Tied up in knots? Rut-Busters: The scarf edition


I’ve had an on-again, off-again thing with scarves.  Let’s just say that our relationship has been a stormy one.  When I love them, I do so with foolish, reckless abandon.  When I spurn them, we don’t speak for months.

On the one hand, scarves are perfect for me in so many ways:

  • They are a low-commitment way to play with color,
  • They help me get maximum mileage out of a limited number of tops in an even more limited color palate,
  • They are often cheaper than jewelry, and
  • I think they express the casual, breezy, creative vibe that I like, while still being considered chic.

However, my experiments with scarves have traditionally involved protracted sessions in front of the mirror at 6 am — tying and re-tying, swearing, tying again, attempting several different looks —  until I finally make it out the door (late!) to work.

And still, after all that, I wind up fussing again in front of the mirror at work because the scarf has “settled” badly.  The knot looks like it was tied by a first-grader.  Or the ends are scraggly and wrinkled. It looks sloppy…… or else too prim,  like I’m being swallowed by a fussy series of knots.

Often, I decide that I look like I’m choking.  Or wearing a neck brace.  Whiplash Chic?  Not my look.

The Rut:  Uninspired Scarf Tying

As I result, I’ve gotten into the habit of wearing exactly one style with my scarves:  The knot.

Even this I didn’t quite master until I was taught exactly how to tie it (this video shows how, at the 1 minute mark).   Before that, when I first started wearing oblong scarves, I wore them like this:

No, I’m not joking.  Hey, it’s easy!  No knots to fuss with.

Of course, I dabbled with other techniques.  At one point, I even experimented with different shapes and sizes — large and small square scarves, for example.  But let’s put it this way:  manual dexterity?  Not one of my strengths.  And so-called “spatial intelligence” is not high on my list, either.  Most of the time I need very clear instructions, and visual aids, before I figure out how to do something.  So out of necessity, I’ve wound up with a very short list of styles.

There’s this one:

I still like this look, but I do find that, as they day goes on, I start to feel like I’m choking or being treated for a neck injury.  It also only works for heavyweight scarves, not floaty silk ones, because they fly off if you try to walk too fast.   Which I do.

There’s also the ubiquitous and easy loop technique:

I learned it from a lady at Chico’s, years ago, but you can see it demonstrated here, at the 2 minute, 15-second mark.   It’s useful because it fills in an open neckline while also giving you length.

But I must admit that I’ve never loved this technique, because I think the loop itself looks too stiff and bulky for my taste.  I don’t find it graceful.  It tends to fall out of place — sort of like it is in that photo, come to think of it.

I also find that both the knot and the loop are unsatisfactory for scarves any longer or bulkier than the one I’m wearing in the pictures.  Meanwhile, though, huge scarves are everywhere these days, and I love them!  I even own a longer one, already:  a silk scarf that my parents bought me while traveling in Italy:

It’s lovely, and probably cost more than any other scarf I’ll ever own, but I’ve never been able to wear it well because a) it’s so long, and b) the silk is so lightweight that it floats around rather than lying flat.

So in classic Rut-Buster fashion, I’ve decided to try to bring this scarf to life.

Of course, I must confess that I also cheated a bit, and bought a new scarf that’s even longer and bulkier:

just because I wanted to.  Look at those colors!

The Research Phase

In an attempt to find new scarf-tying techniques, I checked YouTube and a lot of my favorite fashion blogs.  There are a million videos on YouTube; in addition to the one I already linked to, I liked this one as well.

However, it was when I browsed some Fashion Blogs that I hit the mother lode.  My best finds were these:

  • Sally at Already Pretty presents this video tutorial, which tells how to tie a “Pretzel Knot.”  Sally graciously didn’t take full credit, since she learned the technique from another blogger, but her demo is great.
  • Another blogger, Zovig over on CallaStyle, did another scarf post which featured some tips from our friends at Hermes (you know, the fancy French scarf makers?)  At the Hermes website, you can  download a PDF file with ideas — although you may need to be more mechanically oriented than I am, since these are diagrams, not videos.
  • But my hands-down favorite is this video posted on the Eileen Fisher company website.  This is fabulous — so many techniques, in so little time! If you visit only one of the links in this blog post, this is the one.  It even has the pretzel knot that I learned from Sally’s video, plus cool variations on many of the other techniques already referenced in this post.  Thanks to “Carrie,” whoever you are, for telling us about it in your comments on Sally’s blog post!

