Many Styles, Many Shapes: A Headscarf How-To

Or, ‘You’re never fully dressed without a scarf’.

Everyone knows I’m obsessed with headscarves.  I’ve got nearly ninety now!  I’ve written about my collection in the past: here I discuss their history, and here I discuss how I decided to store them.  I get lots of comments on my Instagram asking about how I style them, so for anyone out there with some vintage headscarves they’re unsure how to wear, I’ve presented my top five headscarf styles below!  Also, make sure you scroll down to the bottom for my Top Five Tips for Wearing Headscarves!

1. Turban


Use When: 

You’re feeling extra lazy and want a quick fix, or you’ve just washed/ urgently need to wash your hair!

Works Best With:

Natural fabric headscarves that are more difficult to tie, or very large headscarves that have lots of extra fabric.

A turban in action in the 1940s. Note the cute fringe details sticking out at the front!

This is my simplest, easiest headscarf style. Just tie at the front, tuck in the ends and you’re good to go! I have very thick hair, so setting it in a vintage style can be very time consuming.  What I love about headscarves is not only your hair instantly looking neat, it’s a fun way to jazz up an outfit!  I love playing around with colour and adding a pop of something to my outfit, or tying mismatched colours together with a patterned scarf. This style saves me every time I wash my hair and need to duck out of the house, or if I’ve been lazy and don’t want anyone to see my oily roots!

In my opinion, this style works best with my cotton headscarves that are difficult to tie into a bow.  They will sit higher and crisper at the front, as seen above.  It’s also good for scarves that are bigger, as the excess material that can be harder to tuck in can just be piled on the front, as seen below.  Paired with a suicide roll or some pin curls at the front, it’s vintage perfection in a flash!

2. Turban with Front Bow

Use When: 

You feel like an easy ‘do with some added cute!

Works Best With: 

Perfectly square headscarves in an easy-to-tie fabric (synthetics work best).

turban vip
Bows bows bows in the 1940s!

This is my ultimate go-to style.  I love everything about it: the ease, the cuteness, feeling like you’ve found a really cute hat in a million colours!  This requires a little more manipulation of the scarf than the plain turban.  Ordinarily, it’s easy to just twist and tug the front until you’re happy with the shape.  With the bow, you need a bit more work to get not only the perfect bow shape but no loose ends peeping out or strange lumps emerging.  It takes more practise, but is worth it. It’s all the ease of a vintage ‘do without styling your hair that the turban has, but the bow makes it a little bit more fancy and suitable to any occasion.

I find it’s easiest to tie this style with a large (but not too large!) headscarf that is perfectly square.  That allows you, like the turban, to cover your whole head, but not too large that you have an excess at the front that you can’t tie in to a bow.   It’s not impossible to tie extra-large headscarves into a turban with a bow, but you will end up with some fabric peaks that you could otherwise smooth over and I also find you have to make the bow larger to compensate for the extra fabric, as seen below.


3. Headband 

Use When: 

You need to add a quick, easy dash of extra colour or extra cute to your outfit!

Works Best With: 

Smaller headscarves, or synthetic headscarves that are likely to slide.

Headband style looking great, Bridget Bardot!

If you’ve got a headscarf that’s just too teeny to stretch over all your hair, or you want to leave your locks flowing free, a headband style is perfect. Not to mention easy to do — if you can tie a bow, you can do this style.  If you’re not the bow type, you can easily tuck the loose edges under to make a cute top knot.  I love using this style to show off cute colours or patterns in my headscarf, or when my hair is styled perfectly.

A note on fabric — my hair is super thick, so usually the weight of my own hair is enough to keep the headscarf from sliding off my head in this style.  If you’ve got a slippery synthetic scarf or thin hair, just pin the scarf in place.  I usually always pin my turban scarves to make sure they’re secure all day, and if I’ve got a busy day ahead I’ll pin this style and the one below as well.  More on that soon!

4. Sixties Drape

Use When: 

You’re feeling the Mad Men vibe.

Works Best With: 

Long, rectangular headscarves.

I tried to find a vintage photo, but these ladies are just so cool.

Bows are my trademark, so usually if I’m wearing a head band style it will be the one above. However, sometimes I find a gorgeous rectangular scarf that I can manipulate as easily as my square ones, and that’s when I turn to the sixties drape.  This style (obviously) goes perfectly with sixties-inspired fashion, and is easy to tie.  I like to leave the knot slightly to one side, so any fabric length naturally drapes over one shoulder.

