The Art and Trouble with a Silk Scarf
One of the highlights of doing any scarf show is about meeting fellow textile lovers. Although not all fans of the silk scarf, they are keen to tell me their thoughts on the accessory and I’m thrilled to hear them. I’ve been storing up these conversations, the highs and lows of the surprisingly divisive item. It made me think it might be time to consider my own ode to the silk scarf.
As C F McEwan develops, I feel I’ve been growing into the way of the silk scarf, trying to wear them most days of the week, trying out new ways to make them work for me – they can take a bit of getting used to. I’m interested in why a silk scarf can feel so personal. How can I encourage more people to give them a go? How to help bring those carefully tissue-wrapped beauties out of the drawer? Sadly that’s where most people tell me they keep them.
For me, the best silk scarf falls equally between the decorative and the functional. I love the comfort of the silk. Wearing it regularly softens up the fibres and gets rid of that crisp, orderly way of a silk scarf. That ‘done up’ feel. I am not remotely the done-up type! So I share those worries of being overly formal. Although I do love the way it was worn in the 50’s – see Cate Blanchett’s look from the film Carol. Breathtaking costume and total art of the scarf, but perhaps an intimidating style to follow in our own, everyday 2016.
Cate Blanchett in the film Carol
So how to undo the formality of a silk scarf?
It might sound too simple, but works for me – I often wear mine with trainers and it immediately eases any tension in my mind and my stride. The sporty shoe trend is going nowhere. I trick myself I’m only half dressed up and I can still run about in a hurry.
I’ll wear a bold scarf to a function for courage. A formal occasion doesn’t have to assume a formal attitude. You’ve heard the saying, everyone wants to talk to the person in the hat. Well I think next in line is the person in the scarf! I’ve had a lot of feedback from people telling me their scarf made them feel like themselves, a personal touch in a possibly stuffy occasion. Scarves are always a conversation starter.
I loved hearing about Grace Kelly wearing her Hermes scarf to cover a plaster cast. An alternative accessory! – mild perhaps, but a sweet solace if we fall over (especially for a Hermes!)
Grave Kelly wearing a silk scarf by Hermes
“Those modern square scarves are too big!
There seems concerns about just what to do with them. It can help to have a few styles you can tie with eyes closed. Getting used to the fabric between your hands. A large square scarf means so many more options, make it look full and dramatic or fold it neat and discreet – not to be feared. Have a look at the excellent scarf styling video by Nordstrom, (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=-ExVRCJ0Jrw) 16 scarf ideas with 4 different scarf shapes. Explore the shapes you can style for yourself without relying on a mirror and feel 100 times more scarf confident!
A podcast was recommended to me recently – about managing self confidence. In it, the host talks about the trigger of the mirror. The self critic being awakened as we pass by the mirror. She thinks if the mirror can lower confidence, then we prepare for it by dressing up – projecting the image of our power. I’m sure it’s the same way people use suits and shoes. A scarf can offer a signal to ourselves, an intention to show up.
I wear my scarf to freshen an old coat, which might look worn-in up close – disguising it with a vibrant, printed scarf makes it last another season. I’ll wear my scarf with a jumper, no doubt a tad bobbly. Enjoying the combination of wool and silk. The clothes may feel aged, but when silk is worn on the neck and against the face, it can add lustre, softness and colour – it can be rejuvenating. For some paired down silk scarf/jumper inspiration, have a look at 90’s film Intersection. Sharon Stone’s character does everyday silk beautifully.
Sharon Stone in the film Intersection
Scarf on the mind…
As well as a confidence boost, I think scarves can also be a mood enhancer. Colour tells us a story, to ourselves and others. Giving out energy, like Tiger Woods wearing red on the final day of the Open. There seems a navy, grey and black corporate code out there, throw in some colour and change the conversation. Make your inner mood match your exterior.
If I think a little deeper about my scarf wearing, I see it as a constant. Forgive me, this may just be a wistful moment…at times it feels life is made up of mini losses. A busy week, month, year, full of partings – frequent goodbyes and talk soons. In those moments between leaving and arriving my scarf is a comfort, just a fancier one than when I was three! A slice of me when feeling mildly adrift.
They can be trouble, these silk scarves, they’re expensive, slip off the back of a chair, be stood on or left on the train. But choose well (and be careful!) and this fabric will become part of us – silent keepers of our memories. There are fewer possessions I am attached to these days, attempting to have less stuff in my life, but dammit, scarves are destined to remain with me.
From the silk lovers…
I asked around for some views from other silk scarf owners out there, to build a broader picture. From a variety of ages between 20 and 70 years, here’s what they said….
“I like to wear silk scarves for a few reasons; firstly, I’m quite a scrappy girl, was always a tomboy as a kid and often find clothes shopping horrendous – with a silk scarf you can wear quite basic/cheap pieces underneath but still look super smart! Secondly, I travel light, and a silk scarf can fit in anywhere and be super versatile! I wear mine mostly round my neck like a cowboy, but have used it as a head scarf, a kimono coat and a shawl too! Thirdly, I love wool, but no matter how soft it is, my neck is still a little sensitive to the itch. Where as silk is so soft and light, you don’t even know it’s there!” Louise, co owner of Tayberry Gallery, Perth, Scotland
“Wearing a silk scarf is an intimate way of living with art. It becomes a bit of who you are.” Gretchen, Colorado, USA
“If I have to go out unexpectedly, with no time to get dressed as I would normally, thank goodness for my silk scarves. Once on I immediately feel I’m ready to meet anyone, reassured by the beauty of the scarves, drawing the eye away from the rest of my attire – giving me the confidence I didn’t know I had.” Anne Marie McEwan, Kent, England (my mum!)
