The Ultimate Scarf Guide


Did you know that if you only had three large scarves you could survive on a desert island and wear a different outfit every day for a week? Okay, so I just made that up. But a good scarf is so versatile and so flattering that if you haven’t played around with wearing one recently, ya really ought to consider adding a scarf or two or three to your wardrobe. Seriously.

A scarf is the most versatile fashion accessory you’ll ever own. Period.

Yep, a scarf is your style solution for every outfit and every season. That’s why I’ve put together this scarf guide. Consider it a fabulous refresher on scarves with three main objectives:

• To clarify any confusion about scarf types.
• To encourage you to play with adding scarves to your wardrobe.
• To help you choose the perfect scarf for every season.

Okay, so let’s get going. This scarf guide has seven parts:

Part 1. The wonderful benefits of wearing scarves.
Part 2. The basic scarf types classified by use, shape, and size.
Part 3. The basic scarf materials - their color, feel, and weight.
Part 4. All the ways you can wear a scarf.
Part 5. When you’d wanna wear a scarf.
Part 6. How to choose the perfect scarf for color, warmth, and style.
Part 7. Bonus tips and three scarves that will serve you all year round.

 

Alex Mitchell posing and sharing her scarf style with different ways and looks to wear colorful scarves and shawls.

Scarf Benefits

Part 1. The wonderful benefits of wearing scarves.
Scarves are simply wonderful. There’s nothing like a scarf for color, warmth, and style. They help you switch things up, dress you up, keep you warm, and highlight your face. And they make it easy to feel fabulous any day of the week.

COLOR:
• Use a scarf to highlight your face. When worn around the neck, the colors of your scarf bring attention upward to your face and highlight your eyes.

• Use a scarf when you’re in a hurry. That messy bun hairdo, a little mascara, lip gloss, and your stylish scarf are all you need. It’s your 5-minute glam routine.


• Use a scarf to boost your mood. Dressing up is a glorious way to self-express and influence your psyche. A plush scarf will make you feel fancy.

• Use a scarf to accentuate your outfit. Your scarf colors can add play and contrast to what you’re wearing. It’s such an easy way to experiment with bright colors or unusual color combinations. Just toss it on!

WARMTH:
• Use a scarf to keep you warm. Not only can a fashionable scarf complete your look and glam you up, it can keep you warm too!



• Use a scarf to give you a cozy feeling. There’s nothing like wrapping yourself in a big soft fuzzy scarf when it’s cold.

STYLE:
• Use a scarf to dress up any casual outfit. Yep, your day outfit just turned into your night-on-the-town outfit because you tossed a fancy scarf over your shoulders.

• Use a colorful scarf to give yourself a flattering figure. You can draw attention to wherever you’re wearing your scarf like your head, hair, neck, or waist.


• Use a scarf as a quick fix on a bad hair day. You can use it in your hair like a headband.

• Use a scarf to extend your wardrobe. Scarves can breathe new life into what you’ve already got in your closet. You can create lots of outfits with your wardrobe basics by just switching things up with scarves in different colors and textures.

 

Alex Mitchell posing with a large square yellow satin scarf worn and tied at the neck.

Scarf Types

Part 2. The basic scarf types classified by use, shape, and size.
Now that you know what wearing a scarf can do for you and your wardrobe, let’s look into the different scarf types out there.

There are only a dozen or so basic scarf types but there are oodles of different names being used for them. And this creates a lot of confusion. The reason for the overabundance of scarf type names is the widespread idea that material and size determine the scarf type.

When scarves are classified by material and size what you end up with is a never-ending list. Because there’s no limit to the materials that can be used to make a scarf. Of course, if you already know what kind of material you want for a scarf, then this kind of list can work. It’s just not all that helpful when you’re looking for ideas for choosing a scarf.

It’s way more practical to classify scarves by use. Here’s why:

• The material doesn’t define the scarf type.
We’re no longer limited by traditional materials like silk and wool for making scarves. A blanket scarf need not be made of wool. A square scarf need not be made of silk. A stole need not be made of fur. And a boa scarf need not be made of feathers.

