Friday, 20 May 2011

The Headscarf Lament

Oh, to wear a headscarf and look as fabulous as Audrey...

A year or so ago, after I'd just got myself a Douglas Sirk box-set and was somewhat over-indulging in Hollywood melodrama, I got thinking about headscarves.

In All That Heaven Allows, Cary frequently pops a scarf on to cover her head as she steps out into the brisk winter weather to met with her handsome beau, Ron.

Image source: screen grab from All That Heaven Allows

It made me think how sad it is that you no longer see women walking around in stylishly wrapped headscarves, covering neatly coiffed hair to be revealed when they are out of the reach of wind or rain. And I don't mean tied under the chin in the way of the Queen:

Not even in retro-trendy, Rosie the Riveter style:

But rather, over the head, brought under the chin, and then around to tie at the back of the neck, in 1950s style:

Image source: discovered long ago and now can't remember!
Apologies for being rubbish...

They're such a handy accessory as well because you can quickly and easily convert a silk scarf which you've tied around your neck into a head-covering should the need arise. And then switch back around afterwards, limiting the chances of accidentally leaving it on the tube.

So, I was determined to reintroduce this idea to the streets of London. One evening, I just needed to pop down the road to pick up a couple of bits from my local Tesco Express. I decided that this was the perfect, low-pressure moment for a test run. I was all ready to go, scarf in place, bag over my shoulder... but as I glanced in the mirror just by my front door, I had a sudden change of heart. Somehow, it just didn't look right. I'm not sure if it was lack of confidence or lack of technique but I shamefully backed out.

And now some other clever clogs in the fashion world has taken my idea and introduced headscarves for summer. Too late for me and my trend-setting plans now.


  1. Feel no shame I have done the exact same thing countless times:)
    I have taken to using my head scarves as hair bands as I can't quite find the confidence to rock the full wrap around look, though I think it looks adorable.
    Perhaps if I had an open top sports car I would have the perfect excuse and also a speedy getaway if I felt the fear!

  2. Thanks for the reassurance! And you're right, the sports car context would be more fitting, especially more so than Tesco...

    After writing that post, I did give it another try yesterday but it still looked wrong. I think perhaps I have the wrong face shape for it or something - like when you try on certain hats or sunglasses and they just look absurd.

  3. I love the pictures you've used to illustrate the differences. Poor Queen! I had some fun with a scarf to cover my hair when painting or doing big cleaning jobs. I love the sports car/Tesco comparison! (Don't do an Isadora Duncan with a long scarf, standing up in a sports car. Nasty!) But I'm also reminded of the wonderful way African women use their shawls wrapped in so many different ways.

  4. Interesting post! The pictures are great, that last one makes headscarves look so pretty. I understand your dilemma, as I regularly wear headscarves but feel a wee bit self-concious as I get some weird looks about it. I wrap them a la Queen on regular days (its quicker than the under-chin-and-around-neck method) and the tied behind the neck way on rainy days, plus an umbrella. I used to feel weirder about it, but the difference it makes in preserving my hair (curled everyday, but naturally stick straight!) in the wind and humidity makes it worth it!
    I think it can work for anybody, but the key is definitely in seeming like you're confident, or acting like its totally normal to wear headscarves, why aren't all you passerby wearing them too? Also I've found i feel less weird when they are simple, unobtrusive designs (a sheer black one with opaque black dots, a creme one, a brown sheer one, etc). Good luck in your headscarf/rain bonnet quest!
    - Emily

  5. Emily & Gracie - thanks for your long and in-depth comment! Some good advice in there - I hadn't thought about the design on the scarf and how that might affect the overall feel. Perhaps I should give it another go.

  6. Glad I found this discussion; I noticed an elderly lady wearing a headscarf theother day and it got me thinking about said item. I asked my mother (age 79 but not that anyone would think it) about headscarves and how they were worn years ago. Seems like most women just popped one on whether going to work, the shops or an evening out. I thought about the practicalities of them and if they might ever come back into fashion. We (Mother and I) thought that if Kate (of Will and Kate) could be persuaded to don one, then they would become a sensation overnight. I will perhaps attempt an outing myself with one (I do have an open top sports car) and see how it feels!! Interesting discussion.

  7. Thanks for your input, Susan. I think you're right - the Duchess of Cambridge needs to resurrect the look! It's interesting that they've gone out of style because they would have been convenient for keeping your hair protected from drizzle in all sorts of situations. Even though hairstyles aren't so coiffed these days, there's definitely a lot of straightening and blow-drying that you think people would want to shield from the weather. I guess that's what hoodies are for... but what about for those of us who abhor hoodies??

  8. I am very taken with your blog! I found it while searching for the right look for the headscarf worn by a character in a piece I'm writing, and found it in the picture of the woman with the avian print, the one of which you can't recall the source. Even though the period is pre-War, my character was fashion-conscious enough to have worn it in a style ahead of her time. Thank you! And I look forward to reading more.

    1. Glad you found and enjoyed my blog, Edward. Good luck with the piece you're writing!

    2. PS Your explanation of your character got me wondering about when such headwear became fashionable actually... I guess it took over from hats as a more common phenomenon but I wonder if people were wearing scarfs as a cheaper (and therefore less chic) option to hats before this happened. I suppose the 1920s brought in scarfs, though not necessarily worn that way, probably as part of the overall effortless and unrestricted vibe of that period. Well, you definitely got me thinking there!

  9. I think it looks wonderful, very classy, and I am going to get one right now. I'm thinking of the Jackie Kennedy look- head scarf and big sun glasses.

  10. Wow! Loved the way Audrey and last lady tied their scarves, I never tried those... headscarves make you look elegant, dignified and of course 'stylish' all the way.

  11. The trick to getting this look is in the size of the scarf - you want a good 36 inch square. Also, it is placed off center. The end point is slightly to her shoulder, not directly to the back, this makes the point part of the "tie" and not a random tail. If you are having trouble keeping your scarf in place sew a strip of velvet into your scarf.... nifty little trick. Play with the velvet to get it going the right way - one direction will hold to your hair - the other direction will slip right off :)