Foulards en polyester bon marché

9 tips for buying the scarf with the right fabric

Even though scarves are basically just a piece of fabric, they can cost from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars. To help understand why there is such a wide price range, compare scarves to jewelry, which is also an accessory, with an even wider price range.

As in jewelry, the base material of the scarf will affect the starting cost. Everything else, like the finishing work and add-ons (gems stones for jewelry, art work for scarves) adds a lot to the price. And finally, the brand and the designers name tags can multiply the price by several fold.


 acrylic and wool labels

Fake cashmere on top of real cashmere

1 - Beware of labeling : Scarves are a gray zone in the garment industry

Textile labeling law in Canada, sewing a conventional garment label on a scarf is not compulsory. Scarves can have non-permanent labels, like a paper tag, a removable sticker or a space on the package that displays its composition. Cheap synthetic scarves will have sewn on or stick on labels, sometimes fixed by the manufacturer themselves to satisfy the demands of the western market. But these labels may reflect true content of the fabric. High-end scarves can also have a sewn-on label, as it becomes a selling point to have a luxury fabric content displayed on them. On the photo above there are two scarves made by the same manufacturer using the same weaving technique. One is pure 4 ply cashmere, the other an imitation made of an equal mix of acrylic and wool. Both samples have identical tags sewn onto them; 100% cashmere.   

2 - Always shop for scarf in 3 steps, in the following order (not the opposite)

1 - Touch and feel the textile, you don't want it to be bulky, itchy or stiff. Then check how it flows, sheen, crinkles, wraps. 

2- Try the scarf. Softness and drape is what you want to look for in a scarf. Warmth, freshness and even the appearance, should all come in second.

3 -Check the labels for fiber content, where it is made and even the brand name if this is important for you. But it should be done after considering the price and not affect your scarf buying decision. This is my personal opinion.


1 polyester

Loose weave polyester that feels very soft

3 - Polyester scarf is like trinket jewelry

Most likely people going out to buy a scarf in North America will be buying polyester; they are everywhere, cheap and useful for adding to an outfit. Polyester is very versatile can yield very soft fabrics when loosely woven. It is also easy to care for, is cheap and can look great with the right colors. In the photo above is a scarf I bought in Hong Kong for a few dollars. I burned it several times as I could still not believe it is polyester with no trace of natural fibers; tag says 80% viscose and 20% cotton, and this is exactly how it feels. A polyester scarf should not be expensive. Paying anything more than 20$ is a waste of money; they are not investments, they have little drape, are not comfortable on the skin, provide no warmth, are sweaty in summer, and will look cheap even with the brand name tag sticking out. But designers will use them because of the bright colors and cheaper production price. I saw in shops in Outremont, a fancy area in Montreal, polyester scarves for more than 100$ with no difference from the 10$ scarf sold elsewhere.


Fine modal scarf

Fine modal scarf

4 - Know about viscose, rayon, modal, the rebels in the grey zone of the fiber world 

Viscose or rayon, are man made fibers extracted from cellulose, so the material feels natural and has quite the same quality as cotton which is also of cellulose origin. Yes, they are considered as synthetic fabrics by purist, since they need to be processed artificially with chemicals and produce some non-environmentally friendly wastes. Viscose and rayon are the same material. The word "rayon" is more common in North America while "viscose" is used elsewhere. "Modal" is a finer variety of viscose, as is lyocell. Modal scarves are stunningly beautiful and soft, with nice bright colors, and can look like silk and fine cotton or a wool blend. Modal is often sold in India as a silk mix. In the photo below I am holding two almost identical scarves with the same texture, colors and patterns. The one on the left is silk, the other is modal.


silk versus modal

Silk versus modal


Highly processed silk, but still silk 

5 - Know that silk is difficult to buy and is the most imitated fabric

Synthetic materials are more often used to imitate silk, as they are much cheaper and can reproduce about any kind of silk texture, from the light shear chiffon style silk to the heavy raw silk weave of Thailand.  It can often be difficult to tell between processed and tightly woven fine silk from polyester imitations. The general guideline would be, if it is cheap, it is not silk. The only clue that a fabric can be silk is the special multi-color reflection of the fibers. Silk yarn is not round, but angular, like a prism. This green hue on the right scarf of the previous photo with the modal imitation is a clue it might be silk. The photo above shows a tightly woven dull brown silk that could easily be imitated with polyester. But despite the seemingly dull brown color, many sparkles of different colors seem to reflect the light and give the scarf its special unique silky look. 



Hand weaved with machine spun Mongolian cashmere

6-  Look for the whipping cream effect in Cashmere, the mother of all scarf fabrics

Cashmere is the most sought after fabric for scarves, wraps and shawls. And it will be expensive. Very expensive. That 59.95 pure cashmere wrap in the department store is definitely not cashmere. The feel of cashmere is unmistakable. If you never felt it before, as yourself the following questions when handling what is sold as cashmere;  does it have the whipping cream effect when twirl around as in the photo above? When held as a ball in the palm of the hands, does it feel like a sleeping bird ? And in the case of hand-spun cashmere, it will have a rougher texture that can be felt when gently rubbing it while it is laid flat. Yet when it is handled, it feels so soft and fluid, that it has an almost buttery feel. 


Merino silk mix

Tightly woven merino wool and silk mix

7 - Beware of merino wool scarves sold as pashmina or cashmere 

Extra fine and superfine merino wool makes very nice scarves and are a great alternative to cashmere, without the  luxury feel and the price tag; on average, merinos wool scarves cost half to the third of similar item in cashmere. Unfortunately, many of the cheaper cashmere scarves are made of merino treated to feel just like cashmere. This is done by chemically altering the structure of the hair and or brushing the fabric. In both cases the alterations weaken the fiber structure and makes a much less durable scarf. In the photo above you can clearly see the rough surface of the fabric of an Indian "pashmina", wich provides artificial but temporary softness. The merino wool scarf in the photo below is made in Kashmir with fine untreated merino wool with some silk added for durability and soften. It is woven tightly and has no fraying at all. 


Merino cashmere imitation

Merino wool treated to look and feel like cashmere

8 - 100% Chiffon, Satin or 100% Pashmina is impossible

Chiffon and satin are not fibers but qualities of the fabric. Chiffon is a sheer and fine fabric made of polyester or silk mix. Satin is a type of weave creating an effect and texture that is offend confused for silk by sellers in Asian markets. Satin can be made of polyester or silk, it is much thicker than Chiffon and is shiny on one side and dull on the other. Pashmina is just an overused word in scarf world. It is not at all regulated by the textile industry. In Nepal  it stands for cashmere, in Kashmir, it is used only for an extra fine variety of cashmere. In Asia and everywhere else it is for anything that is stole size with paisley designs.




9 - Know the fiber by its base value 

Use the chart below as a guideline. Photos can't be used for identification of fibers as they of fabrics of different weaves. I use the word Pashmina as I use it on my own website, meaning extra fine hand-spun cashmere. Prices shown are in Canadian dollars and based on a market research done in North America They are for a plain unicolor stole, weighing between 50 and 100 grams, without a brand name or any artwork. A 50% variant is acceptable. But more or less than that amount is problematic, in my opinion. 60 $ for a polyester scarf is a waste of money. And on the other end of the spectrum that Cashmere scarf sold for 60$ is definitely NOT cashmere, maybe even not merino wool.

A final note to travelers and my foreign readers; retail market prices in fixed prices stores of India and Nepal will be about half of those cited here, with the same variation of more or less 30%


scarf fabric buying guide







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