitarian version of the scarf was used primarily in 10 AD as a sweat cloth with men wearing them so often that they became an accessory. They were worn either around the neck, draped over the shoulder, or knotted around the waist (similar to how they’re worn today!)
Chinese military statues illustrating the use of scarves around the neck, showing rank
(image credits to collegefashion.net)
As time progressed, scarves began transforming into something that was less functional and more fashionable. It is said that Napoleon gifted his wife Josephine a pashmina scarf upon his return from Egypt. At first, she was weary of the gift as it was exotic and not something that was typically worn in their culture (yet). Despite this, she is noted to have become an avid collector, accumulating over 400 scarves in three years that totaled to be worth around $80,000! When the cravat stepped on the scene in Paris in the 17th century, it emulated military styling in the way that it was tied around the neck or, on occasion, brought up around the bottom half of the face. The French Revolution popularized this style and encouraged wearers to experiment with color and style to demonstrate their devotion to a particular side.
A French Cravat
(image credit google.com)
From this point on, scarves began to make their way into the mainstream, especially after Queen Victoria’s ascension to the throne. In the early 1800s, she regularly wore glamorous silk scarves and shawls featuring a variety of eccentric patterns. This 19th century boom in popularity pushed manufacturers to experiment with a multitude of fabrics including cloth, cashmere, wool mixes, muslin, modal and of course, silk. Following this, the First World War transformed knitting from a hobby to a war duty, and women all over the world knitted scarves for soldiers in the air and in the trenches. Pilots used both knitted and silk scarves, with the silk providing protection from neck chafing.
Queen Victoria in blue silk scarf
(photo credit to hi-fi-audio.com)
Quite possibly one of the most important contributions to the widespread fame of the scarf was made by Thierry Hermes’ fashion house; in 1937, the French designer created the first luxury silk scarf, which was crafted from imported raw Chinese silk. The raw material was woven into high quality fabric that was stronger and heavier than any other scarf material of the time. For the final touch, images and patterns would be hand-printed onto the piece to turn them into beautiful, vibrant accessories. Though the scarves were coveted by many, they were widely unaffordable on account of their expensive construction. When rayon was invented in the 1930s, it perfectly mimicked silk for a fraction of the price; this advancement allowed more people to become involved with the trend. The outbreak of World War II forced this material to be rationed, and scarves became more of a necessity rather than a fun addition to an outfit. Women operating machinery needed a way to secure their long hair to ensure it would not be swept away, prompting them to wear the scarves to do so.
First Hermes scarf c. 1937
(photo credit to vintagefashionguide.com)
Nevertheless, scarves returned to their glamorous origins after the war when Hermes beloved style became a favorite of the globe’s most well know starlets. Audrey Hepburn and Brigitte Bardot both wore them either around the neck or on the head; Hepburn loved the style and even went as far as saying, “When I wear a silk scarf I never feel so definitely like a woman, a beautiful woman.” The Princess Grace Kelly herself wore a silk scarf on a 1956 cover for LIFE magazine, and made headlines when she used one as an arm sling later in the year. Even Queen Elizabeth II wore a Hermes scarf when photographed for postage stamps, and loved the style so much that she continues sporting it to this day!
Queen Elizabeth and Grace Kelly in Hermes designs
(photo credits pinterest.com)
This revival pushed scarves reputation as a luxury accessory and many fashion houses took it with stride as they began transferring their signature patterns, logos, and styles onto to fabrics. This continued through the ‘80s, but in the ‘90s, the market moved away from silk scarves and the public began searching for more innovative accessories. In the 2000s, we have seen some scarf revivals, especially in the past few years as many are beginning to favor vintage styles rather than modern aesthetics. Many “it” girls will now tie scarves around their necks, or even tie them to handbags to make them stand out from the crowd! Regardless of trend, we here at TalkingFashion have been scarf lovers from the start! If you want to emulate royalty or are simply looking for a stylish way to hold back your hair, check out our scarf collection; there is sure to be something for everyone from scarf savants to doubtful debutantes!