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History of Scarves

January 25th, 2023 | 160 views
History of Scarves

When I wear a silk scarf I never feel so definitely like a woman, a beautiful woman

~Audrey Hepburn 

A symbol of femininity, scarves are one of those accessories which evoke a sense of docility apart from looking sophisticated and elegant. These can be worn as a necessity to keep oneself warm, or as a fashion accessory. Hence these come in a number of shapes and sizes and patterns to seamlessly blend into the wardrobes of any woman. This also shows how versatile a scarf is because it pairs so well with any outfit. As patrons of these luxury accessories, we delve into their history, origins and current trends. 

Origin of The Scarf

To find the origins of the scarf, history took us to ancient Egypt, where a famous queen was the first to don a scarf. She is believed to wear it as a head scarf. But in those times it wasn't only women who wore scarves, nowadays the maximum users of scarves are women. In those times men and women alike were equal audiences to scarves and knew ways to wear them in the most elegant ways. It is believed that in ancient Rome, men used scarves to dry their sweat before the accessories became a trend. 

In the East, scarves are believed to be worn by military personnel to show their ranks. It is during this time that Napoleon gifted his wife a Cashmere scarf. While she was sceptical to wear it or give it away, later she is believed to own over 400 Cashmere scarves in her entire life. However, the journey was long, and it wasn't an overnight success like current fast fashion trends are. These accessories took their time to spread wings around the globe and fruitfully did so. 

Introduction of Cashmere Scarves 

Empress Josephine in Kani pashmina Shawl
Empress Josephine in Kani Pashmina Scarf

When Cashmere scarves were introduced in the 18th century, they became the epitome of high fashion among women. The paisley motif was especially famous when it came to Cashmere, as a town in Scotland named ‘Paisley’ was the first town to manufacture like those owned by Josephine (wife of Napoleon). Paisley was home to over 5000 weavers and the wraps that they manufactured were much more popular in those times. In the latter half of the 19th century, however, the shawl and scarf trend experienced a decline, as women's wardrobes emerged otherwise. 

Use in Wars

What started as a hobby for women, became an essential service later. Knitting scarves by women was now a duty of women whose knit scarves were sent to soldiers in wars to keep them warm and safe during wartime. It was more of a patriotic duty than just a hobby they carried out in their free time. It is surprising to know that what is nowadays considered an old-fashioned hobby would have saved the lives of a large number of soldiers fighting for their country. Troops fighting in harsh, cold and wet conditions were supplied with these knit scarves, which they cherished and craved badly during wartime.

It is said that pilots used to wear white silk scarves to keep their necks from irritation. The softness and smooth texture of silk would prevent the skin from chafing. During the first world war, silk played a major role, as silk bags were used during wars. After the wars, these silk bags were converted to either garments or scarves. 

From Necessity to Fashion

As the trends of silk rolled out all over the west, many clothing brands started their own offerings in silk. Brands designed lightweight silk scarves that were again the need of the hour for the war-based nations. The eclectic prints and colours used in these uplifted the moods of soldiers whose homelands had turned to battlefields.

Hermes first silk scarf in 1937
Hermes first silk scarf in 1937

In the year 1937, it was Hermes, a fashion brand which imported Chinese silk and transformed it into opulent square silk scarves. Chinese silk was considered more durable and strong. The same designs are still used in Hermes scarves, along with the 90cm * 90cm size and hand-painted details. 

The only problem with silk was that they were quite expensive for the majority of the population. Hence a new fabric emerged in the 1930s. It was called rayon or Viscose and could emulate silk easily. It was hence called artificial silk because it was exactly like silk, but not even half of its price!

The trend of silk scarves continued to prosper till the outbreak of the second world war. During this period, scarves suddenly vanished as women took odd jobs, like those of men. Women started to work in factories where luxurious accessories had no place. They were forced to wear fit clothes, and it was ensured that not even their long luscious hair would show. Colours used for clothing women were dull pastel shades, and materials used were inexpensive cotton and linens. 

