What’s with the scarves?

(asked by Red from Chicago but currently in Paris)

What’s with the scarves? Despite that it’s winter now, women and most men feel naked without this accessory, why? It’s funny, cos I wear them more than usual now, and going back to the States, people will comment or poke fun about how “euro-chic” I look in my little scarf… I understand that fashion is a step up from sweatpants and Ugg boots, but that can be achieved (quite often) sans scarf. I’ve lived in few locations throughout the US (IL, CA, FL) and never (unless it’s bitter cold in IL) would you catch a man donning a scarf for fashion… or a man-purse (but that’s another question for another day).

What’s wrong with scarves? I’m not sure I really understand your question, are you asking why do French people wear scarves in Winter?

Well, the simple answer is to keep warm in the neck area and to not catch pneunomia or similar unpleasant sickness caused by cold and humidity.

So, sure in Paris it’s also more than a practical piece of clothing and it is also a fashion accessory. And it makes sense as it’s cold about 10 months a year in Paris, so one tends to wear scarves more than in other places in France or the world that have a decent climate.

Now, I’m not sure what you mean about scarves and the US, but during my time in the US, I lived a couple of years in a quite cold region, and believe me, everybody wore scarves in the Winter.

Frenchman Written by:


  1. Ksam
    April 13, 2009

    I think the question is why do the French wear scarves when it’s NOT winter, ie when the weather is nice enough that you don’t *need* to wear one.

  2. kelly
    April 13, 2009

    As David pointed out, it is almost ALWAYS cold in Paris, but even when it is a little less so, scarves are a chic and pratical way to change up the basic outfit. It makes WAY more sense to buy a good quality basic wardrobe and change things up with scarves. I lived in Europe for 5 years, and never needed more than a carry-on suitcase for my clothes.

    Which begs the question:why DON”T Americans wear scarves?

  3. Ksam
    April 13, 2009

    It is SO not always cold in Paris (though it probably depends on where your home country is – or if you’re from the South like David). It was 23 the other day and I was walking home from the gym in a short-sleeved shirt thinking how nice it was. And then I came across a gaggle of French women, all covered up in their winter coats and scarves.

    I do agree with Kelly though that scarves are used as a fashion accessory here.

  4. Non Je Ne Regrette Rien
    April 14, 2009

    coming from San Francisco, CA and Portland, OR…. I’ll share that women from those cities wear scarves nearly as often as Parisiennes … and in fact, we see men beginning to accessorize thusly as well.

    scarves are fantastic, I’m addicted and always on the lookout … whether it is an Hermes silk or long pashmina style I wrap and wrap to be incognito.

  5. Nathalie
    April 14, 2009

    This sounds like another of those ‘Why can’t everyone act like Americans? questions. And revisiting a bit the already-visited territory of ‘How do you tell a French gay man because all scarf-wearing and bag-carrying French men look gay to my US-centric eyes?’ Is it really so hard to grasp that people from different places wear different things?

    Personally, I cannot understand why anyone wears a baseball cap outside of a baseball game, or flipflops and beach shorts in the city in April, or runners and tracksuit pants unless actually engaged in athletic activity, but I don’t wonder why the entire world doesn’t dress like me!

    There are some practical reasons why men might be more likely to wear a scarf or a bag here – we’re not so car-centric and are more likely to be moving around the city on the average day on foot and public transport, so a person needs to dress for various different temperatures and to be able to carry belongings with them, so scarves and bags are eminently necessary. Presumably if you drive everywhere door to door, you don’t need to consider this. But mostly the answer to this question is that it never occurs to French people that there is any reason not not to wear a scarf, which is as ordinary as a shoe or a shirt – it’s not as though it involves some special skill to wear, you just throw it on leaving the house! And not just French people – Londoners also wear a lot of scarves, and so did New Yorkers last time I bothered to look…

    Despite the questioner saying h/she realised there was more to clothes than Ugg boots and sweatpants, there’s some underlying assumption here that wearing anything that would be considered extraneous by an American is somehow odd or fussy, and potentially unmanly? In which case all I can say is I remain mildly alarmed by the American tendency to regard ‘button down’ shirts as some kind of formal dress. I never used to get why they specified it had buttons, before realising that buttons are a kind of ‘extra’ effort, because it would be easier just to pull a teeshirt over your head and not have to bother with annoying buttons…

  6. Red
    April 14, 2009

    sheesh- the question is not an attack on french style, the logic behind keeping warm, or manlyhood in general. The aim was to rouse a lil discussion about our enjoyable differences- which it has.

    … and this is not a “Why can’t everyone act like Americans?” question, thanks, Natalie 🙂 The scarves are adorable, as are the highly functional man-purses. “You have your bag, honey? Good- I won’t need mine.” What girl wouldn’t love that? Kudos to thee, proud men with purses.

  7. Red
    April 15, 2009

    I think that Seinfeld episode coined the term “Man Purse”, but I’d say it’s usually a simple black/brown over-the-shoulder tote with a long strap. I’ve seen some dudes with flashier couture ones as well (shrug). These purse donning men (mine included) prefer the term “satchel” or “bag”… but that’s hardly funny.

  8. Nathalie
    April 16, 2009

    But ‘purse’ vs ‘bag’ is one of those UK vs US English differences as well, whch might be what David means, depending on where his English is most attuned to.

    In UK English, ‘purse’ means a woman’s wallet – small fist-sized often leather thing you carry about money/ID/credit cards etc in, that you would keep inside your bag or in your pocket – never a bag of any kind, unless possibly one of those tiny clutches that go with evening dresses, which are sometimes called ‘evening purses’, I assume because they are so small.

    ‘Bag’ on the other hand is unisex and covers anything from a woman’s vintage Birkin to a man’s satchel. Men’s satchel-type bags are often called ‘messenger bags’ here in London. There was a bit of sniggering ten years or so about ‘man-bags’ but I’ve not heard anyone say it in years, because they’re now so common.

  9. kelly
    April 16, 2009

    My Italian husband carries a man-purse (or “Murse”), that looks fabulous and is very pratical (he was forever losing 1 of the following: car keys, wallet, cell phone).
    It was a gift from a canadian friend who makes leather goods, looks kind of like an antique binocular bag, and is the envy of every gay man in america he meets.

    In Italy, it is rather common for men to carry ‘murses’, more so than what I saw in Paris when I lived there. They masculinize [?] the word for purse (borsella) to “borsellO”

    btw-loved Nathalie;s response

  10. Non Je Ne Regrette Rien
    April 18, 2009

    lots of the frenchmen I know, especially Parisian, carry a bag. And it isn’t satchel size, it is purse sized on a shoulder strap, usually heavy canvas or leather and not the least bit feminine. entirely practical. none seem the least bit concerned for being mistaken as girly purse carriers!

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