Truth is, any scarf type can be made of a variety of materials. And some of those materials will be more or less pleasing to you. It’s your personal preferences for certain materials that will determine why you like a scarf and when you want to wear it. (See Parts 3 and 5)

The only exception is the Pashmina which is a shawl made of spun cashmere from the wool of Changthangi goats native to the Kashmir region. So in the case of the Pashmina, the use of this special wool does define the scarf type.

• The size doesn’t define the scarf type.
Nope, any scarf type can have various sizes. A square scarf can be anywhere from small to extra large. What’s important to remember about scarf size is that it limits versatility. The larger the scarf, the more ways you can wear it.

When considering scarf size, you must also look at the shape. It’s the combination of shape and size that defines how the scarf will be used by you. That’s because how you can fold, wrap, and tie a scarf is limited by its size and shape. (See Part 4)

• How it’s used defines the scarf type.
How you choose to wear it on your body defines the type of scarf it is regardless of the size or material. And because scarves are so versatile, you may buy one scarf type but choose to wear it as another scarf type.


If you bought a “manila shawl” and instead of folding it in half and throwing it over your shoulders, you were to tie it at your waist, then what you’ve got is a “sarong.”

If you bought a “sarong” and instead of tying it at your waist, you were to wrap it around your upper body, then what you’ve got is a “wrap.”

And this is why I’ve created a list of basic scarf types classified by use, shape, and size. Because your intended use for the scarf is the first step in choosing the perfect scarf.


The basic scarf types can be classified by use, shape, and size.
A scarf is technically any material, woven or knitted, that’s worn around the neck or head. It’s typically long enough to wrap around the neck at least once. But as you will discover, the way you wear a scarf allows for a lot of play. What you consider to be a plain old “shawl” could turn out to be a “wrap” or a “sarong” depending on how you wear it. Smile.


Let’s take a look at scarf types classified by use, shape, and size.

14 SCARF TYPES:
1. Neckerchief
Use: folded in half like a triangle and tied at the neck
Shape: square
Size: small

Also known as a bandana or small square scarf.

2. Long Scarf
Use: worn wrapped around the neck, if it’s made of thin material can be tied at the neck
Shape: rectangle
Size: large

If it’s got fringe at the ends, it’s called a fringe scarf.
Also known as a muffler, rectangle scarf, oblong scarf, or shawl.

3. Skinny Scarf
Use: worn tied at the neck, tied to be worn as a headband, attached to a ponytail holder, tied at the waist to be worn as a belt, tied at wrist or ankle, tied at purse handle
Shape: narrow rectangle
Size: small to medium

4. Large Square Scarf
Use: folded in half like a triangle and tied to be worn as a headcover, folded and tied to be worn as a headband, worn wrapped around the neck and/or over the shoulders, tied to be worn as a halter top, tied with another scarf of the same size to be worn as a poncho, tied at the waist to be worn as a sarong, folded and tied to be worn as a belt
Shape: square
Size: large to extra large

5. Triangular Scarf
Use: worn tied or wrapped at the neck, over the shoulders, tied to be worn as a headcover
Shape: triangle
Size: small to large

6. Blanket Scarf
Use: worn over the shoulders or wrapped around the upper body
Shape: rectangle
Size: extra large

7. Infinity Scarf
Use: worn at the neck
Shape: closed-loop formed by a narrow rectangle with connected ends
Size: short to long

A long infinity scarf is typically worn as a double-loop around the neck. A short infinity scarf (single loop) is called a cowl or collar. If it’s got a hood, it’s called a snood.

8. Boa Scarf
Use: worn wrapped around the neck
Shape: non-flat scarf type, individual strips are combined in a 360º design to make a long textured scarf
Size: large

If made of feathers it’s called a feather boa.

9. Manila Shawl
Use: folded in half like a triangle and worn over the shoulders
Shape: square
Size: large

Manila shawls are traditionally made of embroidered silk.

10. Pashmina
Use: worn wrapped around the neck, over the shoulders, or wrapped around the upper body
Shape: rectangle
Size: large to extra large

Pure Pashminas are wonderfully lightweight and super soft, handwoven, and made of 100% spun cashmere from the wool of Changthangi goats native to the Kashmir region. Regular Pashminas are just as lovely. They can be hand-woven or machine woven and are typically available as blends made of cashmere, wool, and silk.

