Determining Your Ideal Scarf Style


Scarves are intimidating. Much like belts, they belong to a family of accessory that most women admire on others but fear themselves. Many are given scarves as gifts, inherit them from family members, thrift or purchase them on whims, and end up with a confusing collection of pretty, diaphanous thingies and no idea how to wear or style them.

Most experienced scarf wearers have identified a style, shape, size, and weight of scarf that they prefer. Experimentation with ties and configurations helps us suss out which scarves are ideal for our personal styles and unique figures – silk squares, knit infinities, long narrows, thick cowls. If you are struggling to understand how to wear the scarves in your collection, honing in on YOUR ideal scarf style is a great place to start. Here’s how:

What is your favorite scarf tie?

Another way to think about this is to ask yourself how loose or tight you like your scarf to be. Do you want it up close to your neck for warmth? Draped lower, toward your bustline? Do you prefer something compact or loose? Worn long? Since this question may beg some serious experimentation and exploration, I’ve compiled a list of tie resources below. Play around, and see which ones suit your taste, style, and figure. If you can land on a favorite scarf tie, you’ll be able to start figuring out which sizes, shapes, and weights lend themselves to that tie.

Any ties you hate?

Still focused on ties, but from another angle. If you have no idea which ties you like, you still might know which ones you hate. Do wrapped ties choke you? Do loose ones obscure your bust or add bulk? Which types of scarves lend themselves to the ties you dislike?

In which season(s) do you wear scarves?

If you’re a year-round scarf wearer, thinner materials will appeal. I sport scarves all year and have pretty much eliminated thick ones from my arsenal. A thin scarf that is very large will keep you just as warm, and can also be styled more loosely when the weather heats up. However, if you only do scarves in the cold, thicker weaves might be just the thing. Seasonal use patterns may also influence the colors and fibers you select for your ideal scarves.

Which types of outfits do you think work best with scarves?

Are you a casual scarf wearer? More on the work/formal side? Do you tend to like your scarves as the main accent? Prefer them paired with blazers and jackets? Again, which sizes, shapes, and weights seem to work best with your preferred scarf-based outfits?

If you’re able to answer even two of these questions, you’ll be able to begin narrowing down the field. Since examples are often helpful, I’ll give you my answers:

  1. Although I do love the Pretzel Knot, I definitely use the Fake Infinity tie most often. The former is warm and I do use it in winter, but the latter works year-round because it’s lofty enough to work for warm summer days but can be tightened up for cozy warmth on cold winter days, too. I also love the look of a big, voluminous scarf. THIS MEANS: That squares don’t work terribly well because they can’t be used in either of my preferred ties, so rectangles are best. Small scarves can’t be used for Pretzel Knot or Fake Infinity and don’t give the impression of volume, so large scarves are best.
  2. I don’t really dig ties that leave the scarf ends long and loose, and I don’t love ties that keep the entirety of the scarf very close to the neck. THIS MEANS: That super long, skinny rectangles aren’t ideal. Neither are small scarves of any kind.
  3. I wear scarves in all but the hottest/humidest weather, so year-round. For this reason, heavy materials aren’t terribly useful or versatile. THIS MEANS: Thick knits and dense weaves won’t get much use. Lightweight fabrics or open weaves are ideal.
  4. I will occasionally work a scarf into a dressy outfit, but most of my scarf outfits are either casual or arty-casual. THIS MEANS: Classic silk squares, evening-appropriate styles like velvet burnout or metallics, and other naturally formal styles are right out. My scarves should be at least somewhat casual.

Over time and with lots of experimentation, I’ve determined that oversized rectangle shaped scarves made from very thin, lightweight material are my ideal. I can use them for my preferred ties, they work all year, and they create a more casual look. I’ll admit that just answering these four questions wouldn’t have been sufficient to figure this out – I needed to play around and experiment – but the questions create a helpful process of elimination.

That’s my hope anyway! If you’re struggling to figure out how to incorporate scarves into your own looks, give them a go and see how you do. And! If you’ve no idea where to start when it comes to ties, cruise through some of these links and see what appeals:

Scarf tying resources

And from me:

Want to learn a few scarf ties? Find out which ones work for your style and figure? Get some ideas for those tricky silk squares? Love online tutorials but really need to work with someone in person who can answer specific questions? Come join me for a scarf tying workshop in Chicago in March! Details here.

Originally posted 2014-02-24 06:18:44.

