People often ask me what are the differences between a scarf, shawl, wrap and stole.

There seems to be a fair amount of confusion about these terms and no wonder as they are frequently used interchangeably.

For those who want to be fashion term savvy, here's the scoop:

All four names represent finished pieces of fabric that are worn. They can be made from natural fibers such as silk, cashmere, wool, cotton and linen, or man-made fibers such as acrylic and polyester.

Often for decorative purposes, natural and man-made fibers are used in the same scarf; for example, a metallic gold (man-made fiber) thread may be used to embroider a wool (natural fiber) scarf.

A shawl refers to a larger item, usually rectangular, but sometimes triangular or square in shape that can be wrapped around the body. Shawls are worn by men and women.


They add a lovely finishing touch to an outfit and can be worn for warmth or can be purely decorative or both.

Shawls are used to accent an outfit, to keep the chill out, for prayer and to cover bare shoulders in formal attire; in short, a highly versatile addition to anyone's wardrobe.

A stole is very similar to a shawl. The term probably derives from the ancient Roman stola, which is the woman's version of the men's toga.

The term stole today is usually used to describe a formal wrap, basically a shawl made of an elegant fabric, often not as wide as a shawl, but long enough to drape around the body.

The word stole is also used to describe a wide decorative sash that is draped over the shoulders as in a graduation stole or a liturgical stole.

A Woman's Evening Stole

This brings up the modern term “wrap” which nowadays is used for both shawls and stoles.

Are we confused yet?

A Scarf. Scarves can be thin and long: think of a typical winter wool scarf or they can be square: think of a classic silk scarf. In other words, the term is usually used to describe a fabric item that can be wrapped or tied around your neck for warmth and or style. Scarves can be casual or formal and everywhere in-between.

Small Square Scarves are called bandanas, neck scarves or neckerchiefs and are made of a light material, usually silk, but also cotton and linen. Small squares can be worn so many ways: try one tied around your neck, your head, your purse handle, a ponytail or your belt loop for a fun dash of color.

Foulards are the classic women's fashion scarf, 90cm (35-36”) and are usually made of silk. It's a versatile size that can be worn as a head scarf, or around the neck or waist. This size has made a wonderful return in popularity.

Last but not least are Oversized Square Scarves which are 120cm-140cm (47” -55”) or sometimes even larger that can be worn as a head scarf, wrapped around the shoulders as a shawl or worn around the hips. This size is becoming quite popular for men as well, wrapped around the neck in loose folds.

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