11. Sarong
Use: worn tied at the waist
Shape: rectangle
Size: extra large

12. Knit Shawl
Use: worn over the shoulders
Shape: triangle
Size: medium

13. Stole
Use: worn over the shoulders
Shape: narrow rectangle
Size: medium to large

Stoles are traditionally made of expensive fabrics or fur but also fancy fabrics like velvet or imitation fur.

14. Wrap
Use: worn wrapped around the upper body
Shape: rectangle
Size: large to extra large

 

Alex Mitchell posing with a colorful textured cotton scarf worn wrapped around the neck.

Scarf Materials

Part 3. The basic scarf materials and their inherent qualities of color, feel, and weight.
As we reviewed in Part 2, a scarf is technically any material, woven or knitted, that’s worn around the neck or head. Any scarf type can be found made of a variety of materials.

However, all scarf materials have inherent qualities that will be more or less pleasing to you. And it’s these inherent qualities that will determine why you like a scarf and when you choose to wear it.

You will like a scarf because of its color, feel, and weight. And those very same qualities will determine when you want to wear it. For example, light cotton scarves or open-weave crochet scarves are a great addition to your beach outfits in the summer. Fuzzy acrylic scarves are warm and cozy for winter. Sheer organza scarves would add the perfect touch to your party dress.

Before we look at the list of basic scarf materials, let’s review some important differences between synthetic and natural materials:

• When it comes to color, synthetic materials tend to resist fading more.
• Synthetic materials dry more quickly after washing and won’t shrink.

• Synthetic materials can be permanently pleated or texturized.
• Natural materials are breathable.
• Wool is a natural material that’s inherently flame retardant. It doesn’t need to be chemically treated like synthetics do. It’s got natural qualities that protect it from igniting. That’s because wool fibers are very thick and retain a lot of moisture making it difficult for wool to burn.

Fortunately, it’s possible to have the best qualities of both natural and synthetic materials. That’s where blends come in. Yay!

For example, you can have the colorfast quality of polyester and the breathable quality of silk blended together. Or you can have the lightweight quality of acrylics blended with wool to make for a less heavy scarf. Another example of a great blend would be combining the softness of cashmere with the colorfastness of acrylics. Or combining the breathability of cotton with the durability of polyester.

Yep, blends are a wonderful option except, of course, when you’re allergic.

If you’re allergic to a specific material, let’s take wool, for example, you’ll have to be a bit pickier about using a scarf made of blended materials. You may not tolerate even small amounts of wool in any given blend.

The bottom line is that you don’t want the scarf material to cause any skin irritation. It’s sad when a beautiful scarf can’t be worn because it’s just too darn itchy. So look for your favorite scarf type in a material that makes your skin happy.


BASIC SCARF MATERIALS:
• Silk, Satin, Polyester, Rayon (Viscose, Modal, Lyocell)
Feel: thin, soft, smooth
Weight: light

• Organza, Chiffon
Feel: thin, sheer, smooth
Weight: light


• Lace
Feel: thin, sheer
Weight: light

• Cotton, Linen
Feel: thin, soft
Weight: light


• Polyamide (Nylon), Elastane (Spandex or Lycra)
Feel: soft, lush, stretchy
Weight: medium

• Wool, Cashmere, Alpaca, Acrylic
Feel: thin, thick, furry, fuzzy, bulky, chunky, soft, textured, tight weave, open weave
Weight: light to heavy

• Velvet
Feel: thick, soft, lush
Weight: light to medium

• Imitation Fur
Feel: thick, furry, fuzzy, soft, lush
Weight: light to medium

Just so ya know, I won’t go into animal fur and feathers as scarf materials. There are so many beautiful alternative scarf materials that don’t harm animals that I can’t bring myself to advocate the use of fur and feathers.

 

Alex Mitchell posing with a large square red silk scarf worn over the head.

How To Wear Scarves

Part 4. All the ways you can wear a scarf.
So far we’ve had a refresher on the different types of scarves in Part 2 and we’ve looked at some of the basic materials used for making them in Part 3. Let’s get into how we’d actually use them. Specifically, what part of the body do you want to adorn with a scarf?

