Nearly every thrift store, consignment shop and antiques store sells scarves. Many group scarves together, but they are also found on mannequins and as part of displays, so it pays to keep an eagle-eye out for scarves in all corners of a shop.
While writing our book, ThriftStyle: The Ultimate Bargain Shopper’s Guide to Smart Fashion, we were on the hunt for vintage silk scarves. We sent them out with the book’s publicity materials, after first having them dry cleaned and then sewing in a second fabric label that read “ThriftStyle” to promote our book.
We found plenty of vintage Vera and Echo scarves, and scarves from designers such as Norman Norell and the French couture house Grès.
Our goal was to spend no more than $3 a scarf, which ruled out some of the authentic Hermès and Chanel scarves we saw in higher-end vintage and consignment shops, like the colorful array on the mannequin at the top of this post, seen at M Vintage in Palm Springs, or the ones at Lux (below) in Rancho Mirage, CA.
The Chanel scarf below was an exception. In an epic find, Reise snagged this for $1.99 at a Salvation Army store. Nearly every other scarf on this post cost $3 or less.
We sent about 50 scarves out with publicity materials, but — truth be told — kept a few favorite finds for ourselves, such as the five shown below.
How did we separate the wheat from the chaff? We looked first for all-silk scarves with hand-rolled and hand-stitched hems. Many had sewn-in labels identifying the fiber content. But we weren’t purists on that. Some polyester scarves, particularly from Japan, have a feel, or hand, similar to silk and also have rolled hems. We gravitated toward scarves with 50s and 60s designs, and any with famous labels.
A subset of scarves we favor are the tourist scarves printed with maps or drawings of an area’s highlights. These are rarely made of silk, although we have found both silk and wool examples. We love them for their exuberant designs, and the odd choices of attributes to feature.
We also delight in finding printed cotton handkerchiefs, the kitsch-ier the better. They are more frequently found in antique stores than thrift shops, and we’ve discovered them for as little as 25 cents.
Although there is a debate about the wisdom of dry-cleaning scarves, we always do it the first time around, as part of our carefulness about washing or dry-cleaning every item we buy secondhand. (We don’t want to run the risk of introducing moths or other insects into our wardrobes.) Also, dry cleaners usually are able to get out any lipstick, makeup or ink stains. Subsequent washings can be done by hand, using a gentle detergent such as Woolite. (Very good step-by-step instructions for hand washing scarves are here, courtesy of the United Kingdom luxury scarf manufacturer Furious Goose. The company recommends washing in lukewarm water, rinsing three times in cold water, blotting with a bath towel instead of wringing out the scarf, ironing on the wrong side with a steam iron and hanging to fully dry.)
Scarves and handkerchiefs are perfect items to look for when thrifting far from home. They take up next-to-no space in a suitcase, and are also good candidates for gifting, once you have them home and cleaned, as they are easy to mail. Good luck in your scarf pursuits!