Collage of Vintage Scarf and Handkerchief Ideas

This a fun and different follow-up from my last post about the one yard 1940s top which calls for an oversized scarf as an optional material source.   Scarves – and handkerchiefs – have been used towards making something to wear for decades, but sadly it seems to out of favor today.  As I have a plethora of scarves on hand, and always see so many hankies and scarves for sale at vintage shops and antique stores, I think being creative with these little pieces from the past are not just an old fashioned ‘thing’ but can actually look quite cute and be useful!  Modern fat quarters would I believe do just the thing as well.  They are a similar size after all.  Quilters listen up – your fat quarter stash can become much of what is shown below if you want to switch over the apparel sewing!

Enjoy the following inspiration and eye candy.

Here is yet another 1940s pattern for a blouse that is made from an all-around border small scarf, fat quarter, or hankie for view 3…or remnants when it comes to view 4.  It is Hollywood #1523 pattern.

McCall #1525’s outfits are also made from multiple small hankies or scarves.  The full ensemble – dress, purse, and hat – takes 6 squares, I believe.  The hankies used make it look quite quaint, but out of modern printed fat quarters I think this would look quite fetching and fun!

Mena at “Make This Look” on Instagram posted a super cute and very much a regular shirtdress or skirt that is also made of hankies.  This could totally be much more coordinated and aesthetically pleasing if one went for using modern fat quarters to piece these outfits together.  This pattern is my favorite but I have no idea what its number is, so this will be hard to find.

One of the easiest and frequent way to use scarves with no sewing or alteration needed is to turn a scarf into a halter top.  This method of scarf tying has been popular since the early 30’s when it began during the rise of the resort-leisure and sportswear fashions that spawned beach pajamas.  It can be done with just a necklace and a safety pin needed.  First you fold the large scarf into a big triangle.  The folded edge goes around your waist.  Lay it over the front of you and tie the two ends at the lower back waist.  The two raw ends that make the third corner of the triangle go over your necklace and are pinned in place so that you easily end up with a cute sleeveless and backless halter.  The neckline corner of the scarf can be over or under the necklace and the pin can be seen or not seen (your choice).  I love it as an easy bikini top cover-up, and depending how you style or accessorize it, this simple halter can look 30’s vintage, 70’s retro, or modern.

The most amazing and hard to believe inspiration of scarf and hankie fashions is this old late 1930s “British Movietone News” clip – watch it yourself here.  It shows you how to fold and otherwise tie yourself in the “latest seaside fashions”.  I love the hilarious commentary, “It is difficult to imagine blowing your nose in anything as smart as this!”  The coat made of four scarves is the thing I would like to try to most.

There is another video from 1921 (seen here) that shows two hankies being turned into a brassiere (screenshot at left).  Granted, the final result looks very homemade and unattractive to modern eyes, but we must be thankful.  The modern divided cup bra had its origins – as the legend goes – from an everyday woman experimenting with two hankies.  At right is an early 30’s Kestos style bra made from a delicate embroidered hanky that is much lovelier to look at.

Such a bra like this is not only easy to whip up and very modernly appropriate, but I can attest that they are very comfortable.  The 1920’s bra I had posted about here called for hankies (but I used cotton scraps) and the book where my pattern came from, “Vintage Lingerie” by Jill Salen, has several other patterns that call for a clean square of fabric originally meant for your nose.

The most popular item of clothing that I see made from oversized scarves in the 1920s seems to be hankie-hem (uneven hem) dresses as well as caftans.  However, the great designer known for her work on the bias grainline Madeleine Vionnet made her famous “scarf dress” around 1919-1920, copied by many for years after.  It is made of four large square pieces of fabric which give you four “flaps” (or jabots I think is the official term) on each side of your body, a deep V neck on the front and back, with twisted shoulder straps and a sash to tie it all together.

There is a free and simple tutorial here on “We Sew Retro” and they claim it makes a dress in only 20 minutes when you start with four large square 1 meter pre-hemmed scarves.  You can try out a popular 1920s style from a famous designer in under half of an hour?  Yes, please, this is on my plan-to-make queue.

