Scarves have been a daily clothing item for my daughter Laura and me this fall, taking on different uses and meanings as the months go by. On the Camino de Santiago, coming into town with dusty clothes from hiking all day, a scarf was useful to throw around my neck to disguise my attire and be dressed suitably for dinner. When we visited a church, we wore larger sarongs to hide our shorts or sleeveless shirts. Spain is still a conservative country in many ways, and strongly Catholic.
In Morocco, scarves were everywhere. Women wore varying levels of the hijab, sometimes chosen strictly for fashion, coupled with fine makeup and stiletto heels. Some women were completely covered except for a slit opening for the eyes. Even those who did not wear the veil often wore a scarf around the neck. One rarely saw a female knee or elbow in Morocco. Laura and I found it natural to follow this trend, wearing long pants or skirts along with a scarf every day. Luckily for us, it was not too hot. Somehow we felt that we stood out a bit less as tourists in this way.
When we got back to Madrid, scarves seemed to be everywhere as a fashion accoutrement. Women of all ages wore scarves around their necks on the streets. Wool, fur, cotton, matching or not. Men too wore scarves, sometimes the Palestinian kuffiyeh identified with the Palestinian rights movement. These scarves are popular worldwide, and many are now made in China. I understand that Urban Outfitters have put one in their clothing line. They are calling it a "Hound’s-tooth Desert Scarf." The kuffiyeh is still a symbol of support for the Palestinian cause, but some who wear it may not know that.
Books could and probably have been written on the art of choosing and tying scarves in urban Europe. Laura and I knew little about the fashion directives for scarf wearers. A quick throw around the neck or covering the shoulders for the walk back home from visiting the Prado. For us they quickly became irreplaceable as the weather cooled and our cotton clothes needed a little extra warmth.
Clothing is complicated. It identifies the wearer and points out fashion flaws. More important, it identifies us according to political affiliation, nationality, and even what is closest to one’s heart, our personal faith. Observant Catholic or disrespectful traveler ogling parishioners in sacred cathedrals? Modest Moslem woman, observant or not? Palestinian political sympathizer or ignoramus? Fashionable woman or oblivious tourist?
Amazing that the same small item of clothing has so many uses.