The bulk of my scarf collection was purchased on a summer trip to France when I was sixteen. I still remember the store in Paris; it was a chain, I think, and not particularly fancy, maybe the equivalent of a Claire’s in the United States. I remember loving the red and purple logo on the plastic shopping bag, the same logo that was above the door when I wandered in off the street. The store was filled with large swathes of color in sophisticated patterns and styles (unlike the washed out screen prints in the stores back home, “17” on a faded green and orange t-shirt in The Buckle, or “U.S.A.” in blue lettering on a red t-shirt in Old Navy). These were not “t-shirts,” they were blouses, and each floral print, pin stripes, patterns of words, or even better–the blouses in solid colors–reminded me why I’d come to appreciate France in just the ten days I had been there. France was elegant.
This was before France used the euro and the franc exchange rate made my American dollars go pretty far. Seeing 10-franc signs around the store I realized again what I discovered in the beach stores in the south just a few days before: the shopping I did on this trip would outshine both in volume and quality any experience I could have at home.
The scarves even looked French, almost romantic, that’s probably why I was attracted to them. The way necklaces covered the side wall of Claire’s back home, organized by color and size and hanging in rows, the scarves billowed from ceiling to floor like rainbow colored waterfalls. Years later I learned these were called pashmina scarves. I wanted to touch every one and couldn’t believe how soft the fabric felt, or how beautiful they looked with the reflective sheen to the threads as if they’d been weaved with a bit of satin.
I quickly did the math and realized I could get at least five and still have money left over. Torture came in having to choose which colors I wanted. The pink was gorgeous, so was the turquoise, but I didn’t have a single thing in my closet I could wear them with. I settled on the practical colors: scarlet, cream, sage, deep purple, and a cerulean blue that grew lighter in hue at one end.
Of course when I returned to school in the fall I wore the scarves. I began wearing them everywhere, even on weekends with sweatshirts and sweat pants. I told myself I used them for warmth. It helped that I was a dancer and we danced in a cold studio. Also, I wanted to emulate the college women who wore scarves for the warm ups. Really, I think the scarves made me feel older and more glamorous.
By college the scarf habit had become second nature and even somewhat of a joke among my friends. One friend even texted me a picture of herself when she’d dressed in a cardigan and jeans with a scarf, calling it a classic “Ashley” look. I was the girl who wore scarves.
By the time I was twenty, for every birthday or Christmas I’d receive a scarf. Honestly, I loved almost every single one. I was given scarves that might have been sent to Goodwill. I had scarves knitted for me and scarves brought back from far away places. It had become my thing, but then, by my late twenties it became everyone else’s thing too. Infinity scarves were all the rage. I started seeing the undergraduates wearing them at the University where I was an adjunct professor. At a gas station on a road trip, I saw a rack of scarves placed near the women’s restroom. I couldn’t leave the house without seeing someone wearing a scarf.
I admit I found an infinity scarf in Target with words printed in a pattern like some of the clothes I found in that French boutique. The fabric wasn’t right–thin and already fraying a little bit–but the pattern made me nostalgic and I bought it anyway. I got a few compliments and I suppose I appreciated the way the scarf stayed wrapped around my neck, but the glamour and sophistication were missing. When I wore the scarf to give a presentation to a group of third graders and they raved, I knew that uncomfortable moment had come. I had become that person who still wore the thing they liked to wear in high school.
I’ve decluttered a few of the scarves now and have asked people to stop buying them for me. I rarely wore the cream colored scarf I brought back from France, even though the color felt as comforting as drinking a vanilla latte. When I wore it I looked like Amelia Earhart, which wasn’t the look I was going for.
I saw an article the other day with a headline that read something like, “Can You BELIEVE What We Wore in the Early 2000’s?!?!?!” and saw pashminas on the list. I felt that disappointed sinking that comes with the dissonance of time passing. The way that living in your own present can also mean staying in the past. I had an inkling of how wearing scarves was my metaphor for resisting change, and wondered what other parts of my life I was holding onto for too long. If only every idiosyncrasy or habit could show up on a fashion listicle to remind us of how we drag the past with us.
I will still wear scarves, I can’t help it. I want to feel elegant and sophisticated, but I won’t wear them out of habit. I’ll wear them for the confidence. The moment the confidence is gone, so too go the scarves. If that means my friends will still be sending me selfies with ironic scarves when they’re in their eighties, so be it.