I have only two 1 meter scarves on hand and so I did a little experimenting on my own.  Firstly, I sewed the two of them into a 1920s inspired pop-over caftan.  There are two vertical seams along the sides to give me a subtle shape and only two small stitches at the shoulders to keep it on me.  Many original 1920’s caftans were actually made with specially printed or woven oriental textiles, or even long rectangular scarves.

Not content with only one use for my two matching scarves, I unpicked the few seams my caftan had to be back to “the drawing board” as the phrase goes.  I tied the two scarves into becoming a skirt.  Firstly I started by covering up my front half and tying the scarf in a tiny knot at my center back waist.  Then I repeated the same thing starting from the back to the front.  Just like the halter top above, this would make the cutest swim cover up…which is how I was actually wearing it here.  It shows just enough of a sexy leg flash in the wind or in movement, but I think is not obviously as much of a thrown-together item to wear as it really is!  This one was entirely my idea.

Besides the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s inspiration it seems the 1970s was the next big decade for re-using scarves.  I did find several scarf and hankie printed fabric dresses in the 1960s, as if the era liked the idea but not the real thing and so only used fabric versions.  The hippie era and the Bohemian chic caused eclectic styles and re-fashioning to become popular.  Many designers made scarf dresses and paisley hankie print garments in the 1970s and the smaller brands and sewing companies followed with their own copies.

Although I never thought of such fashions as becoming widely popular or mainstream, they must have had their impact because several Design houses have re-hashed the trend in the last two years.  Strikingly similar to this LaVetta dress of the early 70’s, Gucci brand just came out with a scarf kaftan this spring 2019 (both pictured below).  Everything old becomes new again if you wait long enough.

Dolce & Gabbana preceded them in 2018 with a handful of scarf sourced fashion such as this dress.  Oh my…if I had that many pure silk scarves I really don’t think that is what I would do with them.  Nevertheless, the look is fun and colorful (but it’s almost $5,000)!  It reminds me of this Oscar de la Renta “Patchwork-Effect Floral-Print Silk-Chiffon Dress” from pre-fall 2019 or this poncho- style Oscar de la Renta blouse that looks like pretty quilters’ fat quarters or old table linen remnants sewn together.  *Sigh*  If only high fashion could be so sustainable that a dress or blouse like that would really be made out of scraps and not just printed to imitate such a practice.  I’ll have to try some knock-off versions for myself sometime because I both don’t have $3,000 to spare and goodness knows I have enough scraps to try!

Inspiration I have found on Pinterest that is not marketed as vintage is mostly either for neckwear or headwear.  Of course, scarves were immensely popular for heads, necks, and belts in the 1940s and 30’s…it’s nothing new, but still so cute and useful!  However, I did see some modern scarf ideas that did gain my main interest.  This asymmetric wrap top that employs one buckle clasp is to die for!  Sadly, I cannot find the source to credit it (lack of source information is only one of the reasons Pinterest aggravates me) but this one is quite inventive and chic.  Also, this – one of the many dresses at the shop “CreatedByMK” on Etsy (which also sells so many lovely scarves) – is so beautiful, versatile, and much more wearable than most tie or wrap on scarf garments.  This style should be easy to replicate, adaptable to many body shapes, and very complimentary in a very swishy and feminine way.  Compared to my earlier skirt idea, this particular scarf skirt is stunning, so completely blowing me away.  I love the way the corners come together at the waist so beautifully.  People are so smart.

Ugh, I need to find a cheap stash of scarves and have an immediate go at many of these ideas, now that I posted about them!!  Which ones are your favorites?  Do you think you will be trying anything here out for yourself?  There is more over on my related Pinterest board “Turning a Scarf into Something Wearable” here, if you fancy a trip down the rabbit hole with me.  P.S. There’s the coolest tutorial for cute little satin scarf do-it-yourself shorts over there!

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2 thoughts on “Collage of Vintage Scarf and Handkerchief Ideas

  1. I love this post, so many great ideas for scarves. I have a whole drawer full of vintage scarves and now I want to go through them and start playing. Thank you!

    Jennie from theuglydame.blogspot.com

    Like

  2. Such fun! I do actually wear neck scarves quite often, I’ve love the elegant touch they can add to an outfit and am always looking for new fastening methods. That buckle idea is awesome!!
    As for the other ideas, next time I come across scarves any place I will definitely be looking with a more creative eye.

    Like

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