Knitted or woven, wool or silk; the humble scarf has a rather more illustrious history than you may imagine! Rather than simply being a practical item of clothing to keep your neck warm in winter weather, scarves have been worn for two millennia for reasons of style, practicality and military necessity.
One of the earliest uses of scarves was in Ancient China. There, knotted neck scarves were worn by the military. They had a fairly practical purpose: different colours of scarf represented different ranks. Evidence for this can be seen in Ancient Chinese art dating back as far as 1000 BC.
Another early historical group to grasp the fashion significance of scarves were the Romans. In the late Roman empire all gentlemen were expected to wear a band of linen cloth around their neck or waist. These early scarves were known as ‘sudariums’. Emperor Nero was particularly well known for his sudarium appreciation, and his much-loved scarves can even be seen on some coins from the period.
Despite this early historical scarf wearing, it wasn’t until 1660 when they made it over to England. Scarves had been popular in the French court for some time prior to this, and King Charles II brought the fashion back over here when he returned from exile. They didn’t become as ubiquitous as they are today, however, until Victorian England.
Queen Victoria herself was said to be a fan of scarves for both women and men. During her reign they became something of a status symbol: the more luxurious your scarf the richer you were likely to be. It’s also worth noting that the actual way gentlemen chose to tie their scarf had implications for their perceived social class.
Finally, the scarf’s usefulness in modern wardrobe’s was confirmed in WW1 when pilots and aviators began to wear them in the skies.
Interested in reading more about the history of men’s fashion? Read our Royal History of Waistcoats.