The historical and cultural significance of scarves and shawls

Scarves and shawls are used across cultures all over the world, and it is not something utilized only during the winters, or extreme summers. They have been around for centuries are have a history far beyond being a fashion accessory! The historical and cultural significance of scarves and shawls is an quite an interesting read.

In cold climates, a thick knitted scarf, often made of wool, is tied around the neck to keep warm. This is usually accompanied by a warm hat and heavy coat.

In drier, dustier warm climates, or in environments where there are many airborne contaminants, a thin headscarf, kerchief, or bandanna is often worn over the eyes and nose and mouth to keep the hair clean. Over time, this custom has evolved into a fashionable item in many cultures, particularly among women. The cravat, an ancestor of the necktie and bow tie, evolved from scarves of this sort in Croatia[citation needed].

Religions such as Judaism under Halakhah (Jewish Law) promote modest dress code among women. Married Jewish women wear a tichel to cover their hair. The Tallit is commonly worn by Jewish men especially for prayers, which they wrap around their head to recite the blessing of the Tallit.

Young Sikh boys, and sometimes girls often wear a bandanna to cover their hair, before moving on to the turban. Older Sikhs may wear them as an under-turban.

Islam promotes modest dress among men and women. Many Muslim women wear a headscarf, often known as a hijab and in Quranic Arabic as the khimar. The Keffiyeh is commonly used by Muslim men.

Additionally, several Christian denominations include a scarf known as a Stole as part of their liturgical vestments.

Silk scarfs were used by pilots of early aircraft in order to keep oily smoke from the exhaust out of their mouths while flying. Silk Scarfs were worn by pilots of closed cockpit aircraft to prevent neck chafing; especially fighter pilots, who were constantly turning their heads from side to side watching for enemy aircraft. Today, military flight crews wear scarfs imprinted with unit insignia and emblems not for functional reasons but instead for esprit-de-corps and heritage.

In ancient times, the practice of donning a scarf or a wrap was mostly attributed to perspiration, the Romans called it “sudarium” which literally meant sweat cloth. These cloth items were used to wipe the sweat on the face and neck, and were initially worn by men. Also, according to historians, during the rule of Chinese emperor Cheng, scarves were made of cloth and were used in order to identify the officers and the ranks of the Chinese warriors. But then with the passage of time women too began to use them, and today it is a completely new avatar.

Scarves and shawls are now made from the finest materials available and are much sought after by men and women across the world. It has in fact moved up leaps and bounds in the social ladder and today stands as an expression of love and respect which is often exchanged as a gift.

So next time you wrap a beautiful Pashmina Scarf or Shawl around your neck or shoulders you will know you are not just being fashionable but donning an accessory that has had many practical uses over the centuries and serves a purpose for many cultures.

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