How to wear a shawl fashionably
April 23, 2014 6:43 AM   Subscribe

I am knitting a lot and I love the look of so many of the shawl patterns available. Different shapes, different sizes, solid ones, lace ones, etc. I want to make some, but I worry that wearing them is going to make me look frumpy or geriactric. I know it can be done but... how?

I know people are going to say that you can wear them the same way you wear a scarf (sort of swooshed loosely about the neck) but I have never quite figured that out either. I don't quite seem to be able to figure out how to wear a scarf without looking stupid. I wish I could but, yeah... can't quite figure that out.

And in terms of the shawls, I'm less interested in having them swooshed around my neck and more interested in having them around my shoulders.

So how does one wear shawls but still look youthful/funky/classic/modern? Speak to me like an idiot because this is a weird black hole for me.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (21 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
If you make a particularly long shawl width wise, you can wrap it around the front and pin the ends along the shoulders. I'll pm you with a link to a picture.
posted by zizzle at 6:46 AM on April 23, 2014

I suspect it's partly to do with what you have on under the shawl. Relatively monochrome, formfitting clothing + shawl= hip.

Any volume anywhere else, or bright patterns/ colors, + shawl= babushka.
posted by Bardolph at 6:49 AM on April 23, 2014 [10 favorites]

I feel your pain. My dad gave me a handknit lacy beige shawl (except thick fluffy yarn, so not the sleek kind of "lacy", just a knitwork pattern with holes in it), and I haven't quite figured out what to do with it, but I try. So far, my best bet is to be all sleek and solid black modern, then the beige shawl, and using a big red floppy floral hair barette to hold it closed. Like a button, but louder. That also solves the shoulders thing, otherwise I would be fighting to keep it on and/or wrapping it higher around my neck.
(Of course, one could argue that I'm pushing the line with "poncho" at that point, but you don't make ponchos out of lacy patterns, right?)
posted by aimedwander at 6:52 AM on April 23, 2014

I also have this problem because shawls are my favorite thing to knit, but I am in my 20s and not super great at wearing them. As far as I can tell, the best approach is to wear it "point forward," which is backwards from the traditional approach. Solids, stripes, and neutrals also read much younger than variegated or hand dyes, pretty though they might be. Finally, I'd recommend checking out Stephen West's shawl patterns, as they tend to be more modern.

For more shoulder coverage as opposed to neck swooshing, you want it to be wrapped asymmetrically and not with the tails hanging out like little drawstrings (bad). Hard to describe, this is a good example of the look I'm picturing.

When I want to make a grandma appropriate, hand dyed, super lacy shawl that I know I could never pull off, I give it to my grandma!
posted by telegraph at 7:03 AM on April 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think Bardolph has this one. I think it's possible to pair a fitted print dress and a simple solid-colored shawl without looking grandmotherly, but that's going to depend a lot on the dress and the shawl, and might require a ferocious pair of boots, too. Any other accessories also need to be very carefully considered. If the shawl can't quite carry the outfit on it's own, I'd say you get probably one piece of jewelry before you're into "too much" territory.

On preview, seconding telegraph's recommendation for Stephen West. My mother made me this thing of his that's somewhere between a scarf and a shawl (I mostly wear it like a scarf) and I absolutely love it. His designs are a great combination of eye-catching and wearable.
posted by EvaDestruction at 7:10 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Options 8 through 14 here might work for shawls as well as scarves.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 7:12 AM on April 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

It also really depends on the type of shawl you're wearing.

Triangle-shaped shawls often look old an frumpy, semicircle-shaped or rectangular shawls look al lot hipper (and can also more easily be draped around the neck as a scarf).

Also, shawls come in a lot of different sizes, some only cover your shoulders, others reach from your shoulders to your waist. My experience: shorter is better. Long shawls add volume and there's a big chance they will make you look shapeless.

Then there's structure. Finer knitwork looks better, chunky knitwork adds volume. Fine, lacy shawls are great and look sooo fancy.

In short: I agree with Bardolph, when you wear otherwise formfitting clothes and add a little volume by wearing a shawl, it's great, but you don't want to look super voluminous and shapeless. I personally like to wear mine draped around my neck/shoulders with a trenchcoat, which makes me feel really chic.
posted by leopard-skin pill-box hat at 7:15 AM on April 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

There are also some ideas here, suitable to a lightweight rectangular shawl.
posted by EvaDestruction at 7:16 AM on April 23, 2014

I often wear my shawls over my shoulders with the points turned back under my arms and tied at the center back so they're hidden under the rest of the shawl. It gives me a sort of sleeved effect, which I like because I have fat arms, it keeps the shawl in place and I think it looks less grandmotherly than a traditional over the shoulder wearing, at least from the front.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:17 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

A shawl worn like in this picture reads younger. The shawl itself is nothing special (to me), it's beige and unexciting. But she wrapped it nicely around her shoulders so it does not overwhelm her. It is paired with tailored, simple, contemporary clothes (white blouse and jeans).
I also find that adding pockets makes a shrug look hipper.

If you want something handmade that covers your shoulders, how about something like this or a shrug for special occasions? Might be easier to wear.
posted by travelwithcats at 7:26 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Knit something modern that can be worn lots of different ways, like Viajante, Sleeves or Tubularity (all patterns by Martina Behm), or one of my personal favorites, Color Affection. In many cases, a more modern look can be achieved by choosing an asymmetric pattern and by choosing the right colors.
posted by amf at 7:59 AM on April 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

Why don't you show us some shawls you're interested in knitting and we'll tell you what to how to wear them and what to wear with them?

