In this article, we’ll be talking about any kind of neckwear that isn’t a tie: scarves, ascots, and neckerchiefs. We’ll discuss their history, different styles, and how to wear them. You can read the entire article of course, of if you’d like to jump to a particular section that interests you, click any of the following links:
Just to get us all on the same page: a scarf is a rectangular piece of fabric made to be worn about the neck, most often for the purpose of maintaining warmth but with the additional benefit of injecting a stylish flair into your ensemble.
A Quick History Of Scarves
Scarves have adorned men’s necks for literally thousands of years. The earliest known versions were called “Sudarium,” which is Latin for “sweat cloth.” These were worn by ancient Romans more than two thousand years ago.
Used as a tool to maintain cleanliness, the sudarium was typically worn at the waist and used intermittently to remove sweat, much in the same way a handkerchief is kept in one’s pocket before wiping the brow. When not worn at the waist, the sudarium was draped over the neck for additional protection from the Mediterranean sun.
There were differing levels of material quality even two millennia ago, and the quality of one’s scarf in ancient Rome indicated wealth and status (or lack thereof).
By about the third century B.C.E. the scarf had made its way to China, finding its place on the necks of Terracotta soldiers of the Qin Shi Huang dynasty. This neckwear was used to indicate military rank, somewhat similarly to how club ties indicate membership in a private social organization.
Today, men wear scarves mostly for warmth in cold weather. While it’s true that there are men who also wear scarves that are more decorative than protective, this tends to be the domain of womenswear. This isn’t a judgement call; goodness knows we support men adorning themselves stylishly. But if you take a look around your office to see who’s wearing decorative neckwear indoors, it’s likely that only a small percentage of those people will be men.
Different Ways To Tie A Scarf With Easy-To-Follow Steps
Below are step-by-step graphics of six ways to tie a scarf. These are not the only ways to wear a scarf, but they are quite common. You may find one that you like and stick with it, or you may vary how you wear one based on your mood, scarf material, occasion, or some other metric.
We also gave them some fun names just for the heck of it.
This scarf knot looks good when loosely draped over a jacket, and it also becomes very functional in the cold when you tighten it up against your neck. It’s super easy to tie, and it always looks great.
- Step 1: With scarf folded in half lengthwise to create a loop on one end, drape it around the back of your neck.
- Step 2: Pull ends through loop in front of your chest.
- Step 3: Adjust to your liking.
A quick way to throw on your scarf and get out of the house, this is the scarf equivalent of plopping your hanky into your pocket and not bothering to fuss with it. A devil-may-care scarf knot.
- Step 1: Place scarf around the back of your neck with one end hanging significantly lower than the other.
- Step 2: Take the long end and swoop it across your chest and over the opposite shoulder.
- Step 3: Adjust.
The Repeated Loop
When it’s cold -like, really cold- you need to cover your neck thoroughly. Repeatedly looping the scarf around the neck is the best way to do that.
This knot looks particularly good with casual garb.
- Step 1: Place scarf around the back of your neck with one end hanging significantly lower than the other. Short end should curve in front of your throat.
- Step 2: Loop the long end in front of the short one and around your neck entirely. Depending on the length of the scarf, you may have to do this more than once.
- Step 3: Ensure a snug fit and that both ends are relatively close to each other.
- Step 4: Tuck ends in and adjust.
This is an adjusted neckerchief fold (more on that below) that’s zero percent effort, one-hundred percent style. It’s not going to keep you incredibly warm, but it will add some flair to your ensemble. Great for a lightweight scarf on a spring day or for an early fall day when it’s crisp but not yet cold.
- Step 1: Drape scarf across the back of your neck, with both ends of even length.
- Step 2: Cross ends in front of each other across your torso.
- Step 3: Tuck into jacket and adjust.
The Single Fold
You know the first step to tying your shoelaces? Do that around your neck and voilá, you have a single fold scarf. It’s simple, symmetrical, easy to tie, and functional.
- Step 1: With scarf draped around the back of your neck and crossed in front of you, take the outer end and pull it behind the “joint” of the scarf that was created when you crossed the ends.
- Step 2: Pull the outer end through the loop and down.
- Step 3: Tighten scarf as you would a shoelace. Adjust fit to your liking.
