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Differences between a scarf, shawl, evening wrap and stole

  • 5 min read

People often ask me what the differences between a scarf, shawl, wrap and stole are.

There seems to be a fair amount of confusion about these terms and no wonder as they are frequently used interchangeably.

For those who want to be fashion term savvy, here's the scoop:

All four terms represent finished pieces of fabric that are worn as a fashion accessory, either as a decorative element or as a wardrobe essential, or both at once. They can be made from natural fibers such as silk, cashmere, wool, cotton and linen, or man-made fibers such as acrylic and polyester. They can be square, triangle or oblong shaped.

Often for decorative purposes, natural and man-made fibers are used in the same scarf; for example, a metallic gold (man-made fiber) thread may be used to embroider a wool (natural fiber) scarf.


The term refers to a larger piece of fabric, usually rectangular, but sometimes triangular or square in shape that can be wrapped around the body. Shawlsare worn by men and women.

A shawl can be purely decorative, used to accent an outfit, or functional, as in a woolen shawl to keep you warm.  A shawl can have a specific purpose as in a prayer or liturgical stole.

They are also used to cover bare shoulders in formal attire, being decorative and practical at once. Shawls are also made from very light, thin fabric like silk chiffon to add a finishing touch to an outfit, Shawls are a highly versatile and practical addition to anyone's wardrobe.

Italian pure wool shawl

Our women's wool and cashmere shawls can be found here 

A wool shawl adds a lovely finishing touch to an outfit and can be worn for warmth or can be purely decorative or both. They can be solid colored or patterned. Wool can come from various animals like our cashmere shawls, or can also be blended with silk for a luxurious feel.



Is very similar to a shawl, usually rectangular in shape. The term probably derives from the ancient Roman stola, which is the woman's version of the men's toga.

The term stole today is usually used to describe a formal or evening shawl, made of an elegant fabric, often not as wide as a shawl, but long enough to drape around the body. Stoles usually are not fringed.

The word stole is also used to describe a wide decorative sash that is draped over the shoulders as in a graduation stole or a liturgical stole.

A sheer silk evening stole adds elegance to a formal outfit.

Sheer silk chiffon stole for women

Our silk stoles and evening shawls can be found here 


Is a modern term which is used to define everything: scarves, shawls and stoles. It's not a terribly descriptive word because of its loose definition, but, it is a word that many people use nowadays. 


Can be thin, long and rectangular: think of a typical winter wool scarf that you wrap around your neck. It can also be square: think of a ladies classic silk scarf or foulard.

In other words, the term is usually used to describe a fabric item that can be wrapped or tied around your neck for warmth and or style.
Scarves can be casual or formal and everywhere in-between.

Confusion of course reigns as many people call an evening shawl an evening scarf, or a wool shawl a wool scarf.

Below is a list and descriptions of the variety of scarf shapes available:

Small Square Scarves

Are called bandanas, neck scarves or neckerchiefs and are made of a light material, and quality small square scarves are usually made from silk or cotton.

A bandana is around 19-20 in (50cm) square.

Neckerchiefs are larger, around 26 in (70cm) square.

Both sizes are made for and worn by both women and men. 

Here are some suggestions on ways to wear a bandana for women:

Try one tied around your neck, using a knot or a loose triangle in front, wear one around your head as a head cover or headband, try one around your purse handle to add a punch of color to your outfit, tie one around your ponytail or braid it into a braid, or tie one on your belt loop for a fun dash of color.

The neckerchief size has a few more styling options available as it is larger.

 Our women's silk bandanas and neckerchiefs can be found here

Silk neckerchiefs are often by men as an alternative neckwear to neckties, bow ties, cravats and ascots. In fact, they can be folded to look like an ascot or day cravat. They are very versatile and very dapper.

Here is a guide on how to wear a neckerchief or large bandana for men.

mens silk neckerchief worn around the neck

 Our men's silk neckerchiefs can be found here

Classic Women's Silk Square Scarves or Foulards

as they are called in Europe are the traditional women's fashion square silk scarf. It's a versatile size around 35-36 in (90cm) square that can be worn as a headscarf, or around the neck or waist, styled in numerous ways. In the 50s and 60s this size was made famous by Hollywood divas and other famous women. 

The silk foulard has made a wonderful return in popularity, and for good reason. It's a fabulous way to update any outfit with style. 

womens Italian silk square scarf

Our women's classic silk square scarves can be found here

Oversized Square Scarves

These extra large silk square scarves are approximately 55 in (140cm) square and are sometimes even larger that can be worn as a headscarf, wrapped around the shoulders as a shawl, worn around your neck in many different tying techniques or worn around the waist as a hip scarf. In short, a large scarf that can also be worn as a shawl. 

When made from wool they are often called blanket scarves, meant to be worn as a shawl mantle in the cooler months.

When made from silk they become a versatile addition to your wardrobe because they can be styled in so many ways.

oversized silk square scarf made in Italy

Our Women's extra large silk scarves can be found here

Long or Oblong Scarves

are thinner rectangles, usually worn around the neck, styled in various ways or draped over your shoulders and belted. Not to be confused with a shawl or stole, which are wider. Made from wool, they keep you warm in the winter, muffler style. Made from silk, they become a decorative element to your wardrobe. Styles are made for both men and women.

mens Italian wool scarf

Mens Italian wool and cashmere scarves can be found here.

 mens long silk dress scarf made in Italy

Our men's long silk dress scarves can be found here

 Our women's long silk scarves can be found here

Made of silk, a long scarf becomes a chic fashion accessory that is flattering to every figure and simple to style.

womens Italian wool and cashmere scarves

Our women's cold weather woolen and cashmere scarves can be found here 

Hopefully, you now know the names of the different types of scarves and know the difference between the various terms, scarf, shawl, wrap and stole, and also have some new ideas of how you might wear them.

8 Responses



October 08, 2016

Sorry the ? At the end of my comment was in error and not meant to be sarcastic. I, truly appreciated the tutorial.



October 08, 2016

What a fantastic explanation for all of these. I, believe the educational ones have also been referred to as “cords”, denoting special honours received, as my son pointed out to me. Great tutorial as a knitter I, believe we should be aware of the proper name of things. We we wouldn’t call a boot a sock, just because it goes on the foot. Thanks for the refresher ?.

Elizabeth Perkins

Elizabeth Perkins

January 06, 2016

Usually scarves that are sewn like you describe are called either a “mantel”, “ruana” or “poncho”

Nita Cook

Nita Cook

December 29, 2015

Very helpful, but I’m wondering what the shawls are called that have seams that make them sort of a loose jacket.
They are very popular now, I have several, and I just wondered if they have a special name. Thanks



November 27, 2015

For ages this has bugged me! I always thought of a scarf as a square piece of material that one wore on their head and I could get the long but narrow silk scarfs. The long, bulky and warm winter ones are what bothered me. They didn’t seem like a scarf…I missed a beat somewhere along the line.

Now I can breathe and quit trying to make up names for them…instead of just pointing and saying, “Look at that!”

Thank you for distinguishing the differences! I now wonder why I waited so long to search for an answer.



November 12, 2015

I would add that a graduation stole is not merely decorative; it denotes a degree achieved. Liturgical stoles can be decorative, but they also are given at ordination (at least in the Reformed/Presbyterian church), so while a person who is not ordained may wear a stole, for an ordained person it is an indicator of office.



August 11, 2015

Very helpful thanks

deepak mehta

deepak mehta

June 29, 2015

It is very useful information and confusion to each name is now clear to me.

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