Scarves after the War

After the second world war, the fashion world cherished the brilliant coloured scarves used once. During this time, pattern scarves made their way into the fashion world. Ascher - a textile company, introduced several designs from leading designers around the world. Around 50 artists contributed and introduced some innovative scarves on rayon fabric because other fabrics faced shortages post-war. These were called “Artists Squares”. 

Silk Scarves Reintroduced in Fashion World

Silk scarves were postponed less and they quickly reemerged in the fashion world. The material itself was full of sheen and the colours over it looked even more brilliant and warm. Hermes again grew in popularity, and celebrities like Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly were seen donning silk scarves in their movies. Many celebrities chose the Hermes Silk scarves themselves whenever they marched down the streets of New York. Hence the silk scarves gained popularity again, and soon became a symbol of elegance, power and femininity. 

It was Hermes alone who gained the most notoriety. Whilst Audrey Hepburn wore these scarves around her neck, other celebrities wore these as headbands. Grace Kelly would wear Hermes silk scarves, at times, as arm slings. Even Queen Elizabeth II was spotted wearing her Hermes silk scarf on the famous postage stamp.

During this time, scarves were more playfully designed. Not only them, but even outfits captured the optimism and depicted women as cheerful and good-natured. Head scarves were specially chosen by the rich and famous women to showcase this luxury piece, besides giving them privacy when needed. With large sunglasses and the headscarf, celebrities and rich women often kept a level of anonymity when they didn't want to be seen in public.

The popularity of silk did not remain confined to the rich only. In 1930, a famous restaurant in New York started giving away customised silk scarves to their regular customers. The designs kept changing year to year, and these luxury accessories still remain iconic in terms of collectables and are much sought after. 

Scarves as Luxury Adornments

Many big brands in these times transferred their signature styles to scarves so as to enjoy the same feel in accessorising. For example, the famous Burberry tartan check was now featured in scarves, and women who couldn't afford a Burberry trench coat could not buy a scarf instead, just to own the signature check. This step was crucial in a marketing sense, as it gave these brands more recognition and acceptance all over the world. It also gave women a chance to show off their purchases with big brands. 

Similarly, Chanel used chains in their scarves to imitate the chains used in their bags. They made most of the 80's bold and confident fashion trends. These designs remained memorable, not just then but even now. 

Scarves decline in the ’90s

With a large number of cheaper alternatives emerging in the 90s, silk started declining and made space for alternatives. The same bright and vivid designs could be printed on these cheaper materials and that too at the fraction of the prices of doing the same on silk. The processes, as well as dyes used for these alternatives, proceed cheaper. Hence, silk lost the battle to those accessories which didn't look and feel luxurious like silk, but was more innovative and less expensive. Now silk scarves were no longer a must-have for women's wardrobes and soon vanished from the limelight.

It was during this time that travel eased much. The majority of the population did travel to far-off places and this was the case with fashion influencers too. Designers took inspiration from fashions and trends all over the world and tried reviving some designs from the past. For example, Pashmina shawls, which were worn by only the rich and affluent, were transformed into daily wear accessories for then-modern women. Now Cashmere scarves were a practical adornment and not just a flaunt-worthy accessory. 

The Rise of Cashmere

changra goat
The Ladakhi Cashmere Goat

Cashmere scarves gained hyper impetus, as they were unmatched in quality till this period. They were considered unique and rare, owing to them being handcrafted out of wool from Cashmere goats reared in the Ladakh region of Kashmir. Their exclusive weaves, fine texture, smooth pattern and exceptional warmth attracted a large following. 

Pashmina comes from “Pashm” which literally translates to “soft gold” in the Persian language. Pashmina is the art of handcrafted luxury fabric out of Cashmere wool. The Cashmere goats are reared by nomadic tribes in Ladakh, who live at high altitudes that witness temperatures as low as -40 degrees C. For this reason, the Cashmere goat grows a fine undercoat that keeps them warm in winter. As temperatures rise in Spring, the coat is shed as a result of moulting, and this wool is collected to craft Cashmere scarves, Pashmina shawls and more.

