Vintage Clothing History Guide - Scarves

Vintage scarves are best.

Scarves should not be reserved for grandma. They are a fabulous and practical accessory and if used well can transform an outfit. Vintage scarves are the best of course. Beautiful designs and high quality compared to a lot of the cheap imitations on sale in todays high street stores.

Roman fashion accessory.

As far as we know the scarf dates as far back as ancient Roman times where it was called a sudarium (Latin term for "sweat cloth") and were used by Romans to wipe their necks and faces. But the sudarium soon became a fashion accessory for both men and women, whether it was knotted to a belt or worn round the neck.

Silk cravats for men.

To bring us a bit more up to date, In the 19th century, the cravat became a fashion accessory for men and a basic item in every man's wardrobe. The major supplier of silk scarves at that time was Sweden, mostly represented by merchants like K. A. Almgren and Casparsson & Schmidt, who supplied bands and ribbons as well as scarves in Norway, Finland and other countries. The first types of scarf or headscarf had two small pleats or trimmed with fringing. Around 1840, single or double-knotted fringes were extremely stylish and scarves were worn both as shawls and headwear.

Old and new trends.

The 20th century saw different types of scarves inspired by the old trends and combined with the new ones. Sometimes they get forgotten for a couple of years but they are so versatile and useful that it is never long before they make a come back.

Popular ways of wearing scarves

At the moment we are selling a lot in our shop at £4 each they are a bargain when you think some are like works of art in their own right. A popular way of wearing them just now is two opposite corners tied at the back neck and allowed to just hang in a cowl at the front. Last year I found the long narrow ones were more popular, often wrapped around the hair 70s style.

Silk, chiffon, sashes and shawls.

Throughout the decades the most popular are the silk scarves. The exquisite nature of the material makes them provide endless possibilities for enhancing your wardrobe. Silk scarves range from lightweight to delicate and gossamer light (chiffon scarves and chiffon wraps) and can be worn in many different ways like, for an example, as a head covering, a belt, sashes, an accent piece or just like a shawl. Silk was, for centuries, given the reputation of a luxurious and sensuous fabric, associated as such with wealth and success.

It's not surprising silk is so popular because it has so many attributes:


  1. It Is the strongest natural fibre. A filament of silk will take longer to break than one made of steel with the same diameter.
  2. It is porous, permitting it to breathe and absorb moisture. Consequently, it is cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
  3. It is easy to dye and takes on deep colours beautifully, so much so that they look almost as good on the reverse side.
  4. Creates lustre and beauty as it is a smooth fibre enabling it to reflect light.
  5. It is very resistant even to mould, this making it stronger than cotton or fine wool.


Textured finishes of cotton and wool.

Now, scarves are usually made from silk, rayon scarf or acetate to offer light weight, strength, a shimmering finish as they have become looser and more free flowing. Cotton and wool are other common fabrics from which scarves can be made, those scarves being slightly heavier and with structure and often textured finishes. Early examples were left fringed or hand rolled.


Of course a scarf can be worn in many different ways: as shawls, head coverings, belts or even made into a garment. Don't stop there some people use vintage scarves to make cushions, pictures, bed coverings etc. I did say they were versatile!

I have come across some real beauties among my Vintage finds, picture perfect roses, maps, complete scenes, abstracts and of course designer ones such as Hermes and Gucci. All beautiful in their own right, have fun experimenting with them.

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