How to give your outfit an instant upgrade

Susan B. wears a green and aqua silk scarf and mint green sweater.

Just add a modern silk scarf…

According to Vogue, silk scarves made a good showing on the street style set during Paris fashion week. While it’s been some years since they’ve been more broadly popular, I’ve always loved wearing scarves. Whether they’re coming back “in” again remains to be seen. But I have been noticing a lot more silk scarves in this season’s collections than I’ve seen in a while.

scarf (similar) | sweater

Carrés, or silk squares are a practical choice for spring, when a wool or cashmere scarf is too heavy, but it’s still chilly enough to want some neck coverage. They’re also a great way to add some color and pattern, and can be the piece that makes an outfit feel “finished.”

Susan B. wears 3 casual outfits with modern silk square scarves.

Outfit details HERE | HERE | HERE

Some shy away from silk scarves out of fear of looking fusty or démodé. To avoid this, be careful of patterns that feel dated or too fussy, and opt for either modern or whimsical designs. (In your best colors, of course!) And avoid ties that are too precise or complicated. “Just threw it on,” is the look you’re going for. That doesn’t mean sloppy or haphazard. Here’s one of my favorite ways to tie or arrange a silk scarf that’s neat but not fussy:

If a standard size (36″ x 36″) silk square feels too unwieldy at first, try a smaller size and wear as a neckerchief, headband or tied around the handle of your bag. Good quality silk can be worth the investment and can last for decades if properly cared for. But you can also find some moderately priced scarves to try out. Here are a few:

Also check out Etsy, and re-sale sites like Fashionphile and The RealReal. (Be aware though, some designer scarves retain a high value, even second-hand.)

Do you wear silk scarves? What’s your favorite way to wear them?

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  1. Yes I do – and got the habit from my mother ! She pointed out that silk is both warm and cool as necessary . I also have some fine cotton ones which I got for the designs/colours . I don’t find them difficult to tie on but maybe I should do ? As to being matronly I am now 68 so clearly in that category whatever I do – why fight it ? I do like having my neck warm enough and incidentally hiding some of the wrinkles . Both problems can be year round as I live in the North of England .

    1. Yes! 79, fine with matronly, old- fashioned and complex. In warmer climates scarves may well look the opposite but in cooler ones they are functional and pretty..

    2. Agree with you there! Great for hiding crinkly necks and they look great too. Really add pop to an outfit.

  2. Yes – I wear silk scarves – definitely to keep my neck protected and to add some fun color near my face. Thank you, Susan, for the videos – they are most helpful!

  3. Silk scarves create travel magic! They are easy to pack and can make outfits so versatile. I picked up the habit of purchasing a special scarf as souvenir, so now I have the benefit of great travel memories when I look at them. So, yes, put this matron down as a scarf fan!

  4. Thank you for the video showing how to tie a scarf….I have so many, and am stuck with just one or two ways to wear them. You posted one way a few years ago, and it’s been my go-to since (long scarf hung around neck, twist the ends, then wrap and tie around your neck). So, I will add this one to my repertoire .
    And I LOVE your green sweater…that color looks gorgeous on you!

  5. I didn’t see any Hermes scarves pictured! do you not like them now?? I must admit, when we went to Paris 3 years ago in the summer i did not see one Hermes scarf on any woman’s neck except mine!!! lol

    1. I had a collection of Hermes scarves, but felt they looked rather fussy and dare I say it, a bit matronly. I sold them at auction and made quite a nice profit. Now, if I wear a silk scarf, they are smaller and worn in a similar style to Susans (the author) who looks great. Silk scarves can be a bit hot in summer, so maybe that is why you did not see any worn. I sold my Chanel 2.55 bag as I had similar feelings about that as well.

  6. I have always admired your sense of style in adding a scarf to a basic sweater and–voila, a perfect polished outfit. I need to learn to try this!

  7. No- I haven’t tried the smaller silk scarves. I have longer scarves that are worn in winter. However, I’m inspired by this post to try them. I love how you use them Susan and they definitely elevate your outfits!

  8. I have a very short neck, square scarves seem so bulky when I try to wear them as you’ve shown. It seems there are fewer silk/silk-like oblong scarves available now. They are so much easier for me to wear.
    Also, I don’t think I’ve notice you mention Liberty of London. I was looking at its site yesterday (J. Crew has a few products in Liberty fabrics) and looked at its scarf selection – amazing; silk, fine cottons, silk/cashmere blends… Take a look.

