A scarf is a piece of fabric worn around the neck or head for warmth, sun protection, cleanliness, fashion, or religious reasons or used to show the support for a sports club or team.
They can be made in a variety of different materials such as wool, linen, silk or cotton.
Scarfs can be tied in many ways including the pussy-cat bow, the square knot, the cowboy bib, the ascot knot, the loop, the necktie, and the gypsy kerchief. Scarfs can also be tied in various ways on the head.
In cold climates, a thick knitted scarf, often made of wool, is tied around the neck to keep warm. Also, the scarf could be used to wrap around the face and ears for additional cover from the cold.
In drier, dustier warm climates, or in environments where there are many airborne contaminants, a thin headscarf, kerchief, or bandanna is often worn over the eyes and nose and mouth to keep the hair clean. Over time, this custom has evolved into a fashionable item in many cultures, particularly among women.
Scarves that are used to cover the lower part of face are sometimes called a cowl.
The modern scarf has its origins all the way in Ancient Egypt, where the first recorded scarf was used by Queen Nefertiti who was said to have worn a “tightly woven scarf topped with a conical headdress” in 1350 BC.
The Statue of Ashurnasirpal II from the 9th century BC features the emperor wearing a shawl.
In Ancient Rome, the garment was used to keep clean rather than warm. It was called a focale or sudarium (sudarium from the Latin for “sweat cloth”), and was used to wipe the sweat from the neck and face in hot weather. They were originally worn by men around their neck or tied to their belt.
Historians believe that during the reign of the Chinese Emperor Cheng, scarves made of cloth were used to identify officers or the rank of Chinese warriors.
But it wasn’t until the 17th century when the use of silk scarves was an indication of class and status – Croatian soldiers of higher rank wore silk scarves while others were issued cotton ones.
In later times, scarves were also worn by soldiers of all ranks in Croatia around the 17th century. The only difference in the soldiers’ scarves that designated a difference in rank was that the officers had silk scarves whilst the other ranks were issued with cotton scarves. Some of the Croatian soldiers served as mercenaries with the French forces. The men’s scarves were sometimes referred to as “cravats” (from the French cravate, meaning “Croat”), and were the precursor of the necktie.
Emperor Pavel the First of Russia has such a dislike for silk scarves that he bans them from his army. The Emperor is killed in 1801, strangely enough strangled with a silk scarf.
In perhaps what could be considered the earliest instance of peacocking, Ludwig van Beethoven was the first to make the scarf a fashion statement in 1810, making over his look in the hopes to woo Austrian musician Therese Malfatti with his sharp suits, shirts, and silk scarves.
Then in 1837, a small French fashion house named Hermès – perhaps you’ve heard of them – produced the first ready-to-wear graphic silk scarf. And cashmere shawls with their distinctive Paisley pattern became so popular that even Queen Victoria bought one for herself in 1842. The scarf not only gave the wearer a sense of style but also indicated their social standing.
Silk scarves were used by pilots of early aircraft in order to keep oily smoke from the exhaust out of their mouths while flying. These were worn by pilots of closed cockpit aircraft to prevent neck chafing, especially by fighter pilots, who were constantly turning their heads from side to side watching for enemy aircraft.
Students in the United Kingdom traditionally wear academic scarves with distinctive combinations of striped colours identifying their individual university or college.
Since at least the early 1900s, when the phenomenon began in Britain, coloured scarves have been traditional supporter wear for fans of association football teams across the world, even those in warmer climates. These scarves come in a wide variety of sizes and are made in a club’s particular colours and may contain the club crest, pictures of renowned players, and various slogans relating to the history of the club and its rivalry with others.
The scarf became a real fashion accessory by the early 19th century for both men and women. By the middle of the 20th century, scarves became one of the most essential and versatile clothing accessories for both men and women.
The longest scarf knitted by a team measures 54.29 km (33.74 miles). It was knitted by the volunteers, friends and supporters of Ty Hafan – The Children’s Hospice in Wales. Work started in May 2002 and the scarf was measured at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, UK on 23 June 2005.
The longest knitted scarf measures 4,565.46 m (14,978 ft 6.16 in) long and was achieved by Helge Johansen (Norway), in Oslo, Norway, on 12 November 2013.
The longest fan scarf measured 1,192.5 m (3,912 ft 4.72 in) and was achieved by Salem Al Karbi (UAE), at Al Wasl Sports Club, in Dubai, UAE, on 27 March 2014.
The longest scarf knitted whilst running a marathon is 3.70 m (12 ft 1.75 in) and was knitted by David Babcock (USA) at the Kansas City Marathon in Kansas City, Missouri, USA, on 19 October 2013.