The Plan

My plan?  Try a new scarf technique every day for a week.  Or as many as I can, as soon as possible.

Here are my favorites.

Look 1: The Pretzel Knot, with the new multi-colored scarf.

I don’t think it looks quite as good in the photo as it did when I wore it, but I have been loving this technique.  I wore it around town — out to dinner, shopping — and I was very happy with it.  I didn’t have to fuss with the knot at all; it stayed put!  And I thought it looked good all evening.

Look 2:  Same knot, different scarf


You can see that it looks very different with a thinner silk fabric.  I wore this one to work and, again, I was pretty happy all day.  While there were moments when I glanced in the mirror and thought it looked different than I’d remembered — maybe a little messier, or a little less substantial — I didn’t fuss with it all day.   This was by far the most successful style I’d ever tried for this scarf.  Well, at least until I tried these:

Looks 3 and 4:  Infinity 1 and Infinity 2


These techniques are from the Eileen Fisher website.  They are probably familiar to many of you, but I had never tried either one, astonishingly enough.  I really, really like them!  But I cannot tell a lie; I haven’t worn them out of the house yet.

Look 5: The Twist Loop

I was thrilled when the Eileen Fisher site showed me this variation on the easy, familiar, but not-quite-satisfactory loop technique.  Check this out:

Love!  Twisting is something that just never occurred to me, and this website shows several ways to do it.  There’s even a pretzel twist which I tried and, although I didn’t love it on me, I think it’s definitely worth trying.  All of the twist techniques are great for those scarves that have a crinkly, accordian-like texture (if you know what I mean).  They cut down on bulk and add some textural interest.

I wore this one out to do errands, and plan to wear it to work as soon as I possibly can.

Final Thoughts

Usually I end each Rut-Buster post with these questions:  How did I look?  How did I feel?  Did anybody notice?  Now, I haven’t had time to wear these looks as many times, or to as many different places, as I would like.  But I’ve felt really festive, colorful, and (dare I say it?) even somewhat stylish in all of them.

As for compliments….. well, um….. Mr. Frump said I looked nice.  But I did notice — call me crazy, if you like — that lots of people have been smiling at me the last few days.  I’d like to think it’s because I look so darned cheery in these things!

And as an extra bonus:  I’ve managed to wear some very similar outfits — at least as far as the tops, bottoms and jackets go — while having completely different looks.  Score!  This is the very purpose of this series, so I’m pleased.

So there you have it.  I hope that some of my readers — the similarly scarf challenged — may find something inspiring and/or educational in this post.  For those of you who are already scarf experts: well, consider this just further validation that your scarf-tying energies are well spent.

And if you have any other tips or resources to share, send them this way!  Happy tying, everybody.

About Anne @ The Frump Factor

Reflections on beauty and style, for women who weren't born yesterday. Bring your sense of humor and "Fight the Frump" with me!
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23 Responses to Tied up in knots? Rut-Busters: The scarf edition

  1. Terri says:

    I own all of two scarves and could stand to learn a LOT more about ways to use them. I really like your first and last styling of the scarf. Might have to check out the EileenFisher video.

  2. MaggieT says:

    I own lots of scarves, but never know how to tie them. I love 3 and 4 and the twisty thing. I have a large, silk scarf from France (a gift from a traveling friend) that I love, but never knew how to wear. I’m inspired!
    I used to work with a women who always looked stylish in a very breezy, creative, individual way. She was of a certain age, an even a certain weight, yet always looked fab (no frump!). She almost always wore a scarf and other fun accessories (and always strappy sandals, no matter what time of year). Her actual tops and pants were very plain, more of a canvas for all of the other stuff. I think your on to something!

