The most humble accessory

For those who only think of scarves as something your grandma knits to keep your neck warm in winter, you are missing out. 

Though humble in design, this accessory can be one of the hardest-working pieces in your closet — if you know how to use it.

Fashion scarves have seen an incredible surge in popularity over the past few decades — from the '90s grunge look of a checkered rag casually wrapped around the neck to exquisite designs rendered in silk. 

They can be used in such a multitude of ways to add colour, texture, and pattern to any outfit, especially when used with neutral basics. 

First, a primer. The most common shapes are square, rectangular, or long and skinny. Square scarves can come as small as 17” x 17” for a neckerchief, but most practical sizes are 35” square and larger.

Rectangles come in all variety of sizes and proportions, while skinny scarves can be as small as 2” x 12” for a ponytail wrap or as large as 10” x 63.” 

Less expensive scarves are typically made of polyester or synthetic fibre blend. When possible, I prefer paying extra for natural fibres such as silk, cashmere or cotton; they are more comfortable to wear, drape better and last longer. 

Silk can be spun into near transparent chiffon or a heavier weave commonly called twill. One hundred per cent cashmere or cashmere/silk blends make for luxurious cool-weather accessories, soft and insulating.

Of course, the most common way to wear a scarf is around the neck. And there is a multitude of ways to actually tie a scarf depending on its size, shape and material. 

Some of the best scarf-tying tutorials can be found at https://maitaicollection.com/pages/tutorials, created by an impossibly chic French woman, and https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=5LYAEz777AU, a fun video from fashion blogger WendysLookBook.com

Also, consider using scarves beyond the neck. I love to use square scarves to create a top, shrug, or as a belt. Large scarves can be fashioned into skirts or pareos for beachwear. 

Some use scarves as head coverings or follow the Japanese art of furoshiki, fabric folding, to create a simple handbag .

Top picture, left to right — 55” square silk chiffon as a shrug, 55” square silk twill as a top, cashmere shawl in a friendship knot

Where to buy? 

The ultimate scarf source has always been Parisian couture house Hermes. If you are willing to spend $400+, you can have an impeccably-crafted silk or cashmere creation that will be a wardrobe staple for your lifetime. You can shop online at Hermes.com, but I highly recommend visiting a boutique to try on designs and colourways before investing. 

British designer Alexander McQueen has become synonymous with his cult silk chiffon skull scarves. Pick your favourite colour combination at alexandermcqueen.com or Canada-based e-retailer Ssense.com, or in-person at Holt Renfrew. 

Another British label, Liberty London, is famous for their colourfully-patterned fabrics and sell a range of scarves in various shapes and fabrics. 

If you believe Mother Nature is the greatest artist, you will love Richard Weston’s designs featuring blown-up images of minerals and constellations screen-printed onto silk satin. Visit westonearthimages.com for discounted prices. 

Locally, I’ve found the best scarf selection at The Bay and Winner’s; just always check the label if you want quality fabric. The wonderful independent boutique KoLu in London Drugs Plaza also carries many beautiful scarves, especially the swoon-worthy 100 per cent cashmere Vintage Shades brand. 

You can also support the education of women in Nepal by scarf shopping at unako.ca. Each purchase helps with the incredible work of local charity herinternational.com


Finding your balance

Everything in moderation, right? Balance is the buzzword for managing your time and relationships, and I also believe balance is a guiding philosophy for what you wear.

I mean this in the most literal sense. 

Big and small

Think billowy blouses with lean bottoms, oversized chunky sweaters with fitted jeans or leggings. Wide-leg pants and flowing long skirts paired with form-fitting tops. 

When you wear oversized items on both top and bottom, it can look like you’re swimming in fabric. Conversely, pairing tight tops with tight bottoms is not a look anyone should attempt unless they’re heading for the gym. 

This fitted/loose proportion rule is a guiding outfit principle when choosing tops and bottoms to go together.

