The history of the scarf

From Queen Nefertiti to Audrey Hepburn, the scarf has adorned some of the most influential people in the world, is it possibly one of the most timeless accessories?

Let’s take a step back in scarf history, really far back in time!

The earliest recorded evidence of a scarf is found on Queen Nefertiti who was depicted wearing a finely woven scarf with a conical headdress in 1350 BC, that’s 3369 years ago!! This is the earliest recorded scarf; I have no doubt that its history goes even further.

The scarf reappears in 883 BC on the statue of the Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II. He is depicted wrapped in a fringed shawl, rather an extravagant look I must say! History becomes a little more fuzzy after this because 2 separate cultures are recorded to have adopted the scarf for military use and its either in the Ancient Romans in the 700s BC or the Chinese in 259 BC, depending on whether the Ancient Romans used the scarf as far back as their first armies.

The Ancient Roman soldiers adopted the use of a scarf called a Sudarium (later known as a focale), which is Latin for sweat cloth, used to both wipe sweat from the face and blood off the sword.

In 259 BC Emperor Qin Shi Huang of China adopted the use of scarves made of different cloth and colour to identify ranks within his own army. These scarves can be seen on the famous terracotta soldiers.

Either of these historical moments signify when the history of the modern scarf that we understand to be a scarf begins and it’s a little less glamourous than one would hope.

scarf wearing terracotta soldiers and roman focale

Okay now let’s wind the timeclock of scarf history forward to relatively modern history.

In 1625 the Croatian Light Cavalry is formed and known as the Croats. They wore red or black scarves; officers wore silk and other ranks wore cotton. These scarves were both decorative as well as useful for the same reasons the Sudarium was. This mercenary army gained huge notoriety across southern Europe, many went to France to fight alongside the French army who referred to the soldiers as Cravats, I think you can see where this is going! Cravats soon become cravate which is French for scarf and necktie. This fashion spread like wildfire across France and soon found it’s way to the UK with the return of the exiled King Charles, have you noticed that the scarf is now shifting to a fashion item?

I hope I haven’t bored you with all that nitty gritty. Now we are on to the first renaissance of the silk scarf when its purpose begins to rapidly shift from functional to fashion icon.

The year is 1837 and Queen Victoria ascends to the throne bringing the silk scarf along as well as her own hand knitted and crochet scarves. Immediately the style becomes synonyms with luxury, both the material and even the knot of your scarf become indications of your social class across the UK and Europe. By the time her reign and life ended in 1901 she had made the scarf a staple of women’s wardrobes and the popularity of the scarf had allowed scarf manufacturers to develop techniques using a wide range of materials.

Along came Hermes! In 1937 The French equestrian brand launched their first printed silk scarf designed by Robert Dumas of the Hermes Family. The silk Yarn was imported from China to Lyon where it was woven and printed using a silk screen, a mainstay technique of fashion printing industry. Hermes was propelled into the limelight and went from successful equestrian company to luxury fashion goliath. Silk scarves became a major hit with royalty and celebrities with the likes of Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Brigitte Bardot, Faye Dunaway, Lauren Bacall, Bianca Jagger, and Jackie Kennedy all donning a silk scarf. Queen Elizabeth adopted them as headscarves and has never looked back, she wears an array of different brands now; one can only hope that maybe one day she will wear a Dalliance & Noble!

The silk scarves second renaissance

Sadly, during the 80s, 90s and even early noughties the silk scarf took and back seat as the rapidly developing craze for poly fabrics, lurid colours, modernity and throw away fashion gripped the western world. Sadly, the throw away fashion craze somehow managed to hold on for a lot longer! 2003 saw the silk scarf re appear thanks to the now famous skull design by Alexander McQueen, slowly brands began to adopt the scarf and its popularity has since been growing both with offerings from the big fashion houses and more unique designs coming from small independent brands.

I think we are due another scarf renaissance and I believe we are on the cusp of one, fashion is becoming more maximalist, colour is in, and vintage is cool again. Vive la silk scarf (hopefully for another 3369 years)!


View the Dalliance & Noble silk scarf range here