When you think of a designer scarf, chances are the first image that comes to mind is a traditionally printed, extra-large, hefty silk square from Chanel, or maybe even a woolen Valentino or Pucci muffler. But a new breed of fashion-forward scarves has gained popularity: typically made of lightweight fabric, often oblong, they’re intended to be worn for style instead of warmth or preppy status—and go with just about anything.
Scarves along these lines are all over this season—in animal prints from Jimmy Choo and YSL, more delicate patterns from designers such as Stella McCartney and, in a scarf collection that keeps expanding, Alexander McQueen’s now-iconic skull print. In addition to pieces from top-tier designers, these wear-anywhere accessories are also on offer from some contemporary lines, including Marc by Marc Jacobs, which offers versions in tweaked tweeds and Impressionist-tinged florals, and Kelly Wearstler, who favors covered wraparound scarves with vivid prints.
Essentially, what these scarves offer is something that’s hard to resist: a deliberate fashion statement that’s easy to wear and doesn’t require too much commitment or expense, like you get from a great pair of sunglasses. “The best way to look finished is to put a scarf around the neck,” stylist Annabel Tollman says. “It’s an easy way to look done, and it brings attention to the face. In that way, you can consider it to be like a piece of jewelry.”
Many celebrities, particularly in sunny Los Angeles, have been photographed repeatedly in scarves along these lines, which has inevitably helped the acceptance of this new take on a neckerchief grow. Fans include Jessica Alba and Kim Kardashian, Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis.
The look appeals to men too: Robert Pattinson, Johnny Depp and Ewan McGregor all tend to twist an oblong scarf loosely around the neck for a bit of ever-so-slightly insouciant swagger. Men who want to incorporate that look into their fashion vernacular should check out Kiton, which carries scarves in an extensive selection of colors, patterns and fabrics. Instead of positioning scarves just as stand-alone accessories, retailers have started to emphasize the link between scarves and designer ready-to-wear collections. “We’re more focused than ever on making sure our scarf prints are from the runway,” explains Elizabeth Kanfer, co-director of women’s accessories at Saks Fifth Avenue. “We’re also noticing that the fashion customer feels confident to layer a printed scarf over a printed top. With the prevalence of so many prints on the runway, they really are a fashion statement.”
In tandem, designers are creating scarves with an unmissable connection to their collection. Take Thakoon Panichgul, whose creations have been worn by Michelle Obama. The fall Thakoon line includes Crayola-bright scarves covered with a crocodile-esque print that was also used this season on a gauzy sleeveless dress. For pre-fall, he offered large-and-long scarves with similarly dynamic patterns—delicate pink flowers toughened by an army green background, as well as tiny striated lines of primary colors—that echoed that season’s dresses. “The scarves always pick up the theme of the collection because it’s important to have cohesion,” Panichgul says. “But our scarves are much more casual, more everyday, for the woman who works, travels and is on the go.”
That’s really the key to this trend: Scarves these days aren’t an afterthought or pieces saved for a cool evening or the drafty air of a plane. And it’s worth noting that, for the traditionally minded, there are also plenty of silky, blown-up, checked scarves of all sizes and designs created to wear indoors at the moment.