Book review
Shawls, Stoles and Scarves
by Alice Mackrell

Shawls, Stoles and Scarves (Costume Accessories Series), by Alice Mackrell Shawls, Stoles and Scarves
(Costume Accessories Series)
by Alice Mackrell

1986 Quite Specific Media Group (USA); Batsford (UK)
ISBN: 0 7134 4876 8

I was excited to get hold of this book, as there is so little published about the history of scarves! True, the book is 25 years old and now out of print (but still available), but as it's an historical work that doesn't much matter. The writing is accessible - not too many technical terms - and there's a good index, plus a short glossary and bibliography.

The introduction notes that scarves have formed an important part of dress from very early times, but the book's focus is on the period from 1600 to 1980 (the book was published in 1986). Lots of illustrations (mainly black and white) show that the scarf, in one form or another, has been at the forefront of fashion for the past 400 years. I wish the author had been a bit clearer about exactly what form each kind of scarf took. I'm still a bit confused about the exact differences between tippets and stoles... fichus and neckerchiefs! But I suspect that in many cases there wasn't much difference - the scarf has so many similar forms that categorizing them by name is full of difficulties and contradictions.

So the book introduces us to stocks and sashes, the buffon and the burnous. The Kashmir shawl is covered in some detail - from its origins in India as the 'gift of princes', to the development of the shawl weaving industry in France, and particularly Paisley in Scotland. The author isn't afraid to give her own opinions on which fashions she finds attractive (or otherwise), and shares her horror at the way Kashmir shawls (outmoded by 1870) were cut up to make a kind of coat called a visite that fitted over the new bustle dresses.

Sadly, 20th century scarves are treated very cursorily. Hermès gets only one sentence! And nothing about the vogue for scarves in the 1950s. What a lost opportunity.!

So not really a book for the 'modern' scarf fan, but well worth reading for anyone interested 'antique scarves' and the mercurial history of these pieces of draped cloth.

See also my list of other books on the history of scarves.

If you're interested in the history of scarves see my articles on Scarves in History.