Scarves are my absolute favorite accessory. I love them more than hats, jewelry, bags, even shoes. They make almost any outfit better; more chic, pulled together or perfectly effortless. They’re 100% functional and, unlike most accessories, there are countless ways to wear them. And, they do not discriminate; every culture, society and community has their own way of personalizing and utilizing what we call scarves.
Some scarves pop while others add to a neutral palette. PC: The Sartorialist & All The Pretty Birds
Scarves, in their purest form, are a deceptively simple square of fabric. Nothing more, nothing less. They’ve evolved from scraps of material used to soak up sweat from the brow to symbols of wealth and status. Basic construction aside, people will splurge on luxury scarves both for quality (such as White + Warren or Tse cashmere) and design (Pucci and, of course, Hermes come to mind).
You can find scarves anywhere, from flea markets and street vendors to the accessories department at Barney’s. You can pick up a $13 scarf from H&M or splurge hundreds of dollars on a McQueen scull print design.
Types Of Scarves
The smallest scarves are what some may consider handkerchiefs or pocket squares. Men often wear them tucked into a jacket pocket. However, these small, square pieces of fabric may also be used in a woman’s hair or tied around her wrist.
Larger square scarves can range from 16 to 48 (or larger) inches square. Smaller square neck scarves are a classic, simply knotted at the neck or tied loosely onto a purse. The larger the squares grow, the more versatile they become. You’ll also see more variety in fabrications; light, sheer cotton for summer and cashmere/silk blends for winter.
My favorite scarf type is the large square, and my favorite way to wear it is in (what I call) a western style. When styling this type of scarf, always start with a diagonal fold to ensure length and thin, tapered ends. These scarves also look great simply draped over the shoulders or lightly twisted and thrown around the neck. They are also a perfect size for turbans.
A cowl “western” wrap-around, using a light, large square scarf. PC: The Sartorialist
Oblong scarves are great for accessorizing (on the small end) and keeping cozy (on the large end). This proportion of scarf seems to provide more variation in fabrication and weave; you’ll often find open weave and fringe scarves in the small oblong style, while ultra-soft wool is common in the large oblong style. The simplest way to wear these scarves is, of course, doubled or looped around the neck. This style is most popular among men, who seem to opt for the classic short wool oblong scarf with a simple fringe during the winter months.
The short, oblong wool scarf (with or without fringe) in a classic key-hole knot is an easy look for men. PC: The Sartorialist
Long skinny scarves work in a multitude of ways, as headbands, belts/sashes, modified ascots or neck ties. This style is an excellent way to add a pop of color or interesting pattern to an outfit.
Sienna Miller expertly styles her whisper-thin long scarves. PC: Google Images
Wraps and shawls are wonderful during the colder months, when they can be wrapped around the neck or draped over the shoulders for warmth. Wraps in light fabrics (like pashmina, a blend of cashmere and silk) are an ideal companion for travel, as they are incredibly lightweight but very warm. Wraps and shawls can also be used as decor, thrown over the arm of a chair or foot of the bed. Conversely, very light blankets may be utilized as an accessory.
Hanneli modifies a blanket from her house as a cozy belted wrap jacket. PC: Hanneli
The sarong is the summer cousin of the wrap. While they are most often tied around the waist or body during pool time, they can also look great around the neck or shoulders.
How To Wear Scarves
An extra-large oblong shawl worn two ways. PC: The Sartorialist
The most important thing to remember when styling with scarves is to keep it simple and avoid perfection. The great thing about scarves is that they read better the more “thrown on” and sloppy they appear, and they communicate an effortlessness that is always attractive. Also important, wear scarves (in fact, this applies to all clothing) in such a way that you are comfortable. If you’re uncomfortable, you’ll end up fidgeting. Don’t force a scarf if it’s not working. I happen to think a light scarf paired with a tank and shorts in the summer is appropriate if you’re the tiniest bit chilly, but don’t throw on a heavier scarf in the heat simply because you like the way it looks.
As for the scarf design itself, there are absolutely no rules. Go as classic or kooky as you like! Scarves are an easy way to try out difficult trends like statement colors or mixing patterns.
Following are some brief tutorials on how to wear scarves in a variety of ways. Remember, have fun!
Long, skinny scarves knotted & tied. PC: The Sartorialist & Mr. Newton
- Tied and knotted around the neck. If using a square scarf, fold it corner-to-corner on the diagonal and continue folding the tip by the inch toward the long seam of the scarf until you end up with what looks like a croissant before it’s rolled into a crescent shape. Alternatively, you can simply gather and twist the scarf lengthwise. The former will look neater, the latter more casual. Knot the scarf where it feels comfortable. Short, oblong scarves may also be used around the neck.
- Triangle tied around the neck. Fold a small square scarf corner-to-corner on the diagonal. Tie each corner at the back of the neck; a looser tie will result in a more cowled triangle.
