Sure, there is nothing relatable about the sight of Ivanka Trump with a Hermès scarf wrapped around the chest of her gray Max Mara blazer, arms constricted as if she’s wearing a very fancy straitjacket. True, that is not how Real People dress. And yet, who among us hasn’t been on the wrong end of a scarf malfunction? No matter your politics, scarves are tough to pull off.
Or, as New York-based stylist Nicola Harrison put it, “People have a hard time with scarves. It’s a thing.”
Take it from Lenny Kravitz, who told Jimmy Fallon last year that he “cannot escape” jokes made about the gargantuan amethyst scarf he wore on a chilly November day back in 2012. With a comforter-sized wrap protecting on his shoulders, Kravitz was nothing if not prepared for the weather.
Small scarves are hardly any better. At GQ’s Men of the Year Awards last week, Al Pacino arrived looking peak Mom’s New Boyfriend in New Balance sneakers (of course), a corduroy blazer, navy peacoat, a cloud gray scarf hung around his shoulders. It was not tied or wrapped around his neck, providing no defense should a gust of wind hit the actor’s exposed throat. At that point, why even wear a scarf at all?
TV anchors and journalists outside become scarf addicts in winter; a scarf, knotted tightly, is supposed to keep you warm but also make you look relatable and cozy. (You might go even harder in on the look and elect to wear one of Hoda Kotb’s signature huge, woolly hats.)
Know that countless hard-working actors in Lifetime Christmas movies made them in the height of summer (as my colleague Tim Teeman recently noted, with fake snow piped over parched lawns); their perfectly knotted, cutesy scarves are encasing overheated bodies in desperate need of air conditioning.
Outerwear, in general, exists to ruin any outfit. Just like finding a cute winter coat is damn near impossible, big puffy gloves get in the way of everything, and scarves cramp your style. True, these pieces keep you warm, but at what price?
“My clients never know if a scarf is wearing them or if they’re wearing the scarf,” stylist Samantha Brown said. “My advice to anyone who wants to go the scarf route and still look sleek and polished is to always consider the scale.”
“A really, really tiny person in a huge, oversized scarf is going to look ridiculous, and a larger person in a tiny scarf is going to look ridiculous,” Brown added.
Scarves are often an afterthought, especially for this writer, who considers hurling hers on one final, hurried step to complete before leaving for the day.
“Most people just throw them on, and there isn’t much thought involved,” stylist Amanda Sanders explained. “It needs to be wrapped tightly around the neck, so that air doesn’t come in. That’s the whole purpose of a scarf.”
Clients frequently ask Sanders how the hell they’re supposed to nail such a tricky accessory. “They’ll have it in their hands and look at me blankly,” she said. “They’ll say, ‘I don’t know what to do with this.’”
Sanders recommends folding a scarf in half to create a loose loop. “Pull the end through the loop so it looks neat, as opposed to just wrapping it around your neck,” she said. If you must wrap it around your neck, “just tie the points so it looks neat.”
Walk down the street of any East Coast city, and you’ll no doubt lose yourself in a sea of black puffer coats. “Those are boring and dull, so a scarf is a nice opportunity to add a pop of color or a print to liven up a dreary outerwear look,” Harrison said. “I love a good tone on tone. That means if you’re wearing a navy coat, a lighter blue scarf always looks nice.”
Ivanka’s silk scarf, of course, provides no warmth. “It’s just an accessory,” Brown said. “That takes the place of a statement necklace. If you do a statement scarf, that should highlight your neckline, which brings attention to your face.”
Harrison told The Daily Beast that she tries to “steer away” clients from Ivanka-esque silk scarves. “They can be tricky to wear and still look youthful,” she explained. “I don’t know why [Ivanka] tied hers around the front; it’s bizarre. I’ve never seen anyone do anything like that.”
“I have clients who have many of those scarves and they ask me what to do with them,” Sanders said. “I tell them to consign them.”
But if a “country look, with riding boots and a Barbour jacket, that kind of thing,” is what you seek, Harrison suggests folding a silk scarf into a triangle shape, keeping its tip pointed, and using the two ends to tie a loose double knot around your neck.
This next part is very important: “Fluff it up a bit,” Harrison said. “That’s my main point about scarf-wearing in general, whether it’s a silk one or a winter knit—the wrap around, the tie, that’s only step one. Step two, the way to make it look good and polished, is to puff it out, pull it apart, so it takes up full space from your collarbone to your jawline.”
Once again: “Do not underestimate the fluff. Don’t just tie it and run out the door, tie it and fluff.”