This is where the fun begins. Because you can take a “large square scarf” and tie it at your waist and call it a “sarong.” Or you can take a “sarong” and wear it around your upper body and call it a “wrap.” Or maybe you prefer to fold it in half like a triangle and wear it over your shoulders like a “manila shawl.”

How you choose to wear it on your body defines the type of scarf it is.


The more you master the art of folding scarves, the more versatility you will get from them. Of course, how you can fold, wrap, and tie a scarf is limited by its size and shape.


BODY PARTS FOR WEARING SCARVES:
• Head
The traditional scarf worn as a headcover is a large square scarf folded in half like a triangle. It gets tied with a knot under the chin or can be wrapped around the neck once before it’s tied.

It can also be wrapped around the head and worn as a turban.

• Hair
The most practical scarf to wear in your hair is a skinny scarf. It gets tied with a knot at the base of the neck to be worn as a headband. Or it can be tied in place over your hair like a crown. If you have longer hair, it can also be attached to your ponytail holder. Or it can be braided into your ponytail.

But you don’t need to buy a skinny scarf. Any scarf, especially if it’s made of thin material, can be folded into the right shape. The trick is to take the opposite corners of the scarf and fold them both in towards the center. After three or four folds, you’ll end up with a narrow length of scarf much like a skinny scarf only thicker.


• Neck
The classic scarf look for the neck is the neckerchief or small square scarf folded in half like a triangle. It gets tied with a knot to hold it in place. Having said that, most scarves are bigger and wrap around the neck at least once. The larger the scarf, the more ways you can wrap it around your neck.

• Shoulders
Large scarves are usually worn over the shoulders. Depending on the size of the scarf, it may get wrapped around the neck as well. It can be worn loosely or tightly wrapped. It can be worn in a casual or formal style depending on the materials.

• Upper Body
An extra-large scarf or shawl can be worn as a wrap and cover the entire upper body. This way of wearing it is usually for warmth. It can be worn in a casual or formal style depending on the materials.

And an extra-large square scarf, especially if it’s made of thin material, can be worn as a halter top. Two corners get tied with a knot at the back of the neck while the other two corners get tied behind the back.

If you’ve got two large square scarves of the same size, then you can tie them together to make a poncho. All four corners from one scarf get tied to the corresponding four corners of the other scarf. You’ll end up with a knot on either side of your neck, a knot on your right side, and a knot on your left side.

• Waist
An extra-large scarf or shawl can wrap and cover your lower body and be used as a sarong. It gets tied with a knot at the waist to hold it in place.

If a skinny scarf is long enough it can be used as a belt. But any scarf, especially if it’s made of thin material, can be folded into the right shape and worn as a belt. The trick is to take the opposite corners of the scarf and fold them both in towards the center. After three or four folds, you’ll end up with a narrow length of scarf much like a skinny scarf only thicker.

• Wrist
The most practical scarf to wear wrapped around your wrist is a skinny scarf. The shorter and skinnier it is, the fewer times you’ll need to wrap it and the less bulk you’ll have. The same can be said for wearing a scarf wrapped around your ankle.

In the same way, you can use a skinny scarf as a purse accessory by wrapping it around a purse handle.

 

Alex Mitchell posing with a multicolor fuzzy blanket scarf worn over the shoulders.

When To Wear Scarves

Part 5. When you’d wanna wear a scarf.
When it comes to how you choose to wear a scarf on your body, you’ll most likely be thinking of the occasion for your outfit.

So let’s think about four basic occasions when we typically like to wear scarves. Of course, you can wear any scarf you want for any occasion. But if we focus on the primary purpose behind these four occasions, then it’s not difficult to choose a few scarf types and materials that would work best.

Keep in mind what’s best for you will always depend on the materials that are most pleasing to you.


