The scarf, a globally recognised yet simplistic piece of triangular, rectangular or square cloth, has been in existence for hundreds of thousands of years. From its humble beginnings in Ancient Rome – to its iconic status today as an essential fashion item glamorised by movie stars, socialites, celebrities and influencers – the scarf is an entity in its own right and the perfect combination of fashion and function.
This article looks at the following topics:
- What is a scarf?
- Highlights in the history of scarves.
- Reasons for wearing a scarf.
- The universal popularity of the scarf today.
- Why scarves make the perfect gift.
- Things to consider when purchasing a scarf.
- The symbolic meaning of a scarf as a gift.
- Gift-giving superstitions.
- A history of gifting scarves.
- Cleverly Wrapped’s decision to sell scarves.
- Cleverly Wrapped’s approach to gift wrapping.
What is a scarf?
As a single piece of cloth, the scarf is the simplest form of adornment, primarily worn around the neck, shoulders or head, making it one of the most versatile accessories across a world of different cultures and for a variety of purposes. It is usually longer than it is wide but primarily rectangular, square or triangular in shape.
Highlights in the history of scarves
The first recorded reference to a ‘scarf’ dates back to 350BC when Egyptian Queen Nefertiti frequently wore a finely woven style topped with a conical headdress.
The scarf is highlighted again, albeit it in a more utilitarian capacity, in ancient Rome around 10 A.D., when the Romans began using a piece of fabric known as a sudarium, or “sweat cloth.”
Those engaging in exercise or strenuous physical labour would keep a handy piece of absorbent cloth tied around their necks to wipe away sweat.
From the late 1600’s to early 1700’s, the scarf began taking on a less functional, more decorative role in the form of a men’s cravat. This elegant neck piece, which originated in Paris, was inspired by the neck wear of the Croatian military and was cut from a long strip of white fabric, exquisitely embellished with embroidery or lace.
Popular during the French Revolution, where it grew in proportion and extravagance, it became so flamboyant it occasionally obscured the bottom half of the wearer’s face. The cravat was sometimes dyed in different colours to demonstrate allegiance to a specific group.
It would seem that Queen Victoria’s ascent to the throne in 1837, along with her penchant for hand knitted, silk or crochet scarves, launched the accessory as a very desirable symbol of affluence amongst women of nobility. These knotted styles quickly gathered popularity, were either lace edged or embroidered, and worn lightly draped on the upper part of the chest.
In 1900 Isadora Duncan, considered by many to the be mother of modern dance, popularised long flowing scarves. She died, ironically, as the result of a freak accident during which her long scarf was caught in the wheel of the auto-mobile she was travelling in.
In 1937 Thierry Hermes was responsible for the creation of the first luxury silk scarves. Raw silk was purchased directly from China then spun into a silken yarn that was then woven into a luxurious fabric twice as strong and much heavier than other scarves of that time. An intricate design, using more than 40 screens, was then expertly hand-printed onto the scarf. These scarves are sought after collectibles today, some selling for thousands of pounds.
For those that couldn’t afford the luxury of silk scarves, the invention of rayon made the look much more accessible. Cotton, linen and wool scarves then followed as a very affordable and mass-produced option.
Reasons for wearing a scarf?
Summarised very succinctly by Wikipedia scarves are worn for a number of purposes:
- To create warmth
- To protect from the sun
- To decorate an outfit
- To show support for a club or team
- To represent different religious beliefs
- To communicate authority
A scarf can be made from a variety of different materials such as wool, linen, silk, cotton etc. and can be patterned, plain, embroidered or embellished with decoration, logos or badges.
The universal popularity of the scarf today
It’s hard to believe there are any contemporary wardrobes, especially those belonging to a female, that don’t feature a single scarf – or a piled-high stash of them!
The fact you can buy scarves in most clothing shops and stores makes them easily accessible – and with a starting price of less than £5, they’re a spontaneous purchase too. At the opposite end of the price spectrum, exquisite designer versions purchased from the renowned fashion houses – Chanel, Hermes, Dior etc – can sell for thousands.