Next Post
Previous Post

21 Responses to “Determining Your Ideal Scarf Style”

  1. San

    I love scarfs and prefer them in a way similar to yours. Now I can also see why I end up not wearing some of my very long and narrow or some of the more formal ones. I have never been scared of scarfs, though, I hope there is no reason to 😉

  2. Dee

    I am one of those folks that loves scarves, buys scarves, but don’t wear them all that often. (excluding outer wear scarves — I wear those EVERY DAY in the cold around my neck over my coat). I am refering to the scarves you wear to accessorize your outfit. When I do wear a scarf its usually long and untied or just tied once. If its a pretty light weight fabric I may do the pretzel tie or similar. I have a long crinkly (is that a word?) silver/black one that looks nice with a black sweater. I don’t have a long neck or torso and most of the time scarves just look too bulky on my body. I won’t give up however, as I love the look and want to learn a few more ways to wear them.

  3. Ruth

    Do you ever eat croissants? Or toast? Or biscuits? Some of those ties that you wear look as if they would be much too efficient at collecting crumbs. And harder to brush off than just giving the front of your tshirt a shake…

    • San

      I was wondering about the table etiquette for scarves. They seem to be too much in the way during eating.

      • Eleanorjane

        I wear scarves most days three seasons a year (not summer) and I tend to take them off when I’m eating for just that reason. Toast crumbs will brush off, but tomato sauce etc would be fatal!

      • Sally

        I’m not sure of actual etiquette, but I will sometimes take off my scarf if I’m eating something I know might soil it. I think if you’re in a formal setting, it might seem a bit odd, but anything shy of that probably comes down to pragmatism. If you’re worried, take it off. If you’re just having drinks and finger food, leave it on.

  4. walkercreative

    I love scarves as well! I tend to be 3 season – spring, fall and winter, and forgo them for light, airy, bauble-type necklaces in the summer. My favorite tie is also the pretzel worn loosely, so you can see the contrasting top underneath. I just learned that tie from your blog this winter — a saving grace in the polar vortex! Ironically – As much as I love scarves, I really hate things close around my neck — All my winter knits are cowl necks or long sleeve boat necks. I wear a cowl neck sweater with a long scarf and ends loose (shawl or pashmina style) quite frequently. That’s really polished looking when the scarf has tassels or fringe. It creates a long line, adds pattern, and is great tummy camouflage. I just discovered a new favorite — Pashmina as hip scarf over a close-fitting (cowl sweater) dress. Wore that combo to church Sunday and got lots of compliments. Perhaps I can deploy that version in the summer as well, sarong style!

    I have also had good luck with cutting off the bottom of jersey T-shirts to wear cowl style as well.

    The obsession I am looking forward to is the scarf-belt like the one pictured here: I think it could work with my curvy frame.

    I like infinity scarves but am struggling with them — they seem to have the boa-choking-neck effect on me. They also make my chest disappear. On more the one occasion I have debated taking them apart to have more options. I’m hoping that is something I can figure out at your scarf tying workshop in Chicago! I am working out the logistics, (I live in Iowa) and possibly bringing my daughter or a friend! Thanks for what you do Sally – see you in March!

    • Sally

      Ooh, I’d LOVE that, lady! And I am building my infinity scarf tying arsenal right now in preparation. I find them challenging, too, but there are ways …

      And that scarf belt? AMAZING.

  5. LinB

    Love how they look on others, hate how they feel on my short, fat neck. I have a little woolen knitted neck scarf with a divided knot (you slip one end of the scarf through the slot in the “knot” to fasten it) that I plonk on under a winter coat, on the few days it gets very cold here in central NC.

    If I DO wear a scarf, I either hang it around the back of my neck and let the ends fall freely — this means I need a long, rectangular scarf; or drape it over one shoulder and tie/pin it at the waist under the opposite arm, like a plaid — this means I need something approximating the size of a tablecloth.

  6. Rose

    I find it helpful to think of the function of my scarf. Is it supposed to shield my leather jacket from my neck so I can avoid leather cleanings – a hand washable silk square does the job and doesn’t detract. Is it supposed to put a layer of warmth on my chest – I have a small chest so bulk isn’t an issue. Maybe it’s adding color to tie a top and a bottom together. When I think of them functionally and expect them to work for me then it’s easier to pick one out and wear it without feeling costumey.

