Collecting Scarves by Historical Period

If a broad range of scarf designs, styles and fabrics appeal to you, consider collecting a particular period.


The 20th and 21st centuries offer collectors a totally overwhelming choice of scarves, so in many cases a single decade will offer ample scope to a collector. But which decade to choose? The 1970s with its funky designs, geometrics and swirls? 1930s glamour? Or perhaps the 1950s, a decade that produced large quantities of particularly attractive and iconic scarves, from the whimsical to the super stylish.

My personal choice (assuming money no object), however, would be the 1920s. Long embellished scarves and extravagant stoles were much in vogue, such as those created by Fortuny and by Gallenga (see History of Scarves). Unfortunately for me, such scarves sell for many thousands of dollars!

Regarding the 19th century and earlier, be aware that silk and other luxury textiles tend not to age well and may need specialist handling. Nevertheless, for those with the historical interest (and a decent budget) the ubiquitous shawls of the Victorian period - Indian 'Kashmir' styles, Norwich and Scottish paisley and Chinese embroidered shawls - are all highly collectable. Sadly you're unlikely to come across them in your local thrift store, but antique dress stores usually have a selection, as do the many online vintage stores.

An interesting niche for collectors of historical scarves is 19th century mourning scarves and shawls, worn by wives and daughters following the death of a husband/father. These are generally black (or have been over-dyed with black following the death) and are often monogrammed with the deceased's initial (see History of Scarves). A rather morbid area I suppose, but interesting, and there are a surprising number still around if you're willing to search them out.

NB: The tradition of mourning scarves still goes on in a small way - Scouts wore black 'National Mourning Scarves' during duties associated with the funeral of HM the Queen Mother in 2002.

And of course, if you have serious funds and access to specialized storage, you may even be interested in very early textiles (London's Victoria and Albert Museum has an amazing number of scarves and scarf fragments dating back to as early as the 4th and 5th centuries AD). Shawls, scarves, scarf fragments and ecclesiastical stoles are offered by many historical textile dealers, but it goes without saying that this is not a cheap area.