  9. I love scarves of all kinds and wear one more often than not, regardless of the season (just move from wool or cashmere or silk to thin linen or cotton). Just bought a handful of Madewell cotton squares on sale this week to add to the collection…As I rarely if ever wear prints of any kind in clothing, I like the small dash of interest that a scarf can give my solid tops.

  10. I love silk scarves and do wear them, more so in cool weather as it’s just too hot in the summer here in Scottsdale. I hadn’t been wearing small squares for a while and your post with the green sweater and scarf at the beginning of this post inspired me to do the same! I just passed some down to my daughter who is in her mid 40’s who has begun to wear them for work and loves the versatility it adds to her wardrobe.

  11. I love scarves and pack only scarves no necklaces when I travel. I find them much more versatile. I recently took a silk scarf painting class at my local art gallery. It was a lot of fun and I learned several techniques. I’ve made quite a few in my summer colors and I get lots of compliments on them.

  12. At the risk of sounding somewhat critical I will say that I’m a bit bored seeing you with a scarf around your neck lately. I think we all know how to put a scarf around our necks! Go on to something more creative please and play with scarves in a different way. Twisting, adding jewelry tucking and braiding are some interesting methods. So many additional interesting ways to use our beautiful scarves.

  13. One of the best sources for unique scarves is the
    Excellent quality, based on art in the Smithsonian, excellent sales, and a worthy cause.
    Cat/animal/ flower prints; a variety of materials. Owners support a bigcatrescue, so also a worthy cause.

  14. Leanne, everyone has a certain style. A lovely scarf tied simply around her neck is Susan’s, especially since she appears to use the scarf to add interest to a solid top. The colours are always perfect for bringing out the best in her colouring. Susan’s suggestions are relevant and helpful.
    I have an upcoming trip and Susan’s post reminded me to pack a large square Hermes scarf that is little used and perfect for London this spring. Like another reader, scarves are a wonderful reminder of a trip , and always so easy to pack for home.

  15. I live in Los Angeles. I wear scarves to keep my neck warm in “winter.” The rest of the year, they’re too warm for me. They’re too warm most of the time when and where I’ve traveled, too. I like the concept but I’ve given my lighter weight scarves away.

    1. Exactly. I don’t need any additional heat around my neck when it’s 105 degrees outside. Susan lives near the coast, so she enjoys somewhat cooler temperatures year ’round. She does look smashing in them, so it’s lucky she can wear them. Oh, and I am not bored with the look, myself.

  16. I wear silk scarves—larger and smaller squares as well as oblong—for warmth, color and pattern, and a finishing element that adds some spark to an outfit. The tie you demonstrate in your video is one I use often, and I find that it works with both square and oblong scarves. An easy tie, and as you say, neat but not fussy. Like Elizabeth, I wear scarves often, regardless of season, and I also have a collection of Madewell bandannas in both cotton and silk. Your suggestions about types of prints are also helpful.

  17. Do I need to change my scarves? I am a winter, have dark brown hair I dyed black when I went gray. Now at 74, my skin seem so pale (I used to have olive skin ) Are the strong colors still good or do I need summer colors which are more pastel?
    My eyes are hazel, a pale green sometimes look pale blue when I wear blue. They are nondescript and not noticeable most of the time, so I don’t buy much trying to match them. I love scarves and buy them when I travel as a useful souvenir.

  18. Thrifting is a great way to find some amazing vintage scarves. Oh boy when I think of the number of silk scarves that my mother owned and I donated after her death!! We had different styles and colour preferences so I couldn’t see the point of keeping them. Those I kept were clearly not her favourites and never worn, still in their protective envelopes. They were gifts from a well travelled brother and her friends. I did keep a rather dull Liberty shawl that she picked up in London. I will gift it but the never worn emerald, black, white and lavender silk Dior carré will stay.
    At sixty six and a grandmother x 3 I believe ‘matronly’ to be an unflattering, ageist and gender biased descriptive like ‘crone’ or ‘old lady’ and not a word I would choose to describe myself or others regardless of their age.

      1. I’m 68. Matronly by any other name is still matronly. (Like porn, you know matronly when you see it.) Does not offend me. And I do not want to look matronly, which is not the same as looking “older”, which I am. It’s a good descriptive term. Love all types of scarves and the spice they add to simple outfits. Never out of style for me. I wear them loose and flowing – can’t stand anything close around my neck though I love the look on others. Keep ‘em coming.

