One night, I was in the bar area of Al Biernat’s, pretending to belong, when I saw that, at almost every table, there sat a woman wearing a scarf. Old women, young women, large, tiny. They sat there with a bundle of fabric scrunched under their necks, as though they had just ordered very fancy lobsters. These were not the wool scarves demanded by bitter winter blasts. In fact, the weather outside was damn near perfect. No, these scarves hung around their necks like puffy cotton necklaces. These were fashion scarves.
Like so much in our culture, the fashion scarf can be blamed on celebrity tabloids. Around 2008, it became a staple for Los Angeles starlets, who draped them over jeans and a tank top, part of the bohemian-princess uniform that still dominates our malls (giant sunglasses, maxi dresses scraping the ground). What female imitators may not appreciate about this look is that a) it’s designed for Southern California weather, and b) it’s a form of hiding. If you were stalked by paparazzi every time you scooped up dog poo, you would probably swaddle yourself in a bolt of cashmere, too.
The fashion scarf has become so popular that it has hatched subgenres: the double loop of the eternity scarf, which looks like you are carrying a baby in a sling and it just fell out; something called a snood (it goes over the head). Years after their debut, fashion scarves continue to get pumped out by Target, Gap, and Banana Republic, as well as kids’ stores like Justice, and the look is a good fit for Dallas, with its mild fall and early spring. This is a town that doubles down on accessories. Dangly earrings, rings like Gobsmackers. Dallas women have never met an outfit they would not like to amplify.
And, so, Jessica in Frisco gets to feel like Jessica Alba or Jessica Biel or Jessica Simpson (a more famous Jessica). And Helen in Preston Hollow gets to feel like Helen Mirren. Because fashion scarves are an all-ages accessory, and you could argue that they’re even more popular with the senior set. The older you get, the more you need to camouflage.
One Saturday afternoon, I dropped by Neiman Marcus to sample the finest in fashion scarves. A nice saleslady toured me through the fall collections: Alexander McQueen for $295; Gucci for $430; Etro, a luxury line from Milan, for $1,150. I placed a finger on my chin, to keep my jaw from hitting the floor. Don’t get me wrong: that scarf was like gossamer. Wearing it was like being cloaked in whipped cream and the gentle caresses of Adam Driver. But my brain short circuits at the idea of dropping a thousand bucks for a giant cloth rectangle.
I drove out to Sam Moon, a store for people with my kind of bank account. The Dallas-based warehouse features bins of discount bedazzlement, handbags, and jewelry and accessories. There, I hit the jackpot, with rows of goodies between $3 and $11. I tried on a $7 scarf lined with black skulls, which I now recognize as an Alexander McQueen knock-off. I swaddled my chest in the thin, gauzy material, and, while I think I was supposed to feel like an actress flitting out to the Hollywood Hills Starbucks, I felt more like a nurse dressing a neck wound. It’s awkward to be a grown woman, confronted with your own inability to drape properly.
Bunchy scarves are not my jam. Still, I do get their appeal. It’s gratifying to punch up a dumb old outfit with a streak of personality. And they fall into that deeply satisfying bucket of fashion that fits every figure. No one ever had to diet her way into a fashion scarf. No one ever needed bigger boobs or longer legs, because a scarf works with whatever you got. Indeed, this is their true miracle: they make a small girl feel embellished and a bigger girl feel covered. An older woman feels younger. A younger girl feels older.
There’s a reason scarves have been popular in multiple decades. Me, I prefer the cute neckerchiefs of the ’50s. Or the ’60s silk scarf that you can wear over your hair with cat’s-eye glasses, like you’re in a Hitchcock movie. Most women have a movie-star fantasy self. Mine just happens to be from an earlier era. Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn. The cool thing about scarves is that they contain many dream lives. Wrap yourself up in a delusion, and go to town.