OCCASIONS FOR WEARING SCARVES:
• Formal
Purpose: dressing up
Best scarf type: Neckerchief, Long Scarf, Large Square Scarf, Boa Scarf, Manila Shawl, Pashmina, Stole
Best material: thin, soft, smooth, sheer, lush, thick, furry, fuzzy
- Silk, Satin, Polyester, Rayon (Viscose, Modal, Lyocell)
- Organza, Chiffon
- Lace
- Polyamide (Nylon), Elastane (Spandex or Lycra)
- Velvet
- Imitation Fur

• Casual
Purpose: practical styling
Best scarf type: Long Scarf, Large Square Scarf, Triangular Scarf, Infinity Scarf, Wrap
Best material: thin, soft, smooth, lush
- Silk, Satin, Polyester, Rayon (Viscose, Modal, Lyocell)
- Cotton, Linen
- Polyamide (Nylon), Elastane (Spandex or Lycra)

• Summer/Beach
Purpose: covering up with breathable fabrics
Best scarf type: Large Square Scarf, Triangular Scarf, Sarong
Best material: thin, soft, smooth
- Silk, Satin, Polyester, Rayon (Viscose, Modal, Lyocell)
- Cotton, Linen

• Winter
Purpose: covering up for warmth
Best scarf type: Long Scarf, Blanket Scarf, Infinity Scarf, Pashmina, Knit Shawl, Stole, Wrap
Best material: thin, thick, furry, fuzzy, bulky, chunky, soft, textured, tight weave, open weave
- Wool, Cashmere, Alpaca, Acrylic
- Imitation Fur

 

Alex Mitchell posing with a soft light blue imitation fur stole worn over the shoulders.

How To Choose The Right Scarf

Part 6. How to choose the perfect scarf for color, warmth, and style.
When it comes to choosing the perfect scarf, you’ll first consider the materials that are pleasing to you. Then you’ll think about how and when you wanna use it. And lastly, you’ll think about your outfits and how you can wear and layer your scarves with your existing wardrobe.

CHOOSING A SCARF FOR COLOR:
When worn around the neck, the colors of your scarf bring attention upward to your face and highlight your eyes. You can draw attention to wherever you’re wearing your scarf like your head, hair, neck, or waist. And your scarf colors can also add play and contrast to whatever you’re wearing.


Here are three questions to ask yourself when choosing a scarf for color:

• Does the color flatter your face?
• Does the color match your existing wardrobe?
• Does the color make you happy? Does it boost your mood?

CHOOSING A SCARF FOR WARMTH:
We tend to think of winter scarves as being knitted, bulky, or heavy. However warm materials are no longer limited to wool and heavy fabrics. A heavy scarf is a personal preference and not a necessity for warmth. A big blanket scarf can be lighter than a knitted scarf depending on the material it’s made of.

So you’re not limited to heavier fabrics when it comes to wearing a scarf in winter. You may however be limited by your existing seasonal wardrobe for purely practical reasons. How you’re able to combine and layer your scarf with your existing winter wardrobe will determine what kind of scarf is best for you.

If your winter jacket or coat is fitted or has a high zipper, then any thick or chunky scarf would be too bulky to wear underneath. But a thin scarf or a cowl would work just fine.

If you typically wear a big winter coat with buttons, then you could wear a thick scarf underneath because you’d have more room.

Here are three questions to ask yourself when choosing a scarf for warmth:

• How do you wear and layer your scarves with your existing winter wardrobe? For example, would you combine a scarf by wearing it over or under your coat?
• Do you prefer wrapping yourself in thin layers or wearing chunky scarves?
• Are you allergic to a specific material like wool?


CHOOSING A SCARF FOR STYLE:
Scarves made of inherently thinner materials (silk, satin, polyester, rayon, cotton, linen) are the most versatile. These scarves typically come in various sizes.

The larger or longer the scarf, the more you can play with how you wear it around the neck, shoulders, head, or hair. If you have more than one scarf, you can get creative and play with tying or braiding several scarves together to make them longer.

The more you can master the art of folding your scarves, the more versatility you will get from your scarf.

And the more you experiment with how you wear it with your existing wardrobe, the more versatility you will discover.

Here are three questions to ask yourself when choosing a scarf for style:

• Which materials are most pleasing to you? (See Part 3)
• How do you think you’d wear it most? (See Part 4)
• When do you think you’d wear it? (See Part 5)

 

Alex Mitchell posing with a soft lush colorful boa scarf wrapped around the neck.

