A simple cut of fabric: brief history of the scarf

A brief look into our beloved scarf, the perfect Mother’s day gift

A cloth to cover the body and/or veil the head and face - painted, written and spoken of in most every civilisation that rules and established themselves throughout the world.

A swath of cloth has historically symbolised social status, religious affiliation & devotion, military rank, marital status, denote political statements, and more recently a style choice and accessory.

Scarves through History

The earliest known recorded reference is an Assyrian text from 13th Century B.C. The text describes covering one’s hair with cloth and noted it was “reserved for aristocratic women” to show their rank and status.

However, long before recorded in this text the Ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Persian societies all engaged in the practice of veiling.

In Early Jewish traditions the veil was used to measure of piety. In Judaism, women who were married were required to cover their hair; this is a practice still observed in some Orthodox Jewish communities today.

Muslim society embraced the veil and modest dress for both men and women. The word “hijab,” means partition or curtain in Arabic, and was never gender specific of its wearer.

In many religions men are just as likely to be seen covering their heads as women; the Jewish kippah, yarmulke or tallit katan having been worn by men for hundreds of years; the kaffiyeh, a traditional Middle Eastern head covering; the Sikh turban, known as a dastaar..

Jewish Rabbi in his adorned tallit, Israel

Jewish Rabbi in his adorned tallit, Israel

Portrait of a Woman, 1430-1435  Robert Camin (wearing a wimple)

Portrait of a Woman, 1430-1435

Robert Camin (wearing a wimple)

In the 7th century, the heads of married European women were covered with wimples, headdresses that concealed not just the hair but also the neck and chin as a show of modesty and rank. The wimple later spread to women of lower social status, eventually dying out by the end of the Middle Ages in the 15th century.

Regency era to the end of the 1860s, there was no fashion accessory as versatile and ubiquitous as the shawl At the time called a ‘Fichu’: A piece of fabric worn lightly draped on the upper chest and usually knotted in front. Providing modesty, as well as adding individual flair through fine textiles: lace edged or embroidered.

By the 19th century, cashmere (or Kashmir) shawls were at the forefront of elegant fashion in scarves and wraps, as Indian wares made their way around the world.

In Christianity, veiling was a requirement for women who entered church, and Virgin Mary is often painted, carved and depicted with a head cover. From 1917 to the 1980’s the Catholic Church required women to cover their heads during mass.

During the 1920’s; Scarves took on a political voice as sashes worn by Suffragettes with ‘Votes for Women’ painted and embroidered on them.

Suffragette ‘Vote for Women’ Scarf  Silk, Britain, 1910

Suffragette ‘Vote for Women’ Scarf

Silk, Britain, 1910

Alexander McQueen Spring Summer 2013

Alexander McQueen Spring Summer 2013

In the 1930’s the Arab Revolt saw the keffiyeh (woven cotton scarf) become a symbol of Palestinian nationalism, and this cloth is still worn, albeit recently by a fashion crowd and non-Palestinians to this day.

In Britain during WWII, scarves depicted Nationalist sentiments, and propaganda campaigns.

As we leap forward to the 21st C, scarves still represent a political voice, or religious devotion (Habited nuns, Hijabed Muslim women, Jewish men wearing the kippah, turbaned Sikh men) as well as being an accessory included in most fashion houses collections, and a symbol of status and taste.

This simple cut of fabric has shown itself to be versatile, respect-showing, freedom-demanding and beautiful in our course of history.

We love that we design something that has such a strong heritage & history and will continue to in the future.

Read More / References:

Liana, A. “The Complicated History of Headscarves.” Racked. Dec 20, 2106. Mar 15, 2019 <https://www.racked.com/2016/12/20/13988300/head-scarves-history-hijab-gele>

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