Wearing shawls: Indian women's ways

M. wrote to say, "Scarves aren't that frightening due to their manageable sizes, but shawls are another matter" and asked how to wear a large shawl, especially when working, driving a car, etc.

Rectangles: Eastern ease

In India, you will see women engaged in every kind of task in shawls and saris, without a problem. The key is to adapt the shawl to your activity. 

They don't create bows or boleros and rarely even tie the fabric. They simply fling one end of a long rectangle over the shoulder, as in the photo below. (Shown, Devotion striped cashmere shawl.)

You can also bring the other (hanging) end up and cross it over the shoulder too, so you have a cowl, useful in air-conditioned offices or restaurants. (Shown, fine wool jamavar.)

If you move move the piece right up to the neck before tossing the ends over the shoulder, you'll have an "arms free" drape, perfect for working on a keyboard. The textile is displayed from the back:

In warm weather, Indians hang both ends over the shoulder, making a soft U in front, so the shawl is worn like a pallu (the decorative, loose end of a sari), which leaves the arms unencumbered. (Shown, a rectangular fine cotton shawl, about 6 x 4 feet.)

Even a very large piece is manageable worn that way, as Devotion owner Carolyn Cowan shows in an elegant silk "Mustard Seed"shawl:

Square deal

Big squares are not as easy to work with and can tip into dowdiness when the scarf is folded into a triangle and the point worn at the middle of the back– so shift the point to the side. (See this post on "the point".)

If you want your arms free, move the point to the centre front, so the shawl drapes like a giant bandanna.

Another way to wear the large square is open, as shown here by blogger Katherine of Feather Factor in an Hermès shawl. (If it's breezy, borrow an Indian secret and pin it at the shoulder.)

Photo courtesy Feather Factor blog

Or you can fold it in the basic fold to form a rectangle (as narrow as you wish) with pointed ends, and wrap it once around the neck:

Photo courtesy Feather Factor blog

If you take the ends of the example above, cross them, wrap them around the neck and tie the ends in back, you'll have a generous muffler, good for a cool evening on a patio or boat.

A soft, sensual alternative to jackets and easy travelers, shawls will always fit. Though I've long seen them in business-casual settings and of course for leisure, I recently saw a woman in a jade green pashmina with embroidered borders in a formal business setting.

Hers was a treasure from the seller of exquisite shawls, Trehearne and Brar. Shown, a detail of one of their summer pieces in delphinium blue.

So, thank you for asking, M. Just choose a size that doesn't overwhelm you, and enjoy.   

PS. After writing, I found this terrific post, Wearing Scarves: Big Scarves, on the blog Aesthetic Alterations. Inspiring photos–and consistent advice to just 'toss them on'.


déjà pseu said…
Inspiring! Have a few shawls that I love and rarely wear but you've convinced me to take them out and play.I would think that a shawl of material that "grabs" would lend itself well to some of these arrangements and stay put a bit better?
Jessica D'Amico said…
Thank you for this great post! I love scarves and I'm going to India for my niece's wedding next month. This is a great refresher. I can use lightweight scarves to turn my more western style summer outfits a little more "modest" while traveling in that great country. Cheers!
Mardel said…
Lovely post. I find long scarves and shawls easy to manage and wear them a great deal. I am still finding my way with wearing the square version though.
materfamilias said…
What gorgeous examples -- and fun to see you modelling your own. I picked up a shawl in Paris to wear with a sleeveless dress at my son's wedding later this summer. I'll be studying your photos carefully . . .
LPC said…
Your shawls are glorious. I agree with Mater - how fun to see you modelling your own.
Artful Lawyer said…
Awesome! This is very helpful (though I may wait until the 100 degree temps and humidity break before I pull out wool). And now I need to check out those beautiful shawls at Devotion too..

Thank you - I can do this now!
You look great modeling the shawls.
I like the variations that you have focused on and think they add a touch of glamour.
Inspiring post Duchesse!

I own a few pashminas but nothing as large as some of these...
perhaps there's a shawl in my future.
Duchesse said…
pseu: I don't buy slippy shawls; slippy is fine in scarves but hell to wear as a shawl.

Jessica: Yes, more modest and also useful for establishing some personal space in crowded cars or even on the street.

Mardel: I prefer rectangles, much easier.

materfamilias: Those are not good photos, just what I took sitting at my computer, but they do show the drapes. Will enjoy seeing your shawl.

LPC: It's a fun accessory to collect; they will always fit, unlike some other wearables :)

Artful: In highly ac'd rooms or in evening, fine wool can feel wonderful, but cotton or cotton, cotton/silk blends or linen are best in summer. Devotion have great pieces and very good service.

hostess: I prefer quite strict clothes, usually solids, so shawls extend my wardrobe and add interest. Thanks!
Anonymous said…
Beautiful and feminine.
Beautiful examples. I have several and wear them frequently. great for the office and the crazy air conditioning!
Katherine said…
Thank you for the shoutout - I love all the ways you illustrated scarf/shawl wearing, I'm going to have to try some out!
Anonymous said…
Greetings Duchesse,
I have been 'lurking'& looking forward to your weekly offerings for a long time...but have never officially joined. Your subjects always delight,interest,& provoke me.Thank you. My reason for communicating is this: Carolyn Cowan of Devotion.uk whose picture( in the striped cashmere shawl)you featured, wishes to thank you for the link to her site. Her style & colours are an inspiration to me.I have discovered many lovely 'links'
through your blog.I am now a devoted customer of M.Bompard thanks to you! I will miss your blog in the next months. Wishing you a sunny, joyous, summer &many happy returns on your birthday.
Kind Regards,
Fiftyfabulous said…
Very inspirational and stylish post!Scarves are so versatile, and ads some chic addition to an outfit.
Blog Boy said…
WoolGold is a leading manufacturer of scarves and shawls in India.

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