  7. Cornelia

    I wear mainly two types of scarves: the 90 silk carre bias folded and tied into a square knot, and the long wool or cashmere rectangle started in front to back and then the ends looped through the loop twice. I learned this one from Eileen Fisher is my winter wrap that keeps me warm. I have a long neck and I feel both these types of folds suit me. I wear a scarf about 10 months out of the year. It’s part of my style.

  8. Kat

    I’m a classical singer, so I pretty much always have a scarf on hand……such a cliche, I know!
    I usually just loop my scarves a couple of times and leave it at that, but I’ll have to try out some of these other ways to tie/wrap them!

  9. Anamarie

    Sally, I’d like to see how you tie your Desigual scarves. I struggle with mine because it’s so thin, but wide. I don’t know how to keep it looking full, like when you wear yours. I also struggle with square scarves.

    I love scarves! I have lately been into the braided tie, which wears like a necklace. The scarf stays put, and I don’t have to constantly fuss with it. I also love wearing very wide, thin rectangle scarves.

  10. Allison

    Wish I could wear scarves, but with a short neck, square jaw and biggish bust, anything but a v-neck looks like I’ve had a neckectomy. Sally’s scarves look glorious. For now I channel this envy into statement necklaces.

  11. Shaye

    One of my favorite ways to wear scarves is as a fake necklace. For square scarves, that means folding it in half diagonally and then knotting it in the center, and then at two other points to each side on the main knot. This creates one large and two small triangular knots. Tie it in the back and you have a scarf-necklace!

    For rectangular scarves, I twist them tightly and then bring the ends together. This will cause the rest do the scarf to twist up on itself. Tie the ends into a knot and it will stay twisted. For there, if it’s long enough, I’ll use a lightweight brooch to connect the two ends and wear that as a necklace. If it’s too short, I’ll thread a strand of pearls or other beads through both ends, then connect the clasp so I have a necklace that’s half-scarf, half-double strand of pearls.

    If I’m not wearing one of these two ties and want to show off the scarf more, I nearly always use some variation on folding in half diagonally and then just knotting around my neck. If the scarf is a straight weave, it’s usually thin enough that it’s hardly bulky at all. If it’s a silk twill, it might have some bulk and I DO take it off to eat! 🙂

  12. Raven1025

    I pretty much wear scarves year round. I especially like lightweight, natural fiber scarves for summer. I feel like I can toss one on with a sundress or skirt with tank or tee and look pulled together while staying comfortable. I also love them for traveling, since I can wrap up in one on a plane and be comfy and not have to bring a bunch of extra stuff.

    I’ve bought many scarves over the years, but would seldom wear them. I eventually paid attention to the ones I did pull out and wear, and figured out what I liked about them. Got rid of the rest, and now I have a decent amount of scarves I actually wear! They are all soft, natural fibers, mostly lightweight, and large oblongs or squares. I mostly tie them in the faux infinity, and what I now know is the pretzel knot (I didn’t know what it was called before I watched your above tutorial just now). Oddly, I’m not a fan of actual infinity scarves, but I love tying scarves that way, especially squares.
    I also bookmarked a tutorial a while back for tying a scarf into a vest. I have a couple of scarves that should work for it now, so I’m looking forward to trying that in the spring (I think it would work best with a light tee or tank).

  13. Vildy

    This piece on scarves really clicked for me unlike so many others I have read. I’m a Lumper (vs. a Splitter), so that means I tend to categorize everything for the big picture rather than focus on details. So I had been thinking Scarves. Period. But from reading your article I realize there are definitely scarf ties that I won’t wear. I like my bust curves to be obvious and I’m not particularly small-busted but a lot of looped scarf appears to have more volume than my bust. Also I’m very short so a scarf with lots of visual weight takes up a lot of territory and becomes a garment in itself. Which is fine, but I’m after a punctuation. I love the little scarf tied at the throat with the short ends flying. I also like showing some skin between the scarf “band” and a scoop neck top. I think I’m beginning to understand why I love my scarves in theory but end up taking so many of them off. A good start to thinking further on this. Grateful thanks!

  14. 33

    OMG I love scarves, any type and material. They are the best accessories, more versatile than belts IMO (not everyone loves and can pull off belts). A scarf not only adds to an outfit or dresses up a handbag, it is also functional (keep neck warm, can be a belt, and can be used in emergency). My only problem is trying not to keeping adding to my collection. I am slowly purging, letting go the ones too cheap, too tattered, and not suited (scale of print mostly).