It was these Cashmere scarves whose fashion rose to its zenith in the 90s. These were a woman's best friends in colder seasons. When clothing changed and sleeveless dresses were in, it was Cashmere scarves which covered the bare arms and chests of queens and women from noble courts. 

Modernisation of Scarves

As time went by, scarves too became contemporary. They adapted to new styles which could blend into fast lives. The ever-changing demand of the fashion industry forced clothing and accessories to change. As a result, brands reinvented their products. For example, Hermes reintroduced the scarves in a twill pattern and called it a ‘twilly’. These were often worn around the straps of handbags, as they were long and thin or around the wrists of women as bracelets or simply arm accessories. They were also used as headbands or hair ties with brilliant colours and prints. Very recently, Twilly scarves are seen being used as belts fastened around waists. 

patterned pashmina shawl
The contemporary designs shower the songs of heritage with the touch of a modernistic approach

In a similar way, Cashmere scarves too were revamped. These were not just plain or embroidered now, but featured a large number of contemporary patterns. Cashmere scarves were reintroduced in tartan checks, plaids, laced ones, modish prints and patterns and chic ombre dyes. These were made available and feasible for everyday use, as opposed to their earlier uncommon wear. Printed and patterned Cashmere scarves could be used as everyday accessories in colder seasons, as they were travel friendly as well as comparatively inexpensive. Initially, when discovered in the 18th century, these could not be afforded by commoners. But the modernisation of the same made it economical and pocket friendly. Nowadays, Cashmere scarves have modernised even more, and many additional patterns can be seen featured in these scarves. The Swarovski studded Cashmere scarf is a recent innovation, and these look breathtakingly beautiful. 


Why do we believe Cashmere scarves are the best?

do rukha pashmina
Here in this masterpiece, the artisan has woven the shawl in an Aksi Do Rukha or reversible pattern, where one side of the shawl is the mirror image of the other - both hand embroidered for over a period of 4 long years

While commonly scarves of different materials are worn for different occasions, Cashmere scarves are such accessories which suit all needs and occasions. The reason for their versatility is perhaps the way they have adapted to modern needs. Hence, this timelessness and conformability of these make us believe that these might be the best option for women today. Men and women of every age can wear Cashmere scarves on different occasions. Therefore, today, we have Cashmere scarves for your 10-year-old to wear to a casual occasion, as well as traditional pieces for your granny to wear to a wedding. And while there exists every kind of Cashmere scarf for women, there are even more luxurious pieces for men. Men look exceptional in Kani scarves, embroidered Cashmere wraps and the most minimal solid Cashmere scarves.

If you are planning to buy a scarf, we believe that Cashmere might be the best choice. Be it the softness that is as luxurious as the most expensive silk, its smooth like butter texture, its immense warmth that caresses one like the summer sun, or the exceptionally stylish variation, Cashmere stands out as the winner for winters, spring and fall.



We are totally mesmerised by the versatility and functionality of scarves. Our love affair with these accessories might never end, as the possibilities of it being a must-have seem endless. Be it solid pieces, prints, embroideries, or be it made from silk, Cashmere, wool or rayon, we just can't get enough of them. These fine accessories mutate from one form to another with such grace and dignity that we are left speechless, wanting more. Other than being our favourite article of comfort and protection, they uplift the style quotient in a jiffy. Whether you wear it as a headscarf, bag accessory, alternative to bracelets (Twilly), or a protective wrap when the winter chills hit you, scarves will remain the uncrowned king of accessorizing, as they were then. 

Be your own stylist and wear these versatile accessories in whatever style you want. After all, haven't audiences been the best inspirations for designers? Wear the one that suits your mood, temperament, the weather and the occasion and look the best version of yourself.


We, Pashmina.com, are the largest curators of pure and handcrafted Pashmina products in the online space. We are on a mission to revive this dying art by spreading our wings throughout the world by way of our online platform. Our website serves as a window to our range of products that are luxurious and have the highest quality. We offer the widest range, certified quality, luxurious packaging and free shipping to over 150 countries.

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