The Rapturous Wrap

Enhancement pieces in the world of fashion are items that have the power to enhance an outfit rather than overwhelm it and the simple scarf neatly fits into this category. But what is little known is the history of this little piece of cloth. Delving into the history of the scarf and the stole takes us on a journey that winds through courts, battlefields and cathedrals across centuries and around the world.

 
Ancient Greek courtesans wrapped their hair in scarfs while taking their morning baths. Afterward, they would drape themselves in yards of fabric sashed with a scarf to match. Nefertiti, the great Egyptian beauty, banded her head with costly scarfs and topped it with a tall conical headdress. Cleopatra, also a towering fashion figure, wrapped herself in a multitude of scarfs, making them a fashion must for Roman and Egyptian women of her day. In fact, Roman women made scarfs one of the earliest status accessories, using different colors to indicate social structure.
 
As with many fashion items, the original intent of the scarf was quite practical. The earliest known use of the scarf was in ancient Rome where it was used to keep oneself clean. Known as a sudarium which means “sweat cloth”, the scarf was worn by men and women around the neck or the waist to wipe away sweat.
 
On the other hand, in China and Croatia, scarves were worn by soldiers. Under the Emperor Cheng, scarves were used to distinguish the rank of the Chinese warriors. Similarly in 17th century Croatia, silk scarves were issued to officers while soldiers were issued with cotton scarves.
 
The stole, on the other hand, is a tradition borrowed from the Roman church in the seventh century. The stole was a long, narrow piece of cloth that was worn around the neck, the centre of the stole would be worn around the back of the neck while the two ends would hang down the front equally. The ends would be decorated with tassels and the stole itself was richly woven with patterns and motifs. Priests would perform their duties wearing the stole much like the Jewish priests wore the tallit or Jewish prayer shawl.
 
Closer home, the wearing of a long narrow piece of cloth can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization. A sculpture of the Priest King of Harappa, whose left shoulder is covered with some kind of a chaddar or shawl, suggests that the use of the scarf dates back to the early Indus Valley Civilization. From here it spread across the Indian subcontinent, especially during the rule of the Muslim Mughal Empire. Early Sanskrit literature has a wide vocabulary of terms for the veils and scarfs used by women during ancient period, such as Avagunthana meaning cloak-veil, Uttariya meaning shoulder-veil, Mukha-pata meaning face-veil, Sirovas-tra meaning head-veil. Dupatta (literally do - two, patta - strip of cloth) veil is believed to have evolved from ancient Uttariya veil, worn by women in ancient period as part of three-piece attire. Women in South Asia wore this multipurpose scarf along with their salwar-kameez or ghaghra-choli. Originally a symbol of modesty in South Asia, the dupatta has evolved with fashion and now is synonymous with the scarf or stole and worn with various outfits both ethnic and Western.
 
The names ‘shawl’ and ‘pashmina’ originate from Hamedan Persia. Cashmere crafts were introduced by Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani. In the 14th century, Mir Ali Hamadani came to Ladakh, homeland of pashmina goats. There, for the first time in history, he discovered that the Ladakhi kashmiri goats produced a very soft variety of wool. Hamadani took some of this goat wool and made socks which he gave as a gift to the king of Kashmir, Sultan Qutabdin. Afterwards Hamadani suggested to the king that they start a shawl-weaving industry in Kashmir using this wool. And that is the history of how pashmina shawls began. In fact, UNESCO reported in 2014 that Ali Hamadani was one of the principal historical figures who shaped the culture of Kashmir, both architecturally and also through the flourishing of arts and crafts and hence economy in Kashmir.
 
By the 19th century, the scarf had become an indispensable fashion accessory both among men and women across the world. Napoleon and Josephine, the famed lovers in history, were also scarve devotees. To please Josephine’s exotic tastes and to protect her from catching cold due to her low-cut dresses, Napoleon sent her cashmere shawls from India. 
 
This season, Natsybydesign echoes the words of the fashion designer and icon, Caroline Herrera, “Money doesn't buy elegance. You can take an inexpensive sheath, add a pretty scarf, gray shoes, and a wonderful bag, and it will always be elegant.” As the winter chill sets in, take some time out to browse through our new collection of scarves and stoles and indulge in a couple of elegant fashion pieces. 

 

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