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Necessary accessory: Origin and variety of scarves

1 Mar 2021

Some women look at scarves as ‘necessary accessories’ and may not dare venture outdoors without one while others might find them to be cumbersome or a redundant part of attire as they don’t seem to serve any specific purpose. The truth is, scarves have evolved as a trendy modern accessory that goes well with casual as well as formal attire, provided one wears it the right way.

You don’t have to always wear a scarf over your hair or as a means of a total cover up for your head and face, say stylists around the world who have floated numerous ways of wearing scarves, from neatly wrapping them around the head, revealing an oval shape around the face, to lazily hanging them around the neck. Also, the shape, length a well as fabric of the scarf does dictate the way it should be worn.

The modern scarf has its origins all the way in Ancient Egypt, where the first recorded scarf was used by Queen Nefertiti who was said to have worn a tightly woven scarf topped with a conical headdress in 1350 BC. Under the Chinese Emperor Cheng, scarves made of cloth were used to mark military rank. Later on in Croatia, the scarf continued to play a role in military ranking, with higher ups wearing silk scarves and lower ranking soldiers wearing cotton.

Research, however, indicates that it wasn’t until the 19th century that scarves became a popular fashion accessory. For the greatest portion of its history, the scarf was subjected to use as a sweat cloth, or to keep clean. That changed when fashion designers saw the potential to capitalise on the fabrics and designs coming out of different regions around the world.

But in Western culture, the scarf is most prominently known for its use as a fashion accessory, one that first gained widespread popularity in the 19th century. Lightweight, finely woven silk and cashmere shawls from India were one of the first fashionable scarf styles.

As scarves grew in popularity, manufacturers experimented with various types of fabrics. These included silk, cloth, cashmere, chiffon, cotton, wool mixes, muslin, and modal. The original scarves are believed to have been designed from wool fibres, with more polished versions forming in China when silk was the prized fabric.

Today, high-end fashion designers around the world produce custom printed scarves in collaboration with innovative designers. Graphics can be pulled from fresh artwork and applied to premium fabrics to create one-of-a-kind designs. Scarves are now more than just a fashion statement – they are truly a work of art.

Cashmere scarves

Cashmere scarves and pashminas are said to have risen in popularity because of their soft luxurious texture. They were considered exotic and rare as cashmere was woven from Cashmere goats that inhabit the mountainous regions of Kashmir, India. Their exclusivity attracted a large following that were drawn to its fine, downy texture.

In fact, the name ‘Pashmina’ translates to ‘soft gold’ in the Kashmiri language. Traditionally the goats are reared by nomadic tribes inhabiting regions at very high altitudes where temperatures drop to -40c in the winter. For this reason, the Cashmere goat grows a thick undercoat to keep them warm. As temperatures rise into spring, this coat is shed and this is where the wool used to make pashminas is collected.

A lot of fake Cashmere scarves and shawls do come into world markets. However, there is an easy trick to test whether the scarf is made from true pashmina wool. If the entire scarf can pass through a ring on your ring finger, then you can be sure that it’s a genuine pashmina.


Types of scarves


Cotton scarves

Thin printed or plain cotton like voile is used to make pretty scarves. Because of the lightweight nature of these fabrics, they are great as a summer accessory. They stay in place and are great for tying in various styles.

Chiffon scarves

Chiffon fabric is lightweight, drapey, thin – all the better to tie around the neck without any bulk. You can add trims like lace at the short ends alone or all along the four sides

Net scarves

Net fabrics are ideal for making scarves. You will have to choose fine and smooth net fabric like tulle instead of scratchy synthetic nets. Trims like sequins, chains or laces can be added to the edges. 

Silk scarves

Silk is an expensive choice for scarves but they have a luxurious aura. Hand-painted silk scarves are much in demand and carry a premium.

Velvet scarves

Velvet is a heavy thick fabric with pile so using the whole width of the fabric as a scarf is absolutely not a good idea. Thin tube scarves in velvet are ideal.

Bandana scarves

A bandana is a square piece of printed cotton with a nice border and interesting prints. It is quite small for full coverage as a scarf but many wear it around the neck in novel ways.

Scarves with tassels

Tassels or pompoms are added along the scarf edge for a colourful and interesting look. These are popular in some cultures where scarves are an important part of attire.

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