    1. Hang on, why should Susan stop using the term, ‘matronly’? . Hyacinth Bucket and Miss Marple fit the description perfectly and I should imagine most of Susan’s followers would not wish to emulate their ‘matronly’ style of clothes, considering this is a fashion blog. If anyone is offended by the word ‘matronly’ wait until you need health care and are referred to as ‘geriatric’ because you are over 60. People need to lighten up and not be offended by everything these days.

        1. Matron isn’t a pejorative term per se, but, a Matron is the former name of what is now known as Director of Nursing (in British/Australian hospitals). She had a position of power and was both respected and somewhat feared. In boarding schools, the Matron was in charge of the health and well being of the children. Fashion wise, it usually applies to a woman who is middle aged and dresses conservatively – think tweed suit and pearls. The term, ‘matron’ is neither ageist or sexist.

  19. I wear them mostly when I travel to add interest to my outfit since I tend to travel with more neutral wardrobes than I wear here in my home state of Florida. Also, it’s one of my favorite souvenirs to buy when I go to any city that has an Hermes store! I love to look at Mai Tai’s Picture Book website for learning new ways to tie a silk scarf. Sometimes I tie one onto a purse or twist it and knot it into a necklace to wear so it doesn’t feel so formal down here in casual Florida.

  20. I don’t think it is ageist to say ‘old lady ‘ or even ‘old woman’ ! These are simply descriptive terms . Being old is an achievement , and thus not inherently insulting , surely . I would be insulted by ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ – or is that an exclusively English/British term ? You see I don’t find a ‘matron’ a figure of ridicule either . Bad taste and good should not have age-linked connotations – or can we agree on an age when we SHOULD give up loving clothes/style/fashion ?

  21. I think scarves are so pretty and I have many of them. I wear long scarves wrapped around my neck when it is chilly outside and while traveling.
    I have not however been able to wear the small scarves around my neck. I put them on and immediately feel like it is some kind of uniform. I put them on and take them off.
    Although they look so wonderful on Susan and others. I just cannot do it. Not sure why they feel wrong for me.

  22. After 2 years WFH and retirement coming soon I find that I am off of smooth silk scarves.
    I still like scarves, but my new thing is ones that have a thicker more casual texture. Sometimes that will be cotton, linen, rayon, or even raw silk. They go better with my more casual attire.

    I’m not parting with any of my fine silk scarves, they don’t go out of style or take up much wardrobe space and for all I know social events will eventually pick back up and they’ll be worn.

  23. I’ve always loved and worn silk scarves, mostly smaller squares, a habit I picked up from my rather utilitarian mother (who also went to art school). I love them, and I love how you style them, Susan. I see a lot of crazy ways to tie them on Instagram and it makes my head spin. I did take a long break from them when everyone started wearing all those overwrought infinity scarves, a look I personally don’t care for and that thankfully seems to have run its course. But I’m back to buying silk and cotton bandanas and am learning to wear them again. I think you’re right about looking for modern and fresh colors/designs. The wrong print (if not done with a sartorial wink) can give off a dowdy vibe.

  24. I am in Paris now and seeing primarily wool/cashmere scarves worn for warmth over coats and jackets. Not much in the way of silk scarves but it is March and chilly so women seem to be opting for warmth. I saw some gorgeous suits in a shop window with somewhat oversized silk flower (daisy) boutonnieres. Fun, stylish, and a pop of color near your face. Definitely going to incorporate similar ones into my wardrobe. It may seem cliche but the majority of women are wearing black (including shoes, coats, bags) with an occasional colored coat (coral keeps popping up.)

  25. You do them so well. I am hopeless with scarves. I love them, but I can never get them right. They make me look old-fashioned. Next Sunday there will be a post on my blog where I did succeed with a scarf. At least that is what I think.

  26. I first “found” you through a search for how to tie/wear scarfs a few months ago. Of course, then I learned you are SO much more and love your blog! Back to the scarfs: I have tons and rarely wear them because I always thought they made me look larger or overpowered my short frame. I am doing better – in fact I wore one this morning. It was a rectangle one – rather soft – and I used to feel it was too large for me. But by holding one side and twirling it like you show, it becomes much more manageable. I then tied a “funky loose knot” – not even sure what I did – but I liked it and I was comfortable. Maybe one or two draw backs though. A piano student asked me if the “neckerchief scarf” was my new style. Evidently I was wearing them quite often. And my pastor said I looked like I was ready for a flight (flight attendant look I guess), as I came in with my solid “choir dress code” with a “smart” neckerchief and my rolling bag with all my piano music in it the other day…LOL1 I am learning so much on your blog! Love it!