The Double-End Wrap
A Repeated Loop knot with a little more flair to it. You simply start with one end hanging on the chest and stop looping as the other end hangs at approximately the same place.
Don’t worry about the ends being on the same exact horizontal line when you’re done. A little asymmetry goes a long way in looking unstudied, which is always a good thing.
- Step 1: Drape scarf around the back of the neck with one end significantly lower than the other.
- Step 2: Wrap the long end in front of your chest and over the opposite shoulder.
- Step 3: Wrap the long end around the back of your neck and let both ends drape on your chest. Ends should be roughly even.
Materials Used To Make Scarves
Cashmere & Merino Wool
Most affordable-but-still-high-quality scarves for cold weather are made in cashmere and merino wool. Lambswool scarves and fleece round out the lower end of the quality spectrum, whereas a rare, exceptionally warm material such as vicuña reaches the upper echelon of scarf quality. This also affects price, as you might imagine.
Fun fact: a vicuña scarf can retail for around USD$1500.
Alpacas are native to the Andes and are technically a “camelid” as opposed to a sheep. The point of this is to say that alpaca scarves are not, in fact, wool, but rather a high-quality material that keeps you warm with the added benefit of being hypo-allergenic. The latter point is due to its lack of lanolin, a wax secreted by wool-bearing animals (such as sheep) that, while adding water resistance, causes an allergic reaction in some people.
The material has an incredible hand, resembling cashmere in how it feels. Peruvian alpaca is widely regarded as the best in the world, so be sure to pick up one or two scarves before you summit Macchu Picchu.
Cotton & Linen
Cotton and linen scarves are ideal for warmer weather but can work well for warmth maintenance in air-conditioned rooms. Beautiful as they can be, cotton and linen scarves are much less popular than their cold-weather counterparts. At the end of the day, men really are utilitarian!
Silk or silk satin is a common material used for dress scarves, which are typically worn only with semi-formal and formal garments such as tuxedos or full dress suits. Neckerchiefs are also a version of silk scarf. These are an excellent way to jazz up the neckline of a tie-less ensemble, but seem to be the territory of men of middle age or older.
Foulards are scarves or neckerchiefs made from a light silk that are made in abstract motifs in different colors, often shaped like teardrops. These tend to be worn more with suits than anything else. At left, Bespoke Unit founder Paul Anthony sports a silk foulard casually.
The word foulard is French, and to a Frenchman, the term refers to any silk handkerchief.
Other Types Of Scarves
Mens Infinity Scarf
An infinity scarf is a circular scarf. These are much more common for women than men, but they are indeed out there. The benefit of these is that they require no tying or knotting and can simply be strategically placed around the neck.
Neckerchiefs & Neckerscarves: What They Are & How To Tie
A neckerchief is a version of what’s referred to as a “sports scarf.” The term “sports” is used in this case to refer to sporty (that is, informal) clothing, not athletic wear. This type of neckwear was made to fill the gap left by the open-collar sport shirt introduced to the masses in the 1920’s after having been popular amongst the vacationing elite along the French Riviera.
There are two versions of sports scarves: neckerchiefs and neckerscarves.
Neckerchiefs are solid or patterned squares of any material that are knotted or draped around the neck like an ascot would be. Americans have a tendency to refer to neckerchiefs as Ascots, which is technically incorrect. The look was huge in the 1930’s and we’re seeing a bit of a resurgence of the look amongst Hollywood types: actors, musicians, and other celebrities.
Neckerscarves, on the other hand, are silks that are tied around the neck loosely in a necktie fashion. Though they were regularly seen on manly men such as Roy Rogers and John Wayne, these have fallen out of favor due to their perception as fussy and / or feminine.
Should I Wear A Neckerchief Or Neckerscarf?
As a rule of thumb, we support any man who wants to grow his sense of style by experimenting with things that aren’t worn by the masses. Throwing on some less common neckwear is a great way to do this.
If you work in a business casual environment, it could be an excellent way to give your look a bit of pizazz that’s otherwise missing in the absence of a necktie.
Scarves are as much utilitarian as they are stylish, and no man’s wardrobe is complete without a few.
For more on men’s neckwear, check out our neckwear home page.