Cowl vs. Shawl vs. Scarf vs. Wrap vs. Stole…???

Warning: this will be a long post.

Disclaimer: With media such as Pinterest and Facebook sending photos around at the speed of light, almost always without the originator’s permission, one would think something less willy-nilly, so to speak, than Facebook or Pinterest (e.g., a stationary blog post) would pose no concern. However, some people apparently don’t like their photos being passed around. (If I post a photo anywhere on the internet, I expect it will be passed around without my knowledge or express consent, so if you find I post an original photo or image anywhere on the internet, you can assume my consent to its being passed around.) In order to use as few of other people’s photos as possible without their express permission, I began drawing (yes, drawing) renditions of everything. However, in moving to Tokyo, I accidentally left my drawings behind and, having no idea where they are, I have no way of obtaining them from friends or family still living in Texas. :-/ That’s an awful lot of work wasted. At any rate, please understand that I made my absolute best effort not to use anyone else’s photos of anything, ever, but it didn’t really work out. Legal advice given me stated (short version) that I’m overreacting by drawing everything and that I really don’t have to worry about it. I will continue to attribute photos to their originators wherever possible.


It seems a huge point of confusion arises when discussing the differences between scarves, shawls, cowls, wraps, and stoles, made worse by the tendency of pattern writers and salespeople to use all terms in the description in order to attract the most traffic. I was also confused on this point, so I decided the look it up. The best source I could find was here, but several references are listed at the bottom.



shawl (c) E. Perkins, 2012

A shawl is a rectangular/triangular/square larger item wrapped around the body or draped over the shoulders. It is worn for decorative purposes (to accent an outfit or cover bare shoulders in formal attire), religious purposes, or to keep warm. It can be worn by men or women.

Mobius Shawl

mobius shawl

mobius shawl (c) DROPS Design

A Mobius shawl is crafted in a circle or loop so that there’s no beginning or end to it and has a twist in the fabric based on the mathematical discovery by Möbius and Listing of being “non-orientable.” It may be long or short, narrow or wide. It is usually worn over the shoulders. It is usually worn by women.



stole (c) E. Perkins, 2012

A stole is similar to a shawl, but made of elegant fabric, narrower in width, and long enough to drape around the body. It probably is related to the ancient Roman stola (the woman’s version of the toga). It’s generally worn by women. The wide decorative sash draped over the shoulders for graduation or liturgical purposes is also referred to as a stole and is worn by men and women.


A “wrap” can be a shawl or a stole.


vintage shoulderette

vintage shoulderette (c) American Thread Company, 1943

modern shoulderette

modern shoulderette (c) D. Brocco

A shoulderette is kind of a cross between a sweater and a shawl. It’s probably a precursor to the modern bolero jacket. Modern shoulderettes may not have sleeves or an open front, instead being crafted in one circular piece.



scarf (c) E. Perkins, 2012

A scarf is long and narrow (but may not be narrow if the fabric is fine). It is wrapped or tied around the neck for warmth or as a decorative accent in both casual and formal fashion. It can be worn by men and women.

Infinity Scarf

infinity scarf

infinity scarf (c) M. Hudson, 2013

An infinity scarf is a scarf crafted in a circle or loop so that there’s no beginning or end to it. It may be narrow or wide, fine or thick.



bandana (c) E. Perkins, 2012

A bandana, neckscarf, or neckerchief is a smaller square scarf usually 20-22 inches wide. It is usually made of a light material such as silk and is worn around the neck. It may be worn by men or women.



foulard (c) E. Perkins, 2012

A foulard is a larger square scarf usually 36 inches wide. It is usually made of a light material such as silk and can be worn as a head scarf or around the neck or waist. It is traditionally worn by women.

Oversized Scarf

oversized scarf

oversized scarf (c) E. Perkins, 2012

There is also an oversized square scarf that is 47-55 inches wide. It is worn as a head scarf, worn as a shawl wrapped around the shoulders, or worn around the hips. It is worn by men and women. Men usually wear it wrapped around the neck in loose folds.


modern cowl

modern cowl (c) M. Hudson, 2013

Finally, a cowl is either a hooded cloak worn by a monk, the hood of such a cloak, or a draped neckline on a woman’s garment. However, a handmade cowl today tends to be a separately-crafted item not attached to your top. It is similar to a disconnected cowl on a woman’s garment, or a larger-than-normal disconnected neck of a turtleneck.

I feel like I understand the differences much better now. 🙂 Don’t you agree? What do you prefer of the above? Do you know of any other items similarly confused for any of the above?





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