- “Western” style looped around the neck. Fold a large square scarf corner-to-corner on the diagonal. Drape the scarf, the length-wise folded portion facing forward, across the shoulders. Holding the ends, pull to one side and wrap the longer side loosely around the neck, bringing the end around the back and to the front. You may need to adjust to ensure both scarf ends are even and that the cowl is comfortable. You can leave the ends loose or tuck under the cowl.
Clockwise from left: western, long and loose, wrapped and tied at the neck. PC: Street Peeper & The Sartorialist
- Wrapped around and bowed. Wrap a medium to large square or oblong scarf around the neck a few times and secure in a tie or bow at the front.
- Simply draped around the neck. Fold a large square scarf corner-to-corner, loosely twist and drape around the neck.
- Looped around the neck. Use the same method described above, looping around the neck once and allowing either end of the scarf to hang evenly. Alternatively, use a large oblong scarf.
- Looped and knotted around the neck. With a large oblong scarf, loop around the neck as described above but take the hanging ends and tie in a loose knot or bow.
- Keyhole looped around the neck. Fold a medium to large oblong scarf cross-wise at the center and hold at each end. Place evenly behind the neck and tuck the two ends into the hole created by the cross-wide fold.
- Ascot. This can be done in a number of ways, from a skinny scarf in a loose knot at the center of the neck to the more formal approach.
An over-sized ascot. PC: The Sartorialist
Hair & Head
Two bowed headband styles. PC: The Sartorialist & Hanneli
- Simple headband. If using a square scarf, fold it corner-to-corner on the diagonal and continue folding the tip by the inch toward the long seam of the scarf until you end up with what looks like a croissant before it’s rolled into a crescent shape. Wrap the scarf around the head a few inches back from the temple, ensuring that the folded tip is on the underside. Tie securely at the nape of the neck or, for a longer scarf, behind the ear.
- Over-sized headband. Use the same method described above, but fold the scarf only once or twice, allowing a width of 4 to 6 inches.
- Knotted or bowed headband. Use a larger scarf and the method described above, but instead of knotting at the nape of the neck, wrap around the head again and knot, tie or bow at the top or side of the head.
Babushka and large headband styles. PC: Google Images
- Convertible wrap. Fold an extra-large square scarf corner-to-corner on the diagonal. Holding the two end corners, place the length-wide folded portion of the scarf evenly just behind the hairline. The two end corners will hang over the ears, down past the shoulders. Cross the two end corners in front and pull behind the head, securing in a knot.
- Head wrap. I call this the Rhoda Morgenstern style. Begin as you would with the convertible wrap (above), but place the length-wide folded portion of the scarf evenly across the forehead. Instead of crossing the two end corners in front, bring them to the back and tie in a knot just above the nape of the neck.
- Babushka style. Begin as you would with the convertible wrap (above), but tie in a knot at the front, under the chin.
- Turban. I will direct you to this online tutorial on how to create a classic wrap turban.
- Low bun wrap. Follow the same process as with the turban, but instead of wrapping the ends of the scarf around the head, create large knots at the base of the neck.
Scarves worn as a halter and tied onto the wrist. PC: Hermes & The Life Aesthetic
- Tied onto a bag or purse. Make sure the scarf is not too large, and simply knot it onto a strap or piece of hardware. Works on countless styles of bags.
- Tucked into a blazer pocket. Traditional and sophisticated. Don’t think this look is strictly for men!
- Around the wrist. Tie into a mini-sized square scarf into a knot. A small to medium-sized square scarf may be wrapped around the wrist multiple times.
- Around the ankle or on shoes. Tie one onto your ankle as described above, or swap out the leather straps on a pair of summer wedges with thin, small scarves.
- Tied to a hat. Cute on many styles, from structured fedoras to floppy straw hats!
- Worn as a belt. Twist and loop a long, thin scarf through the belt-loops of your jeans. Tie in the back for a clean line, allow the ends to hang at the front of your hip or tie into a loose bow. Scarves can also be worn at the natural waist as a belt closure for a wrap sweater or trench-style coat. Tie the scarf in a clean knot at the front of use a large scarf to create an obi-belt effect.
- Worn as a top. Large square scarves can be worn as a halter top, as perfected by Hermes. Hold the scarf by two corners and tie behind the neck, creating a cowl at the neckline. Gather the other two corners and tie at the lower back. Extra-large square scarves and sarongs can be wrapped and secured as a strapless top.
- Worn as a skirt. Extra-large square scarves and sarongs can be worn as skirts, simply wrapped around the hips and secured or corner-folded and tied at the hip, exposing one thigh. It’s typically considered a beach look, but a beautiful scarf paired with a simple, black scoop ballerina-style bodysuit and flats looks chic enough for casual entertaining. Just make sure the scarf is large enough to wrap around the body at least once…no exposed thighs!
- Gift wrapping. Square scarves are a fabulous (and eco-friendly) way to wrap up a small hostess gift like a book or candle.