Scarves in the 17th Century

Dress in the 17th century was inventive and full of novelty. It saw the start of the craze for the Orient that would become so overwhelming in the 18th century, but also the beginnings of military uniforms, aspects of which - such as the sash - quickly became highly fashionable.


Sashes appear to have developed from long scarves worn across the chest to carry provisions (see Scarves in the Middle Ages). It was in the 17th century that colored scarves and sashes started to be used as symbols of rank and allegiance (to distinguish one army from the other). Inspired by this military use, sashes entered the world of fashionable dress and were worn for purely decorative purposes by both men and women.

Another fashion inspired by military uniforms was the cravat, copied from the scarves Louis XIV's Croatian Regiment wore knotted at their throats. Usually made of white linen with lace edging, cravats were adopted by both men and women. By the end of the century they had developed into the 'Steinkirk Cravat' - a length of fine fabric worn in deliberate (and carefully styled) disarray around the neck. Steinkirk cravats seem to have been favored for adding a touch of informality to formal dress, and were particularly popular with artists and architects.

The tippet and the mantilla were both high fashion items during the 17th century. In the reign of Charles I (1625-1649) French gowns with very low cut necklines were popular at court, and so colorful scarves were worn to add a touch of modesty.

Ladies who favored more simplicity in their dress wore a neckerchief - a white linen square, sometimes edged in lace, which was folded into a triangle and worn around the shoulders. The neckerchief was a fashion that traveled with the Pilgrims to New England and became the prevailing style there.