Long and short 

This riff on the big/small concept works great during spring and fall’s moderate temperatures, or as a unique special occasion outfit. Sleeveless tanks with long maxi-skirts, or shorts and mini-skirts with long-sleeved tops are examples. 

Bright and dark 

Neutral monochromatic dressing in taupes and greys is a staple look for many. But don’t try to go monochromatic with items that are truly bright or fluorescent. And wearing head-to-toe black only works for goths and Angelina Jolie. 

Instead use your bright against a dark, such as a colourful jacket with a black tank and pants. Or add a punch of colour to a dark suit with a bright scarf or pair of shoes. 

Glitzy and simple 

At the 1998 Oscars, Sharon Stone famously paired one of her husband’s white button-up shirts with a satin Vera Wang skirt, and fashion commenters went ga-ga. 

A heavily-embellished statement piece looks best when combined with something simple. I love the unexpected juxtaposition of a sequined mini-skirt with a sweatshirt or shiny brocade jacket over jeans. 

When to lose your balance

Trends come and go, and sometimes you want to go with them. For example, this spring a major trend is wearing oversized menswear. In style magazines and blogs, you’ll see examples of huge plaid blazers with wide leg trousers that skim the ground. If you love this look, go for it. 

But before investing a lot in any given fashion craze, consider if you will get wear out of the pieces after the novelty passes. 

Formal wear is another time when you can ignore balance. Rocking something short and tight will certainly grab attention, or channel your inner goddess with a flowing dress and cape. 

And, of course, sometimes we have to skip balance out of necessity, such as during an Okanagan heat wave or skiing up at Big White.  

Balancing finances and sustainability 

Finally, the principle of balance also applies to how much you spend on your wardrobe and on what. 

Fashion is never worth going into debt over. Shopping addiction is very real and every bit as destructive as other addictions.

If you are concerned you may be a shopaholic, there are resources to help. Contact a local counsellor or check with self-help groups such as Debtors Anonymous. Here is a good article on such resources.

Sadly the fashion trend industry is also not based on the premise of sustainability, contributing to problems of sweatshop labour and environmental pollution. But things are slowly changing, and your choices can be part of it. 

This year, I have given myself a strict clothing budget that will only be spent on high-quality, sustainably-created items to fill gaps in my current wardrobe. And to “shop” from my own closet by finding new ways to enjoy what I already have. 

If you care about saving money and the planet, consider these strategies plus many more I’ll explore in coming weeks. 

Safe, stylish online shopping

Shopping via the Internet is booming, and for good reason.

Purchasing from home at any time, without battling crowds, parking, and limited availability of bricks-and-mortar stores, and having it delivered to your door is uber-convenient. 

However, shopping for fashion online can be a bit more complicated. There is something about seeing and touching the fabric, and feeling how it fits on you that makes in-person clothing shopping preferable for some.

But with a few tips, you can enjoy the world-wide marketplace to build the closet of your dreams.

Safety First 

How do you ensure you are dealing with a reputable online retailer?

Most international fashion juggernauts have their own online stores — The Gap, H&M, Zara, J Crew, etc — as well as department stores such as The Bay, Nordstroms, Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. 

But what if you are seeking something unique and stumble across an unknown website? Do some serious investigating before entering any credit card information.

  • Google if there are positive independent reviews on the company.
  • Do they have contact information listed on their website that you can verify?
  • Check with the Better Business Bureau and fashion forums such at The Purse Forum to see if the company is listed as a credible retailer. 

The Canadian Conundrum 

You find a great dress online for $80. However, by the time it reaches your door, you’ve paid twice that much with shipping, currency conversion, taxes and duties.

How to avoid such surprises? 

First, ensure you are searching on the Canadian site. Most major retailers based in the U.S. and Europe have country-specific sites. Look for a flag at the top of the page or “.ca” in the URL. 