There are also so many different styles of scarf to choose from too, which adds to their broad appeal. The choice and weight of fabrics is huge – cotton, chiffon, silk, cashmere, velvet, lambswool, viscose, acrylic, alpaca, linen, satin and more. Add colour, along with the choice of plains, patterns and prints, and you can’t fail to find a style you’ll love.
Contemporary scarves have a dual purpose in being practical as well as stylish. In a country such as ours, the temperature fluctuates dramatically regardless of the season. A scarf, whether in cashmere, linen or silk, is so handy and easy to throw on and will immediately add a stylish and welcome protective layer whether you’re indoors or outdoors – in summer or winter, autumn or spring.
An assortment of scarves allows the wearer to keep their wardrobe to a minimum, while maximising their style and look. Scarves also offer a layer of uniqueness, giving the wearer the ability to showcase a bit of their style and personality and to openly express themselves through colour, pattern and print.
“Forget trying to have a wardrobe filled with many different outfits. All you need is a luxurious scarf or wrap and your entire wardrobe will be elevated.” – Melissa Yap
In terms of styling, a scarf is so versatile too and can be worn in endless ways. Whether twisted turban style around the head or looped in numerous ways around the neck – wrapped sarong style around the waist or shawl-style across the shoulders – there are so many ways to wear a scarf dependant on its weight and size.
For some inspiration on how to style your scarf, watch my 5 Great Scarf Styling Tips below.
Why scarves make the perfect gift
There are so many reasons a scarf is a great gift idea and here are some that we think most poignant.
- Accessible to all: With so many different types of scarves to choose from – bandanas, kerchiefs, pashminas, twillys, throws, silk squares and wraps, to name but a view – there’s a style to suit all recipients regardless of their taste, age or gender. In terms of price, whether you’re looking to spend under £10 or over £1000, there’s something to suit all budgets too.
- Perfect for those that are hard to buy for: Everyone has someone on their present list who seems to have everything they need – or more infuriatingly, tells people they don’t want anything. What do you buy such a person, so that you can still give them a meaningful gift or token of appreciation? According to fashion writer Melissa Yap, “You can never have enough scarves, making them perfect for everyone on your list!”
- Suitable for any gifting occasion: Scarves are worn all year round and by everyone, so whatever you want to say – Happy Birthday, Thank You, Merry Christmas, Get Well Soon, Thinking of You or I Love You – a scarf is the perfect choice. Simply add wrapping and a handwritten card to highlight the occasion.
- Unsized: This has to be a scarf’s USP. Regardless of someone’s height, weight or build, scarves don’t discriminate and can be enjoyed by all. Whether wrapped around the head, the neck, the shoulders or the waist, one size really does fit all!
- A gift that will last: If cared for well a quality scarf can be worn again and again, season after season. It doesn’t endure the wear and tear of other accessories, such as shoes or handbags – and it doesn’t need washing as often an item of clothing. Many beautiful silk scarves become family heirlooms – special and treasured items for generations to come – making it the gift that keeps on giving.
- Outfit transformers: An exciting new scarf can be thrown on the moment it is unwrapped – there and then, on the spot. It will instantly update any look and gives the recipient the satisfaction of seeing their gift in use immediately!
- Easy to wrap: By simply folding it a few times, a scarf is always a very easy present to wrap. Add ribbon, a bow or a handmade gift tag to make the gift even more special.
- Post box friendly and light to post: Once wrapped a scarf is both inexpensive and easy to post. Fold it down and it should be letterbox friendly too.
Things to consider when purchasing a scarf as a gift
Before buying a scarf for somebody, the most important consideration is to choose colours and patterns that will complement the recipient’s skin tone and hair colouring, although there are some colours that look great on everyone, for example olive or khaki.
If the intended recipient’s wardrobe consists of lots of neutrals or plains, perhaps choose a texture or subtle pattern eg. herringbone, pinstripe, houndstooth or tie dye. If they’re the type that embraces vibrant patterns and prints then opt for something eye-catching and bold.