“I love quality fabrics, I am passionate about quality in my own designs and I own a lot of pashminas but nothing beats the feel of a silk scarf. Quality is everything, you can’t replicate it with manmade fibres. It doesn’t come close. Definitely a tactile thing.” Eleanor, Devon, England, from Handmade by Ellie
“Scarves are a great way to make an elegant yet contemporary style statement! I do think the best thing about a silk scarf is that it can add a very personal element to your individual style. Invest in quality and go for timeless prints in a palette that compliments your existing wardrobe.” Gina, London, scarf label PIPET Design
“I wear a lot of black so my scarf is the perfect colour addition. I always get comments when I wear it. Perfect to dress up a simple T and skinny jeans for the evening. I throw on my scarf to a simple black day dress and I’m good to go for the evening.” Cristiana, London
“I absolutely love my silk scarf, it adds just the right amount of warmth and colour to a dark outfit on a cool winter day.” Aleema, Brighton, England.
Louise from Tayberry Gallery, Perth, Scotland
“Too many scarves already!”
Lucky you, I think when I hear this from customers! I keep mine on trouser hangers in a wardrobe I look in everyday, not hidden in unopened drawers. This helps me remember what designs and colours I can choose from. (If you’re worried about moths, keep the scarves in a coat bag zipped up and still very accessible to the rest of the wardrobe.) Someone described to me a creative challenge they set themselves – to wear a different scarf everyday and at the same time be inspired to wear more of their clothes.
My scarf will come off at some point through the day, so I use a little fabric bag to fold the scarf into loosely – preventing strong creases. It’s also protected from getting scratched by keys and other bag paraphanlia.
“Silk scarves are too extravagant for me”
I nearly didn’t comment on this, fearful of stating the obvious or making excuses. But I’d be ignoring an important and sensitive reason that keeps people away from silk scarves. “It’s just a scarf!” If it’s just about keeping warm or covering up, they suffer in competition with other, perfectly well performing fibres that cost much less.
So I speak instead about the intention behind these precious scarves. I think it’s about questioning our senses. How do we want to experience colour, texture and shape in our life? Is it through physical, visual, kinetic or emotional means? Does it need to have a story? I like to think our expression of these tastes can be unique, given enough time and consideration. It might be about choosing furniture, cushions, DIY, fashion, cars, bikes, paintings, fine arts, gadgets, trinkets, collections of things, joining a course or independent learning. I acknowledge we’re so fortunate if we can consider even of one of these as a choice rather than a need.
A silk scarf choice can combine some of these experiences. The physicality of wearing the cloth, seeing and responding to the colour, enjoying the story of the print, the softness of the fibre to touch. Rather than investing in a painting or ceramic or chair, the owner invests in art that is designed to be worn and can be part of their everyday life.
Myself, and many other brands out there, will work hard to demonstrate the value of our silk scarves; through the quality of material, beautiful finishing, good colour and original print design. Finally and perhaps unsung, the owner will have invested in another vital cost, the learning and practice by the maker that underpins all their work and every new piece into the future.
Caring for your scarf…
I heard a good tip from a silk producer in Vietnam. Wash your silk in cold water with a little hair shampoo. Silk is a protein, just like our hair, so treat it gently in the same way. Keep it out of direct sunlight. Don’t iron too close to the edges (silk fibres are more vulnerable here). Undo any knots in the scarf when not being worn – to prevent bruising the fibres.
Silk ages very well, it’s tougher than it looks, keeps you warm or cool as the temperature requires. Those natural fibres are clever, trapping air and breathing with you.
The scarf for life…
Many will tell you a silk scarf is an investment and a timeless piece – I couldn’t agree more, here’s to longer lasting, slower fashion. But a lot of style advice can sing that tune, with shoes, bags and coats too. That’s a lot of investment! More pressure to choose correctly – to get it right. So take your time, find out the colours that work for you. Silk scarves aren’t going anywhere. A friend had her ‘colours’ done recently and it has fast tracked her style choices forever more. ‘Colours’ are grouped into the four seasons, finding out she was an Autumn has saved a lot of hassle and uncertainty in the shops. Although I have new collections I present every season, there will always be opportunity to order from past seasons, just let me know if you have your eye on a design not in stock.
Feel fine about about trying on scarves in store and ask for help. Retailers have so much knowledge about personal styling. A good independent store will want you to be happy, not sell you something that doesn’t suit. I’m always struck by the care my stockists show towards customer service and depth of product information. I’ve watched them take their time with each customer. If you meet me and the scarves at a selling event, feel free to also try on, that’s the only way make a choice. On the hanger vs on the neck, the design can really change and it’s part of the fun!
Is your scarf going to be an everyday bit of luxury, maybe an unexpected gift, an inheritance, a holiday souvenir or one for that big wedding? However it comes into your life, embrace it – the silk scarf wants to stay!