Before clicking the “Purchase” button, read the small print to verify what is included in the price. Some retailers include duties, taxes and shipping all in Canadian dollars while some just show U.S. dollars with shipping.

If there is any confusion, email or chat with the retailer for clarity. 

Also, the item you want may be available at a Canada-based retailer. Popular international brands have shops in Vancouver or are carried at Holt Renfrew and Nordstrom’s — just find the product code online and phone the store to see if they have any in-stock.

These stores may offer pay via phone service with local shipping, therefore no duties or currency conversion to worry about. 

Is Luxury for Less Real? 

Google “Louis Vuitton Handbags” and you will get millions of links, some of them offering bags at incredibly low prices. Too good to be true? Usually the case is yes. 

The Internet has spawned a massive industry in luxury counterfeits, and while it may be tempting to get a copy of your dream item at a fraction of the cost, you need to be aware. 

Most importantly, counterfeits of trademarked brands are illegal.

Let me say this again. Anything stamped with a brand’s logo or name that is not produced by that actual company and sold through its official channels is illegal.

Therefore ordering anything from such counterfeit sites could be subject to seizure. The retailer could even be shut down before they fulfill your order. It is simply not worth it. 

If your heart is set on a high-ticket item, either save up for it or find a similar “inspired-by” style. Or consider buying gently-used through Canadian authentic reseller sites such as MyLuxuryCloset.comThe-Upside.ca, and LabConsignment.com

You might also try eBay, but ensuring you are buying real items from reputable sellers on auction sites is a whole other topic that requires its own column.

What about Size and Fit? 

Online retailers know this is the biggest roadblock for stylish shoppers and are increasingly taking measures to reduce your hesitation. 

Common brands have fairly consistent sizing, so if you usually take a size 10 in Gap jeans, you can be confident about ordering that size in any of their, or affiliate brands Old Navy and Banana Republic, bottoms. 

If you have never tried on items from the company you’re considering buying from, carefully check their fit and fabric information. They should include details such as a size guide, measurements of the item, and measurements of the model with size she is wearing. 

If you have a similar item in your closet, measure it and compare with the online item. Scrutinize the fabric composition and care instructions to ensure it’s what you’re expecting; something that looks like silk may be polyester. 

Finally, check the company’s return policy before ordering. Some retailers include a pre-paid envelope with your shipment to make returns easy.

Taking Online Advantage

Points programs, promo codes and flash sales...online shopping can save you a bundle if it's done right. Many retailers will offer a discount on your first order if you sign up for their newsletter, which you can unsubscribe from at any time. 

If you love a particular company’s products, stay signed up and they will send notices of upcoming sales and further discount codes to keep you as a loyal customer. 

Most retailers offer free shipping when your cart reaches a certain price point. If you are close to that figure, consider ordering two of a favourite item or a low-cost accessory, or a gift for your family in order to qualify. 

When In-Person Shopping is Best 

Sometimes, you just have to see the item in person. For example, if it’s for a special occasion and/or is very form-fitting, you’ll want to see how the item looks on you. Bodycon dresses, bridal wear and fitted jeans are such cases. 

Also if the item is every expensive, such as premier designer leather shoes or handbag, you’ll want to check it out in-person first to ensure it’s worth the investment. 

Once you’d decided, you can still check online to see if you can find the exact item at a better price. 

Some of My Favourite Fashion Sites: 

Net-a-Porter.com — This U.S.-based e-store carries the most haute of haute couture and most items are way out of an affordable price range. However, the site makes for great eye candy and is the place for the latest fashion trends and inspiration. Their sister site, TheOutnet.com, carries designer discounts, and Ssense.com is a Canada-based luxury retailer.

Shopstyle.ca — Enter the name of an item you are searching for and this site will find every online retailer carrying it for easy price comparisons. 

Everlane.com — This fashion disrupter produces a limited selection of sustainably-made, premier-quality basics such as silk Ts and Italian leather loafers at affordable prices. 

