By Donna Ghelerter
Scarves have been an enduring fashion accessory for hundreds of years, ranging from humble bandannas to luxurious silks. Worn by women around the neck or as a head cover, scarves protect modesty or promote attention. Using basic shapes of cloth, typically triangular, square, or rectangular, scarves lend themselves to a wide variety of ornamentation. Scarves are commonly printed, but the techniques of weaving, batik, painting, and embroidery are also used to create scarf designs. While the scarf’s popularity has fluctuated throughout its history, in certain decades of the twentieth century scarves were essential fashion items, glamorized by dancers, movie stars, socialites, fashion illustrators, and photographers. Scarves accentuate an outfit, provide covering for the neck or head, and serve as a canvas for decorative patterns and designers’ names.
In eighteenth-century Western fashions, bodices were cut revealingly low, requiring a piece of cloth, known as a fichu, to cover a woman’s chest. Worn around the neck and crossed or tied at the bosom, fichus were either triangular or square in shape. Fichus were often made of white cotton or linen finely embroidered in whitework; others were of colored silks with rich embroidery. This style of scarf continued into the early nineteenth century, but as fashions shifted, chests were covered by bodices and large shawls predominated as accessories.