Hotels in India » Fashion in India » Scarves



Square, triangular, or rectangular with tassels at the ends – scarves have come of age as they move from beaches into schools, colleges, workplaces and even parties. In fact they have become the final word in finishing a look.

Scarves are no longer simply a square or long narrow strip of material worn for warmth round the neck or tied round the head. They have left behind the peasant-inspired look and have crashed onto the beaches, in colleges, evening out, day-time casual wear and the fashion magazines. Suddenly they are in vogue and, along with bags, shoes, belts and jewellery, have become the accessories of the moment.

Covering the head had religious connotations among the Hindus, Christians, Parsis and Muslims. For many years sin Indian the sari-pallav or the dupatta or odhani has served this purpose. But the scarf came in, in all probability, with the British and stayed on, improving in quality and quantity. Today, it boasts of the newest way to finish a ‘look.’

Its origin is steeped in history from the time it made its appearance during the Elizabethan era. It was a triangular piece of material worn over the front of the head with the point either to the front or to the back of the neck. The purpose of his was not completely understood as it accompanied a coif which was a close fitting cap worn at night and during illness as well as for indoor day wear as a foundation for hoods and hats. At that time they were made of plain linen or fustian (a mixture of cotton and wool with a silky finish) and embellished with cut-work or embroidery in silk, gold and silver.

During the 17th century when necklines were low, exposing the shoulders and upper half of breasts, a variety of scarves served, at least partially, to conceal nudity. Mufflers were worn by middle class women. This was a kind of scarf or half-hand-kerchief which covered the lower part of the face and was fastened behind the head, probably intended as a protection against the severe winters. In the mid-18th century came the Ranelagh mob, a square of fine material folded diagonally and placed over the head with the ends fastened under the chin or crossed over the throat and tied at the back. This fashion was said to have been copied from the market women who tied up their hair in this manner. Turban style caps also came onto the scene during this time. They usually consisted of a scarf or length of light weight material draped or twisted around the head in various ways, sometimes with hanging ends. Jewels and feathers were added as decorations.

Influences of Greek and Parisian trends in the later part of the 18th century and early 19th century led to wearing of long, wide scarves. A ‘madras’ turban consisted of a silk or cotton scarf, patterned in bright colours such as blue and orange, tied like a bandanna and fastened with a flower or brooch on the top, left hand side. Another rpopular style during the Victorian period, especially for evening wear, was a turban made of narrow gauze or lace scarves.

The war years in the 1940s marked a decline in ostentatious dressing which also included dispensing with the hat. When a head covering was required, a long scarf or piece of material was wound around the head and knotted on top to form a turban. Or a large square piece of cloth could be arranged in a similar fashion. Hats, when worn during this time, were small, some worn at the back of the head. In the winter of the mid-40s, many women draped the hat with scarves which could be attached to the side, back or crown, a look appropriate to the severe weather of the early moths of the year. Turbans became popular again. Lengths of fabric were folded closely round the head and tied at the back or side. Triangular pieces had the ends tied behind the head or perhaps crossed over and brought forward to be knotted over the forehead. These, and more sophisticated versions, were so arranged as to hide the hair completely.

Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Channel, the single most important woman designer of the ‘50s, introduced the triangular scarf again as an accessory along with chunky glass bead necklaces.

The wearing of scarves, everywhere, on all occasions, has since been a matter of choice and not compulsion and therefore could rate as fashion. It has proved to be a lasting vogue for head-squares have ever since graced royal and aristocratic as well as plebian heads and necks and are often rich and elegant and printed with beautiful original designs. Scarves can be worn in any number of ways. By simply draping them around the shoulders so that they fall in soft folds or secured with a huge jeweled pin over one shoulder. Another variety of the turban could come from patterned squares, which are ideal for twisting into turbans which could be tied high on the head in a cluster of large knots. A look that’s full eastern promise can be created with a collection of exotic chiffon scarves braided into the hair or bound tightly round a long ponytail. An extra length can be tied loosely at the end so that fine wisps can float over bare shoulders for a seductive touch. High-flying evenings could demand the sophistication of delicate silks. A flash of vibrant colour can be added with a long, vivid scarf length pinned high on a chic chignon and then left to drape demurely over one shoulder.