Etsy.com — The online crafter’s marketplace is a great source for unique jewelry and accessories. 

PurseBlog.com — This site started by a New York couple features everything you could possibly want to know about designer handbags, including sales alerts and new brands.

Its forum section is a worldwide community with hundreds of thousands of members and features threads on major labels plus jewellery, clothing and more. Includes discussions on authentication and reputable sellers of designer goods.

Warning: totally addictive! 


Does style matter?

Call it soccer mom syndrome. Hair pulled up hastily into a ponytail, yoga pants and runners on the bottom.

Who has time to get impeccably dressed each time we walk out the door?

And who cares? 

I certainly understand those pressed-for-time mornings and days when you just want to be in comfy sweats. But if this lackadaisical approach to dressing has become your every-day uniform, you may be doing yourself a disservice. 

Study after study has linked personal grooming with higher levels of self-confidence and career advancement. Like it or not, your physical appearance is your projection to the world; others’ first impressions of you are based on it.

And it has been thus since we emerged from the caves. 

But beyond the science and psychology of style, I’ve always found dressing to be a fun and rewarding expression of self. It’s a combination of practicality and personality, what you love and what suits the environment you’re in.

From Cleopatra to Coco Chanel to Princess Diana, woman have distinguished themselves, in part, by what they wear. 

Now in the 21st century, we are entering new and fascinating territory in the world of fashion. The internet has created a global marketplace, with some retailers now exclusively online, and has encouraged the rise of independent designers wrestling away control from traditional European couture houses. 

Social media is creating stars out of average people regardless of age or income, such as 65-year-old New Yorker Lyn Slater, who, after being mistaken by paparazzi as a celebrity, started the style blog accidentalicon.com and has almost half a million followers on Instagram (@iconaccidental). 

Some of the most successful start-ups on crowdfunding site Kickstarter have used technology and innovation to improve upon fashion, such as bra company Knixwear and Antonia Saint NY which claims its heels feel like sneakers. 

Dressing has become increasingly political. There is a growing awareness of diversity with new brands designing for religiously-motivated modest dressers. Another huge trend is sustainability as many realize the damage fast fashion and fabric processing has on our planet. 

Designers and retailers are partnering with non-profits to raise funds and awareness on issues ranging from homelessness to heart disease. One of the first such partnerships, Product Red, spawned a brand that has raised over 475 million dollars to combat AIDS/HIV in Africa since 2006.

So...(phew)...yes, style does matter. 

I grew up in Kelowna and remember shopping at Saan in Capri, and when Orchard Park was the one strip between the Bay and (now-defunct) Sears.

My style horizons expanded during stints living in Japan, the U.S. and Mexico, and travels across the planet. Though I have no formal fashion training, I’ve been doodling designs since holding my first Barbie and have spent far more hours than I’d like to admit in the pages of Vogue and style forums, acquiring enough information to fill an encyclopedia.

I’d like to share it through Fashion File. 

This column won’t be a typical fashion blog with carefully-staged Pinterest-worthy photos highlighting a trendy outfit. It will explore everything from wardrobe basics and styling tips to highlighting local retailers and international designers, and more.

If you have any style questions or topics you’d like to see here, please contact me at [email protected]

More Fashion File articles

About the Author

Marla is best known for her 19-year career in the local charitable sector as a fund development and marketing manager with the Okanagan Regional Library, United Way, UBC Okanagan, and Kelowna Community Resources. 

In 2014, Marla and her husband decided to take a break from the work world, and, four years, later they are still enjoying Okanagan summers, winters in Mexico, and extensive travel. 

Marla has had a life-long passion for fashion, designing her own graduation dress and formal gown for the 1990 Miss Interior competition before age 20.

In 2014, she was named one of nine Style Ambassadors for a year-long marketing campaign at Orchard Park Mall. Her motto is “Life is short...you might as well go through it looking good."

If you have a style question or topic you’d like Marla to cover in this column, contact her at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.