Three Scarves For Perfect Style

Part 7. Bonus tips and three scarves that will serve you all year round.
If you’re having a hard time deciding on what kind of scarves to get, here’s my Twinki-Winki tip for you.

If you only had these three scarves in your closet, you’d always have the right scarf for every season. And since all three scarves can be both formal and casual, you’ll always have the perfect scarf no matter where you’re going.

BONUS STYLE TIP:
Here's my Twinki-Winki list for three scarves for the perfect style.

1. Boa Scarf: Lush, Soft, and Fun
The perfect version of this kind of scarf is the Posh Me Fab Boa Scarf. As to be expected, I’ve added my star Twinki-Winki product to this list. That’s because I know exactly how versatile it is.

It’s a cheerful scarf that can dress up any outfit. And it’s lush due to its softness, weight, and 360° design. Its vibrant colors won’t fade. It's easy to take care of. And it has just the right drape so you can toss it on and never have to fuss. In other words, it meets all my requirements for the perfect fancy scarf that fits into my day-to-day.

But a Posh Me Fab boa scarf can’t be worn all year round nor can it be worn on your head or in your hair, which is why there are two more versatile scarves on this list.

2. Extra-Large Square Scarf: Smooth, Lightweight, and Versatile
This shape and size scarf is the most versatile when it comes to use. It can be worn on your head, in your hair, around your neck, over your shoulders, at your waist, as a sarong, as a halter top, etc. (See Part 4)


The top of the line is a silk scarf. Or you could look for a silk and polyester blend. Personally, if I can’t wash it easily, I don’t want it. So my Twinki-Winki tip is to get a high-quality silky smooth polyester scarf.


Go for a cheerful design with vibrant colors. You’ll want it multicolor so that it’s easy to mix and match with your existing wardrobe. It can dress up any look but it’s versatile enough to be worn with both formal and casual outfits. And the more you master the art of folding scarves, the more versatility you’ll get.

If you’re not looking for tons of versatility, you’ll probably be just fine with a large instead of an extra-large size.


3. Long Scarf: Soft, Lightweight, and Warm
This is a versatile shawl, especially if it’s large. It gives lots of warmth without any added weight. It’s meant to be worn wrapped. You can wrap it around the neck, over the head, over the shoulders, or around the upper body. And it’s thin enough to be worn over or under a jacket or coat.

The top of the line is a Pashmina with its super soft and lightweight cashmere wool. Or you could look for a blend that includes some cashmere. If you’re allergic to wool, there are rayon alternatives, typically using viscose. These would be considered “pashmina-style wraps.” Both wools and synthetics are easy to take care of.

Go for a cheerful design with vibrant colors. You’ll want it multicolor so that it’s easy to mix and match with your existing wardrobe.


If you simply can’t deal with the bulk of a large shawl around your neck, opt for a short infinity scarf or cowl instead. Go for vibrant colors and make sure it’s made of high-quality soft material. You’ll want to be able to wear it with both formal and casual outfits. And if you're allergic to wool, I’ve seen beautiful cowls made of soft furry synthetics that would do the trick.

BONUS SHOPPING TIP:
Before you buy a scarf, review the following questions. They’ll guide you through everything we’ve covered in this guide. They’ll help you consider whether the scarf's materials are pleasing to you, how and when you’ll wanna use it, and how you can style it with your existing wardrobe.

• Is it made of a material you like that won’t irritate your skin?
• Does the color flatter your face?
• How versatile is it for your lifestyle? Can you use it in more than one way?
• How well does it work with your existing wardrobe? How will you wear and layer it?
• How easy is it to care for?

BONUS CARE TIP:
No matter what type of scarf you buy and what it’s made of, you’ll never go wrong taking extra care when washing your scarf. Follow these steps and your scarf will last you pretty much forever.

Depending on the material, you’ll either wanna hand wash in lukewarm water or use a delicate cycle in cold water. Always hang dry or lay flat. Never hang in direct sunlight. And do not wring or twist to remove water. If necessary, squeeze gently with a soft towel.


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