The simple scarf has a remarkable history that many people may not be aware of. The very first uses of scarves are unclear with historians and archaeologists differing in their assessment of the very first use of scarves.
Archaeologists believe that the first use of scarves (silk or otherwise) as an adornment was about 2000 years ago. In 1974 there was a discovery of a huge tomb dating back to ancient China about 260BC. This tomb held more than 7000 Chinese warrior figurines who had pieces of cloth wrapped around their necks.
May historians believe china may well have been the birthplace of the “scarf” but a few centuries later. Around 230BC the Chinese Emperor Cheng used pieces of cloth wrapped around the necks of his warriors to designate rank. His “officer” warriors wore silk scarves and the ordinary rank warriors were issued with cotton scarves.
Ancient Egyptians used scarves as an indication of social status and authority. Ancient drawings show even Queen Nefertiti wearing a scarf under her conically shaped headdress – ancient writings of the time seemed to indicate that the Queen’s scarves were made from silk.
The Roman Empire furthered the tradition of silk scarves which they often wore as a sign of social status either around their necks or their waists. In ancient Rome they used pieces of cloth to clean their faces after exercise and it soon became an essential accessory. These scarves were either tied around their belts or simply hung over their shoulders. The higher social standing Romans preferring silk for their scarves.
Can you picture the scenes on the day Julius Caesar was assassinated by the Roman senators – they were all probably wearing togas and silk scarves. Even Emperor Nero insisted on wearing scarves and he was probably adorned with his favorite silk piece as he watched Rome burn to the ground.
As early as the 17th century Croatian soldiers and mercenaries rampaging through Europe wore silk scarves to signify their rank.
Around about the same time there are stories about Napoleon Bonaparte being obsessed with Indian silk scarves and the famous composer, Beethoven who would not consider performing without having his clothing adorned with one of his silk scarves.
By the late 17th century when the Croatian army arrived in Paris as part of their numerous victory celebrations, their soldiers wore scarves as a flamboyant accessory and king Louis 14th was immediately smitten with this type of accessory. He is reported to have created a special royal court position responsible solely for the acquisition and care of the King’s Royal silk scarves.
During the French revolution of the 18th century massive scarves called “incroyables” were all the rage and their very size required special training in order to master the skill of tying and arranging these huge pieces of fabric.
One truly ironic chapter in the history of silk scarves involved the Emperor of Russia, Pavel the 1st. He disliked scarves so intensely that he had forbidden them to be worn by anyone in the Russian army. What is fascinating is that Emperor Pavel the 1st was assassinated by being strangled with a forbidden Russian army officer silk scarf!
Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries the popularity of silk scarves grew rapidly and not just for the privileged higher class. Today in the early 21st century silk scarves are not only fashionable but large silk scarf also one of the most versatile and enduring clothing accessories for men and women of all ages.