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Article 05 - April 2010

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FASHION CULTURE & HISTORY

Scarves: The French Have It Right

By Jessica Lynn Harris

Scarves: The French Have It Right

A scarf is one of the most varied and simplest of accessories. It is a favorite of both trendy and practical people because it offers both a mode of expression and warmth.

Although scarves come in many variations, we do not have many words to describe them. The wool tartan used for snowy days, wrapped once around the neck, is a very different accessory than the translucent floral print carefully tied to offset an outfit in the spring. We have beanie, newsboy, fedora, beret, cap, cloche, cowboy, garden, bowler, and more when it comes to naming hats, but our language is sadly lacking in terms of scarves.

Luckily, like during the Revolution, the French can help. There are two words for scarf in French (which explains why couture and chic are not our own): écharpe and foulard.

Une écharpe is what we might call a winter scarf: a knit, crocheted, or felted accessory made from long, rectangular wool or cashmere. It is used for keeping warm. While these scarves are beautiful, they are also practical. An écharpe can be a signature piece worn with a Burberry trench, as well as the hand-knit warm and fuzzy reminder of your mother’s love.

Une écharpe bought in Edinborough, Scotland.

Une écharpe bought in Scotland.

Hand crocheted écharpe.

Hand crocheted écharpe.

Un foulard translates as a “lightweight scarf” or a scarf worn for decoration. A foulard can be made from velvet, silk, satin, georgette, chiffon etc. Its shape is a triangle, square, or rectangle, which allows the scarf to be fashionably arranged and knotted in a myriad of ways. Foulards are often made with solids, floral prints, and paisleys.

Foulard bought in Florence, Italy.

Foulard bought in Florence, Italy.

Scarves worn for expression as opposed to practicality are appearing more and more throughout the States: as early as four years ago I noticed street venues in NYC offering them. Now, every H&M and Loft carries a variation. This trend introduces us to yet another word: Pashmina.

A pashmina, derived from the Persian word for wool, is a handspun, cashmere shawl. You likely already know this, but I have been given enough baffled looks when complimenting strangers on their pashminas to know now that most people refer to them as merely scarves or shawls. But pashminas are so much more. A pashmina is, in my opinion, the perfect balance of an écharpe and a foulard: it is large, woolen, and warm for winter, and it is feminine, delicate, and artfully draped for expression.

 Pashmina bought in Florence, Italy.

Pashmina bought in Florence, Italy.

So next time you shovel the driveway sporting your scarf, or attend a local art show in your other scarf, make a brief reference to it is as an écharpe, foulard, or pashmina with conviction. Your neighbor will nod wisely and pretend he understands your large vocabulary and worldly knowledge. 

 

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copyright 2010 Love To Sew
Issue 05 April 2010

 

 

 
 

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