What is the symbolic meaning of a scarf as a gift?
According to knowledge platform anwers.com gifting a scarf – has various meanings. Giving a scarf to an older recipient, such as a teacher, senior member of staff etc. represents a sign of respect. Giving a scarf to a partner suggests you cherish him or her – and presenting a scarf to a beloved member of your family communicates a deep affection. If you give a scarf to a close friend it means you appreciate their friendship.
Centuries ago our ancestors believed in many gift-giving superstitions or signs, resulting in items to avoid when searching for something to give to a loved one. Thankfully most of these have now been forgotten or lost. Although ancient records suggest a scarf or handkerchief was believed to end or separate a relationship between gift giver and receiver, this concept is never referred to in contemporary accounts of gifts eg. peacock feathers, to avoid when present buying!
A history for gifting scarves
Since the 1950s fashion houses have sent scarves to their most loyal of customers as a token of gratitude to their regular customers, to secure their relationship and encourage further purchases. Those produced by the most famous of the Parisian couturiers eg. Dior, were especially chic, often designed with sketches of the maison, whilst others displayed printed patterns in a painterly or graphic style popular of the era.
Interestingly, from the 1950s into the 1970s, the famous New York restaurant ’21 Club’ produced a series of annual scarves as a thank you gift to their most regular visitors. The restaurant’s owners commissioned well-known artists and designers, to create a yearly scarf design that was a creative representation of the infamous façade, featuring 21 jockey sculptures, which resulted in them being equestrian themed.
These scarves became iconic and sought after, in terms of memorabilia, as so few were produced.
Cleverly Wrapped’s decision to sell scarves
I am delighted that scarves are the chosen object of my retail affections and the reason for setting up my own business. Simply put – no one wants the gift they have chosen for a loved one to end up banished to the present draw, the charity shop or worse still, re-gifted to someone more suitable. In the same vein I don’t want to sell products from CW and have them returned. Returns are the bete noire of online retailing and dodgy Christmas presents should be treated in the same way. The idea of consumers going onto ecommerce sites and buying the same item in 3 colours and 2 sizes leaves me cold. Invariably one gets kept, the others get returned a few days later and all that time they are unsaleable to others. This is exactly what I have tried to avoid with CW, although admittedly in recent times I’ve extended my collection to feature sized clothing too!
With scarves, assuming the quality is first class (which it is) and the sizing is not an issue (which it isn’t), and assuming you know the sorts of colours the recipient will like, there should be very little chance of getting it wrong. No chance of being flung into the bottom draw here; the scarf is more likely to be tried on there and then and you get to see what it looks like on the lucky recipient.
Cleverly Wrapped’s approach to gift wrapping
Enough of the gift and more on the gift wrapping. Another minefield. One poor man came into the CW studio and said that although our packaging was beautiful he would still have to “wrap the wrapping” so to speak or otherwise his wife would not think he had made the requisite amount of effort.
Some helpful hints in that department:
- If you buy a CW scarf it will arrive wrapped to within an inch of its life. There will be grosgrain ribbon, a bespoke black box, layers of tissue paper and Cleverly Wrapped stickers holding the whole thing together. To see me in action watch, How To Beautifully Wrap A Scarf below.
- If you want to add the personal touch how about attaching a beautiful sprig of holly to the bow or better still, get the kids to make a beautiful handcrafted label to attach to the ribbon?
- These are the things that will give your present the extra wow factor and can of course be applied to any gift.
How to gift wrap a scarf
My love affair with scarves is unlikely to end anytime soon. I remain continually enchanted with the endless possibilities when it comes to size, fabric, colour, pattern and print. From a vivacious, painterly silk wraps (think Diana Wilson Arcana) to a beautifully woven cashmere pashmina (Cleverly Wrapped’s own label of course), collections are updated every season, so there’s always something new and exciting to add to your collection.