» … please put your scarf on.« ( J. D. Salinger)

Certain fashion accessorie have been around since early mankind, say for instance, a simple, rectangular piece of fabric: a scarf, an accessory deserving of the highest praise.

Despite what the biblical scenes of the Garden of Eden may portray, a fig leaf is unlikely to be the oldest piece of covering, or clothing, of our ancestors. Humans have at first used coverings to protect themselves from the Earth’s harsh climates. Not long after, in many cultures covering one’s body became associated with decency, decorum, and conformity to moral principles. The desire to stand out, to be attractive and to be noticed, resulted in body adornment becoming an integral part of society and culture.

With time, fashion trends also extended an influence to the way we dress. However, without practicality and comfort, most clothes and their accessories would certainly not stick around in the long term.

Did you know, that the first mention of a headscarf goes back to 1350 BC, when the ancient Egypt queen Nefertiti covered her head with a piece of finely woven wool? Around the beginning of the Common Era, men in Rome would tie a linen cloth around their necks, a sudarium, used for wiping of sweat in the long summer days. Roughly two and a half centuries later we observe troops of the Chinese Emperor Cheng of Jin with pieces of cloth, signifying their military rank. Only in the 17th century did silk scarves signal an affiliation with aristocracy and the upper class, thus becoming a status symbol.

Throughout history various types of scarves were worn both by women as well as men. Wearing a scarf could stem from practical reasons, to political and religious beliefs, to a symbol of belonging to a certain association or movement. Oftentimes it would be worn simply for the sake of fashion or perhaps finesse, elegance, or grace. It could be used to top off an outfit: the icing on the cake.

In the early 20th century there were the white-green-purple scarves, attributed to the Suffragettes socio-political movement. During the Second World War, couriers would recognise each other via the colour of their small scarves.

With time pieces of fabric are constantly evolving, from large to small and back to large, to scarves, head coverings, and Hawaiian sarongs: the pareo, originating from Tahiti, can now be found on most beaches. There’s the hijab, burka, and the chador among others, different types of headwear worn by Muslim women. There’s also the Arabian hattah and shemagh, meant to protect men from the desert sand and heat. Then there’s the dupatta veil and scarf, a traditional staple of Indian womenswear.

How about the classical rectangular headscarf Le carré, Queen Elizabeth’s most royal accessory? She would tie it simply from the front and wear it as protection from the British weather. More sophisticated still was the manner in which Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Lauren, Jackie Onassis, Maria Callas, and Brigitte Bardot would wear them. The new generations have offered us yet more innovation and imagination both when it comes to the manner of wearing the scarf as well as the chosen material (nevertheless it should be said quality silk is still the favourite, and for good reason).

Scarves have become a window into the world of fashion design, beauty, innovation, light, and shadow. Scarves have become a statement in this postmodern world, one that is not only spoken, but worn with pride.

Scarves Whispers of Slovenia add another small, but beautiful pebble in the mosaic of scarf history.

written by BŽ 
photo: Maryl Streep, a scene from the movie: The Devil Wears Prada