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Origins of the Scarf

Where did the Scarf Come From?

Well, they’ve certainly been around a while. I read somewhere an excavation of a bog burial in Denmark revealed a woman from the Ice Age wearing a long checked wool scarf with fringed ends.

The first documented wearing of a scarf was of Egyptian Queen Nefertiti in 1350 BC.

She was depicted wearing a very finely woven scarf with a conical headdress.

Then in 230 BC, Chinese Emperors began wearing scarves in order to indicate their rank within the military.

A few centuries later the Romans had a “sudarium” which is latin for sweat cloth

and that is exactly what scarves were in the beginning – a piece of cloth used to wipe the sweat from ones face.

queen nefertiti wearing  silk scarf as a conical headpiece  roman soldier wearing silk scarf to protect his neck

By the beginning of the 20th century, scarves were also used as part of club uniforms, the most well known example, being the Boy Scouts.

boy scouts wearing colourful neckerchiefs

Over time they simply became more popular to wear – just for looks or to keep warm.

There is a lot of reference to pieces of fabric being worn over the centuries as head dresses, veils, shawls, stoles or handkerchiefs.

The biggest scarf 'fashion story' of the 18th century was the Indian Kashmir shawl.

Originating in India as a high class male garment, and part of court dress, they were first brought to Europe by members of the British East India Company.

Empress Josephine, at first unimpressed with the Kashmirs Napoleon sent her from his campaigns, eventually became their greatest fan. Her collection was said to number in the hundreds and became the envy of every French lady.

However, it wasn’t until the 19th century that scarves became a popular fashion accessory.

empress josephine wearing a kashmir shawl queen victoria wearing a silk scarf

The French fashion empire Hermes designed the first ready-to-wear graphic silk scarf in 1837. That year, the fashion industry in Europe and America embraced scarves after Queen Victoria sat on her throne and popularized gorgeous silk cravats with stunning graphic prints. The designs and fabrics used denoted class ranking, and served to signify fashion sense. The birth of the modern scarf had just taken place.

Scarves grew in popularity and manufacturers experimented with various types of fabrics.

These included silk, cashmere, chiffon, cotton, wool mixes, muslin, and modal.

As the industrial revolution took over in the 20th century, the use of new prints and designs came onto the scene.

Scarves are more than just a fashion statement, they are truly a work of art.