A scarf is an essential part of any winter wardrobe. While in the U.S> they’re more often than not just another seasonal accessory, in Europe there’s a long tradition of using scarves as a way to show support for sports teams, identify university alumni, and er...pledge allegiance to the Harry Potter franchise.
As is so often the case with men's clothing, a careful and considered purchase will keep you covered in style for years to come - we'd much rather you splash out on a high-quality scarf that will fit nicely into your current wardrobe than a cheap throwaway piece that'll only be good for a season or two.
Here's five pragmatic tips to help you protect your neck this winter.
Get a Feel For Fabrics
Just like any other new wardrobe addition, it's essential to consider fabrics before deciding which scarf is the one for you. Wool is warm, but can be itchy and may even leave a rash. Cashmere is soft, but expensive. Merino wool offers a balance of warmth and softness, while acrylic is cheap - and definitely feels that way. Since scarves are pretty small items in the grand scheme of things, going upscale won’t be as costly as say, getting a full coat made of plush fabric.
Silk scarves have luxurious connotations thanks to new-school dandies like Empire's Lucious Lyon, but they’re more for show than warmth. However, some labels that lean towards the more sartorial side of the style spectrum offer up silk and cashmere blends that offer up a great balance of warmth, fabric hand (a.k.a. how it feels on your skin), and quality.
The takeaway here is you don’t want a scarf that feels uncomfortable when you’re wearing it. So regardless of how silly you might feel trying a scarf on indoors, you should definitely make sure its fabric composition won’t irritate your skin before you commit to purchasing.
Go For Something Versatile
A scarf is there to keep your neck warm, so we advise investing in one that you'll look forward to wearing time after time, rather than a trendy one-season piece. So do yourself a favor and consider versatility before you drop your hard-earned cash on something that looks ridiculous with all but 1% of your wardrobe.
Color-wise, black, navy and grey are - as ever - the most flexible tones at your disposal. Camel, beige and burgundy are more lush options that'll still be very wearable, depending on the rest of your wardrobe. We recommend staying on the side of caution and investing in something that will either match the rest of your gear or contrast nicely against it.
Consider Patterned Scarves
Solid scarves are always a safe bet, but that doesn't mean you should be afraid of patterns, either. A loud statement scarf will potentially clash with colors and prints, but quieter plaids, stripes, dots and herringbones can be worn with just about anything. Unless you live in Siberia, you probably don’t need more than a few scarves, so it’s best to plan for one solid one and one patterned one. That way you’ll be covered no matter what you plan on throwing it over (or under).
Argyle is a bit dated and might have you looking like a particularly cold golfer, while fair isle prints tend to look more festive than timeless - we'd avoid both. Checked and tartan patterns (both classic and blackwatch styles), however, are classics for a reason.
If you want some more adventurous options, then think about your personal style. Audacious dressers may want to try their hand at some leopard print, while fans of dark luxury might be tempted by one of Alexander McQueen's iconic skull-adorned silk numbers - although we can't guarantee it'll keep you warm. Burberry's Horseferry check has been a staple in both affluent and blue-collar ends of British society for decades, and paisley patterns will inject dressed-up looks with a bit of baroque sophistication.
Football scarves are having a minute, but please, please, do not be that guy wearing merch from a team you've never heard of - it's fashion victim behavior of the highest order. That didn't stop Vogue from declaring the football scarf FW15's "must-have" accessory, mind.
Keep Length in Mind
When knotted, your scarf should ideally fall below your chest but above your waistline. Anything less and it’ll look too short, any more and you'll risk looking like Lenny Kravitz. Longer scarves can be wrapped around your neck two or three times in order to get them to look right, but ideally the sweet spot your scarf should hit is just above your bellybutton.
Again, the try-before-you-buy motto should be remembered here.
Contemplate Some More Adventurous Options
Of course, in the brave new world of menswear, there are plenty of alternative options to the basic scarf. Engineered Garments produces a shawl-like accessory, which adds buttons and buttonholes to a large square-ended scarf, giving numerous ways to wear it.
Thermal neck warmers are ideal for sportier dressers, as they keep you covered without the inconvenience of excess fabric flapping about. “Infinity scarves” or “snoods” require no knotting, as they are already a looped piece of fabric. None of these are necessarily a bad choice - it depends on your personal sense of style - but the classic scarf certainly won't be going anywhere.
With all that in mind - what else are you waiting for? Get out there and shop.
For more consumer tips, dive into the rest of our Check Before You Buy series and peep some recommended scarves via What Drops Now below.
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