    • I’m so happy you’re inspired! The various links that I included do, also, involve different sizes and shapes of scarves. I find the long ones easiest, but there are some tips for square and shawl-type scarves too. (Mostly in the 2nd YouTube link and the Hermes file, if I remember correctly).

      And I kind of love the clothes-as-canvas idea.

  3. Zovig says:

    Thanks for the link Anne! Scarves are the love of my life. If you ever need inspiration to be in love with them, let me know. I’ll give you new reasons to love them :)

  4. BigD says:

    I haven’t ever tried the infinity (1 or 2).
    I have more scarves than I can ever wear… I seem to collect them, thinking, at the time, “Oh, this will go with __”, but somehow it’s always the wrong size/ shape and the right color. Or wrong color/shade, but the right size/shape. I can’t ever seem to get it just right. So, they hang there, and I touch them, because they are silky and make me happy, but they don’t get worn enough.

    • I have a lot, too. I’m going to try to wear as many as possible, but there were a bunch that weren’t included in this experiment because they are a lot skimpier in size. A lot of the new ideas that I’ve found seem to be for large scarves. But from this experience, I’ve learned not to give up on any of my scarves. I’m keeping them ALL. You just never know!

  5. You know what I love about you is that you don’t give up if you hit a bump in the road! You knew you wanted to conquer this and you did!! I am a scarf queen and they are very much me and my style…I am so glad to see you begin to love them as well! Thanks for hanging in there and then teaching what you learn with others!!

  6. Ann Marie says:

    I love beautiful scarves and I try to include one with my “ensemble” if I have enough time or talent! I purchased a silk scarf many ( ! ) years ago…..as I was building my professional wardrobe. The fabric was amazing; the type of silk that is as soft as tissue. The scarf was cut on the bias which made it so much easier to drape and tie. One morning, I tied it perfectly around my neck, finished my makeup….which included some shiny lipgloss and I was off to work. As I was walking into a sales call, the wind blew, the scarf flew up and stuck to my shiny lipgloss! I peeled it off and was left with a perfect outline of my lips on the scarf. So much for accessorizing that day!
    I tried to have the scarf cleaned, but no luck….it was never the same…..
    **cue the violins…….

    Thank you for the informative links and you delightful humor!

  7. Thanks! This was an especially helpful post and I really like the Eileen Fisher video.

  8. denise:) says:

    Just as i was thinking i needed to change up my daily “loop” scarf… you saved the day! Great links!!

  9. Sharon J says:

    I have dozens of scarves, everything from beautiful chiffon to heavy wool, but I’m useless at tying them. Your post has given me the K up the A that I needed to actually do something about that and learn to show them off properly. In fact, I shall start tomorrow. Thank you x

  10. Gail says:

    Well Anne you have inspired me to try scarves again. I went through a phase of buying scarves when I had my colours done and couldn’t find clothes in spring colours, so I started buying scarves in those colours instead. I could never knot them elegantly though, so they languish at the bottom of the wardrobe. Now I will have a go at the pretzel knot and the twist loop.

  11. Liz G. says:

    Great post, Anne! All of your tips are great, and I love the photos. I had to laugh at your no-knot look, since I’ve tried that style in the past. It’s OK (sort of) when you’re standing still, but the minute you take a few steps forward, the two ends of the scarf become lodged under your armpits. Depending on the direction of the wind, you might end up with a variation on the pretzel knot–with your whole torso inside the knot.

    Thanks for all the links to the video tutorials. After watching a couple of them–especially the Eileen Fisher video–I feel inspired to see what long-forgotten scarves I might be able to find in the far corners of my closet. By the way, Infinity 2 looks especially nice with your Italian scarf!

    • Thanks! Love your Human Pretzel Knot visual. Hope you have good luck with the ideas!

      I loved Infinity 2 with that scarf, too. Of course, I tried it a couple of days ago, and it didn’t come out nearly as well. I wonder if the weather, barometric pressure, or phases of the moon might affect scarf outcomes?

      • Liz G. says:

        There might also be a terroir factor, if your scarf is made from natural fibers. Sounds as if you have some research topics for The Scarf Edition, part 2!

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