Where ‘V’ necks of varying degrees, either at the back of front are worn, often a scarf is knotted at the base. A recent example which turned into a trend0setter, was that of Princess Diana during her visit to Pakistan. Dressed in pink pearl-encrusted gown designed by Katherine Walker, she arrived at the President’s banquet with an addition to the ensemble. In keeping with Muslim custom, she modestly covered its plunging back neckline with a long silk chiffon scarf.

The fashion of wearing scarves round the neck really set in during and after the Second World War. They were printed silk or rayon with regimental badges as motifs. They could be knitted in wool with fringed edges. The square piece could be draped round the neck and tied at the back or side of the neck. These could also be seen outdoors where their prime purpose was to keep the hair confined. And they can still be seen in places of worship of women of all religions where covering the head is mandatory as a sign of respect.

Indian textiles are a part of the decorative arts that reflect something fundamental in the traditional way of life. And, as such, the array of scarves produced from these forms are as numerous as the variety of materials in the country. Most of these are exported or find popularity among the overseas visitors who find their exotic designs, colours and fabric rather fascinating.

India has a long standing tradition of dyeing, printing and weaving. The earliest proof being the discovery of a fragment of cloth in Mohenjodaro showing dyeing was prevalent prior to 2000 BC. From the north, Rajasthan in particular, comes what is known as tie-dye. The chunari which is worn as the wedding scarf figures most often in the folk songs and love lyrics of this region. Its design has inspired the scarf. The work is usually intricate and detailed. Elephants, birds flowers and charming dancing dolls are tie-dyed to form traditional designs. Or the bandhani work is scattered over the scarf in isolated dots or in dots grouped to form simple geometric designs. Ikat is another kind of tie-dye. The difference is that the warp and weft threads are dyed separately by the tie-dye process before weaving. The traditional patterns are geometrical designs in the centre filed with an 8-9 inch border. These scarves, locally called rumals came from Pochampalli or Chirale in Andhra Pradesh. While the former village preferred geometric motifs, the latter wove flowers, birds, animals etc. Ikat was also woven in Gujarat.

Sanganer printing takes its name from the village situated 15 miles south-east of Jaipur in Rajasthan. Vegetable dyeing and printing is believed to have originated here. According to folklore, in the time of Sultana, the king of Sanganer, there lived a pious man named Namdeo. One night he dreamt of the process of vegetable dyeing which was explained to him in detail. The next morning he called his friends and instructed them on what to do. The people were grateful to Namdeo and accepted this craft as a gift of God. This became, for the poor villagers, not only their daily work and livelihood, but also a form of worship. This style of dyeing and block-printing won the patronage of the King and became very popular. Namdeo is even today worshipped by the printers of Rajasthan. Sanganeri printing is identified by its typical small motif, usually floral Pattern, printed on richly coloured cloth.

Moving further south from this state, Gujarat and Kathiawar are famed as the heart of cotton growing and printing belt. Cotton block printing and dyeing in this area traces its origin to the same ancient source as the Jain manuscripts of the 15th century. Motifs commonly used were peacocks, dolls, elephants and horses. Block printing in diagonal stripes called lahiria is also found on the fine cotton muslin scarves that come from this region.

In Batik, melted wax is applied in a design form on cloth (cotton or silk), which is then dipped in cool vegetable or now, chemical dyes. Areas covered by wax do not receive the dye and display a light pattern on the coloured ground. When the design is complete, the wax is removed in hot water. A cracking effect occurs when the dye seeps into the crack of hardened wax. Originated in Indonesia, it is a popular art of West Bengal.

For evening wear, scarves could be woven in silk with designs and motifs in gold and silver threads. These come from Varanasi, famed for its brocade weaves in sheer silk organzas or silks.