A New Role for Scarves

Photo:Matt Seymour

I’ve been wearing scarves all my life.  In a dusty photo album filled with black-and-white snapshots, there I am at age 8, all dressed up in my winter best, going somewhere on a cold Thanksgiving Day wearing a silk scarf that wasn’t nearly warm enough.  

My mother probably set the tone for my sister and me.  We adopted what we viewed as the fashionable wearing of scarves followed by such notables as Queen Elizabeth II (who wears her Liberty silk scarves to this day, especially during her jaunts in chilly Scotland) and the very stylish Audrey Hepburn. 

Photo:Susan Alexander

The result:  A vast collection of scarves of every description, from humble cotton squares that look like a tablecloth in an Italian restaurant, to lovely hand-painted silk in charming pastel colors, to Hermès lookalikes purchased from vendors in NYC’s Chinatown before the authorities cracked down on illicit counterfeit-selling.

And I wear them.  Especially since I moved to San Francisco, where I never leave my home without a light jacket (or cardigan sweater), a scarf in a handy pocket (and women’s clothes should all have pockets), and a sunhat to protect my skin from the California sun (even when it’s hiding behind a cloud or two).  The only exceptions: When there’s a torrential downpour or when we’re having unusually hot weather and only the sunhat is a must.

Now I learn that my huge array of scarves can, if used properly, protect me from the current scourge of Covid-19.  The State of California Department of Public Health has issued guidelines stating that wearing face coverings, including scarves, may help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.  The CDC and Bay Area public health officials have given similar advice.

Photo: Alex Iby

Following this guidance, I began wearing scarves as face coverings several days ago, and I can now pick and choose among those I like best, so long as they are substantial enough to do the job.  

Of course, I don’t want to scare anyone. After all, a black scarf worn on one’s face can be intimidating.  I certainly don’t want to enter a corner grocery store looking like a miscreant about to pull a hold-up. So I’m opting for bright colors and cheerful designs.

We’re instructed to wash one’s scarf in hot water after each wearing.  So silk is pretty much out. Instead I’m inclined to wear cotton or cotton blends, large enough and foldable enough to cover my nose and mouth.

Photo: Susan Alexander

So before I take off for my daily stroll in my neighborhood, my search for just the right scarf has propelled me to select one among a wide range of choices.  Shall I choose the black-and-white cotton checkered number? How about the Vera design featuring bright green peas emerging from their peapods on a bright white background?  Or shall I select one of the scarves I bought at the Museo del Prado in Madrid in 1993, eschewing the tempting jewelry reproductions offered in the gift shop in lieu of the less expensive and far more practical headscarves with an admittedly unique design? (I bought two, each in a different color-combination.)  

I’ve worn all of these already, and tomorrow I’ll begin dipping into my collection to find still others.

I have to confess that I’m not particularly adept at tying my scarves as tightly as I probably should.  But whenever I encounter another pedestrian on my route (and there aren’t many), we steer clear of each other, and I use my (gloved) hand to press the scarf very close to my face.  That should do it, protection-wise.

Photo: Marek Rucinski

One more thing I must remember before I wrap myself in one of my scarves:  Forget about lipstick. Absolutely no one is going to see my lips, and any lip color would probably rub off on my scarf.  Forgeddaboutit.

Please note:  By writing about scarf-wearing, I do not mean to trivialize the seriousness of our current crisis.  I’m simply hopeful that wearing these bright scarves—and telling you about them—will help to soften the blow the virus has already dealt so many of us.

Please join me as a scarf-wearer and, with luck, we’ll all stay safe and well   Fingers crossed!

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