I 100% agree with Bardolph in that it's more what you wear with them. Don't even think of going with a full skirt or a floral pattern of any kind in your clothing unless you want everyone to ask you about your grandchildren. Even your own hair and makeup can play into a more matronly look.

I like this look. Again, she is wearing something form-fitting and sleek underneath, and everything looks modern and minimal. Here's another modern look for a longer shawl. It just so happens that both of those shawls have patterns but a solid color would be great too.

This woman on Etsy does a modern, minimal shawl very well. although I dislike that textured thing she does but ymmv. Again, her clothing and her own hair and makeup contribute to the modern vibe.

I personally would not mix any sort of fringe with any sort of lacy shawl, as that combination can be a recipe for dowdy disaster if you don't pull it off. A shawl should probably be as streamlined and minimal as possible to keep it young.
posted by the webmistress at 8:09 AM on April 23, 2014

This video from knitpicks goes through several different ways to wear knitted lace shawls. All of them look modern and stylish to me, though I agree with other posters that what you wear with/under the shawl goes a long way toward what effect is achieved.
posted by fancyoats at 8:39 AM on April 23, 2014

On Ravelry, when you're looking at a pattern you like, click the projects tab to look at how other people are wearing it.
posted by rikschell at 8:59 AM on April 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

My winter wardrobe: skinny jeans, fitted black t-shirt, dark colored cardigan, shawl worn as scarf. Hipster glasses. Possibly hoodie on top of all of that. (I'm a cold wimp) My default shawl is grey with an asymmetrical stripe of red on one edge.

To wear a scarf "hipster" style: hold either end of the scarf/triangle shawl in each hand. Put your hands behind your head, so that the point is under your neck. Behind your head, switch the points from hand to hand and pull them forward, under the point. Let the tails hang down your chest. Let it be a kinda poofy riot on your chest. It's ok. If your shawl is especially long, an off-center knot of the tails can be nice too.
posted by fontophilic at 9:01 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm knitting my fourth shawl of the year and have yet to wear the other three, so I sympathize with this! It's difficult to wear handknit shawls that read as part of an outfit rather than "hey, look, I'm a knitter." That said, here are my tips for choosing a non-frumpy knit:

- Go light. I prefer patterns that call for fingering or laceweight yarn, with open or lacy stitches and a looser gauge. Denser, heavier knits are fine if you keep them on the small side; big and thick like this will weigh you down.

- Pick yarn colors that go with your wardrobe. I love super-saturated colors but find muted ones much easier to wear; think this rather than this, though YMMV. Avoid multicolored or self-striping/gradient yarn unless you're going for the kindergarten art teacher look.

- Simple, repetitive, abstract stitch patterns often look more current than intricate flowery ones, even though the flowery ones are more fun to knit.

- Shawls that are small or long and shallow are a lot easier to wear: you can drape them around your shoulders, or wear them wrapped scarf-style without wads of scrunched-up fabric at your neck. Look for crescents, semicircles, or very shallow triangles; large triangular shawls tend to look matronly. Ysolda Teague's Damson pattern is a size and shape I really like. Boo Knits has a lot of smaller, easily-draped shawls, though they tend toward the fancy.

And I agree with everyone else that shawls look best with simpler, well-fitting outfits. The less frumpy you look without the shawl, the less frumpy you'll look with the shawl.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:37 AM on April 23, 2014

Yeah, mostly I think it has to do with what you're wearing underneath. It needs to be form fitting and you need to actually be able to see some of your outfit under the shawl (e.g. don't wear it like a cape or poncho). Judging from these pictures, I think it looks best to keep the bulk of the shawl off your chest, too:
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:07 PM on April 23, 2014

I'm going to basically chime in with the choir about form-fitting outfits, low-key colors and smaller shawls are key. What you wear is really going to make all the difference, which is true in general. Think about how the color, pattern, and texture come into play with one another. You really can't drape one around your shoulders with the point back and expect it to look anything other than something out of Little Women, but you can point it forward or down one arm to make it hipper. It is sad that the funnest patterns to knit tend to be the least wearable, but it can still be done, assuming the outfit is chosen very carefully.
posted by Diagonalize at 5:15 PM on April 23, 2014

Generally speaking, I think that wearing the point of a triangle (or the widest part of a semi-circle) to the back looks frumpy. Wearing it with the point to the side (maybe slightly front-ish, but not at the front) seems to be more hip these days.

You could try to find a knitting group if you don't have one, find someone who's knit some shawls in the group (there will be some) and play around with wearing them before you commit to knitting them.
posted by freezer cake at 5:53 PM on April 23, 2014

We wear shawls as headcoverings at my church, and I am hopeless so I always end up looking like a pirate-babushka. There are some super stylish women though and it seems to come down to the weight of the shawl as well. Lace-weight wispy shawls can be wrapped around several times and look really pretty just draped with tails wandering off. Heavier shawls need to simply sit across shoulders, maybe crossed once and with no knotting or layering. The heavier the shawl, the harder to style.

Maybe it's a Russian thing, but I've seen women wearing really colourful dresses and shawls and still look amazing. There was one colourful sort of Versace outfit, not very tight-fitting, but with a light pale lacy scarf wrapped around the top like the whipped cream on a crazy cupcake. This is what I mean: Russian church women.
posted by viggorlijah at 6:19 PM on April 23, 2014

A friend of mine starts with the triangle point over her chest, crosses the ends in the back, and then tucks them in in front. Kind of like this (looks better with a soft drapey shawl)

Also check out Pinterest.

posted by amaire at 5:28 PM on April 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

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