Clara Bow being ahead of her time in 1926!

This style can also work really nicely as a twenties-style outfit accessory!  Inspired by the likes of Clara Bow, I usually just pull the scarf down lower to my forehead and will wear it with a bob hairstyle as opposed to a beehive. Depending on where the ‘knot’ of your headscarf is, a turban style can be combined with a sixties drape for a cool flapper turban, especially if you’re working with a large square headscarf with lots of fabric, as seen below.  I recommend tying and manipulating the knot at the top of your head and then just rotating it rather than trying to style it at the side of your head!

5. Nylon Bow

Use When: 

You want the most perfect, easily manipulated bow ever.

Works Best With: 

The easily available, dime-a-dozen nylon scarves sold in charity shops and online.

I love nylon scarves! Not only do they come in a million fun colours, they are so cheap, so lightweight, so easy to transport, and so easy to tie.  You can twist and tug them in to perfect bows every time, be they teeny or enormous!  If you’re wondering where to start your headscarf collection, I recommend just typing ‘nylon headscarf’ into eBay and picking a couple of fun colours.  I go for perfect squares, and nylon is easy to fold into long thin strips for headband or sixties drape styles! Just be careful when you’re pinning these babies to secure your pins OVER the scarf and not THROUGH it, as it is easier to pierce this fabric and holes will amount!  See some nylon styles of mine below…

If the back of your hair is messy (we’ve all been there!) just spread the main section of your nylon headscarf so it covers more of the back of your head — easy!
With a gentle touch, nylon scarves can easily be tied in to turban styles as well.
Did someone say huge bows?

With a huge collection of headscarves, I wear mine almost daily, and so get asked a lot of questions about how to wear them.  I’ll condense the most frequently asked in to a top five tips for wearing headscarves below, and I hope these help you in your fun endeavours!


1. Cross my pins and scarves won’t fly

Although my thick hair means I can get away with not pinning scarves sometimes, I almost always will.  It means I don’t have to worry about constantly tugging my headscarf over my ears the way some girls will tug up a strapless dress all night! If you’re going to pin, I recommend crossing two pins over to form an ‘x’ on each side of your head.  I usually place mine below my temple but above my ear, as I don’t much mind them being seen. Place the first in and lock the second one over it to keep that scarf secure all day!

2.  It’s about the hair, not just the scarf

And by that I mean, your hair type will affect how these styles hold.  For example, clean hair is more likely to cause a headscarf slipping out than oily hair.  If you have short hair, it’s easy to tuck the ends under a scarf.  If your hair is long, I like to tie a low ponytail and then pull the hair upwards so the length is sitting against the scalp.  Twist a couple of times and pin the ends against the crown of your head so it’s sitting as close to the scalp as possible.  This will help avoid any strange lumps under the scarf.

3. Do it wrong a thousand times…

….and eventually you’ll get it right!  Tying headscarves has been a huge process of trial-and-error for me, and every style you see above is a result of me tying weird looking, sloppy headscarves many, many times, or getting so frustrated I rip the darn thing off and put my hair in a ponytail.  Don’t give up, these things are amazing and you’ll save yourself a lot of time in the morning if you can slap one of these babies on!

4. Remember, there are no rules

Don’t like any of these styles? Make up your own! Want to combine different headscarves into one style? Go for it! There are no rules to wearing headscarves, all this is just what I’ve developed from years of wearing them.  Go crazy and make up your own style!

5. Respect other headscarves

I hesitated putting this point in, but I think it needs to be said.  I come from a culture of women covering their hair, and while I appreciate that tradition, it’s not part of my religious beliefs to wear a headscarf.  It’s just for fun.  Luckily, I have the privilege of being white, and so I have never been attacked for choosing to cover my head in this manner.  I think it’s appalling that I can walk the streets with my head covered with no backlash, but men in the government can try and ban other women from covering their heads, despite it being part of their religion.  I appreciate there are many reasons why women wear headscarves, some fun, some cultural, some religious, and I think we all have the right to do that, whatever the reason is.

I’d love to see your headscarf styles! If you’re on Instagram tag @ilanacharnelle in your headscarf photos and let me see what your favourite style is!

Published by ilanacharnelle

Your postcard from the past; a vintage inspired crooner straight from the heydays of traditional pop.

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