History of the Scarf

In today’s world of fashion, most people buy off the rack. In order to develop our own style we pair clothing pieces together to create that statement. On top of that we add certain things to our wardrobe that accent an outfit that makes it personally our own.

These items include jewelry, shoes, handbags and maybe most importantly, the scarf.

Of course the scarf has been around for thousands of years but in the last 200 years its purpose has been changing and today it has become a fixture to the way we dress. Let’s take a quick look back in time at the interesting history of the scarf.

Enter Nefertiti in 1330 BC. Her name alone brings to mind beauty. As her names translates, “the beautiful one has come”, she is held in high esteem. There are many depictions of the queen, both in drawings and statues. In one particular one from about 1350 BC, it appears she is wearing a long contrasting scarf over her shoulder that falls in two long streamers down the gown. This is, to my knowledge, the first use of a scarf.

The scarf does not seem to appear again in history for several hundred years where we find it being worn in 230 BC. The warriors of the Chinese Emperor Cheng wore scarves made of cloth to identify their rank within the Chinese army.

The scarf shows up again in 10 AD in Rome where the kerchief was made of linen and simply tied around the neck or waist. These “sudarium” were used as sweat cloths.

In the 1700s, the French wore colorful scarves and called them ‘cravats’. It became a popular way of making a political statement by demonstrating political support dependant on the color of one’s ‘scarf’.

In the 1800s as Queen Victoria comes to the throne in England, she popularizes fanciful accessories such as the scarf. They became an aid to identifying ‘class’.

Hermès, a French ready-to-wear retailer opens in 1837. They became famous for their graphic silk scarves.

The knitting of scarves becomes a patriotic duty during World War I. “Knit for Sammie!” became the rallying cry of American Red Cross knitters. American soldiers were called Sammies, short for Uncle Sam. Of course their first order of business was socks but mufflers (scarves) were also called for.

As the years marched on and scarf production increased and cheaper fabrics were found, the scarf became an indulgence of the masses. The 20th Century saw its popularity soar and the scarf became a common accessory for both men and women.


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Daye is an avid collector and researcher of all things vintage.

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