Modesty Scarf


You know that adorable dress you got for your cousin’s wedding with the darling scoop neck and empire waist? And how, when you wore it to church one Sunday with a cardigan and boots you realized during a meeting that you were engaging in a Festival of Inappropriate Sharing every time you leaned forward? And you went home and thought, gee, the usual silk or chiffon scarf or lightweight pashmina thing would just cover too much of the dress and add unnecessary layers and poufage — what I need is a little modesty scarf like Elz Curtiss mentioned one time?

Well, that’s where I’m at right now. I have so many tops and dresses that are just a WEE bit too low-cut and because I have a very short neck, I look terrible in all the groovy, fashionable scarves out there (although I love to wear them in my hair). As I get older I find that I want to cover up more. It’s not just about cleavage, it’s about catching drafts, not wanting to expose my neck and chest to the sun, and other middle-aged concerns. The skin on my chest also tends to be pink and blotchy and I don’t like that.

Look here at my girl Mary Wollstonecraft. I love, love, love her. She was super intense and neurotic and made terrible romantic choices and was a brilliant feminist and fierce and rad, and every one of you should know her work, A Vindication of the Rights Of Women (especially if you think feminism is a 20th century phenomenon).

Is she not a FANTASTIC crone goddess there (although younger than she looks — she had a rough life)?

Here she is wearing the sort of modesty scarf that I seek but can’t seem to find:

I need one in ivory/white and black. It needs to be streamlined so as not to add too much bulk, and I need to be able to pin it into my upper-body unmentionables. Mary’s is far more floofy than I would want or need, but I love hers anyway.

Silky fabrics won’t do, as they just slip everywhere. Cotton might work if it wasn’t too flimsy, and chiffon itches me. I just want the simplest strip of fabric I can cross over and pin down.

I just know you’ll have some ideas.

I’m almost done preparing for tomorrow’s service, staring at the clock and realizing that it’s not actually 7pm, it’s actually EIGHT. Daylight Savings Time!

22 Replies to “Modesty Scarf”

  1. Wander through a fabric store and see what lacy, non-slippery options present themselves. Buy a few quarter yards and see which works best.

  2. Hi, PB! I’ve never commented and I’m not a minister, but I love your blog and think you have wonderful advice for anyone in the pulpit, from any tradition (mine being Pentecostal). About the scarf, could you go browse your local fabric shop and see if they have anything of the right weight? Since you’re planning to pin it into your unmentionables anyway, I think that would keep it in place. Also, you get a much wider choice of fabrics (and colors) that way and you could customize it to the width and length you want. Sorry if this is a little too home-crafty for you, but that doesn’t seem far from what Mary Wollstonecraft is wearing in the portrait above.
    Keep up the good work!

  3. True Confessions: I am so nervous about going into a fabric store!! I can’t sew ANYTHING and I’m terrified that I’m going to buy the wrong amount and not know how to ask for help and be a huge dork. Like, what’s a “few quarter yards?” A few quarters of a yard, different fabrics each? This is like that woman who never bought a lipstick before. I am the opposite of home-crafty. Please help.

  4. PB, most people who work at fabric stores are incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. I prefer the local ones (rather than the chain stores), and try to find one that isn’t for crafting/quilting because the fabrics at places for home decor/crafting/quilting will be inappropriate for what you’re wanting, most likely. Just tell someone exactly what you’re looking for and explain that you don’t sew and have no idea what terms mean, etc.

  5. Yes, yes, yes! To the fabric store with you, dear PB. I myself can’t even replace a button; I have a lovely tailor whom I am happy to help support. But the clerks in my local fabric store are ever so friendly and helpful that I have overcome my fabric phobia and have saved oodles of money as a result. You can’t imagine the number uses I get out of odd strips of fabric; for instance, I have purchased about a dozen strips of seam binding in various colors and patterns (3 yards each) and, voila, instant head bands– which I wrap around my head 3x and knot in the back. This costs about $3/each as opposed to $20/headband in retail stores. I have made exactly the kind of “modest scarf” you seek out of cotton organza (I have 4) and have secured them with safety pins to my upper unmentionables– for about $1.50/each You live on the South Shore of MA, so may I suggest Saftler’s fabric store? Endless choices of fabrics, endless amounts of friendly help.

  6. My first thought was fabric store too. I bet you know a crafty/seamstress/quilter who would gladly hem a quarter or third of a yard into a great scarf.

  7. I usually wear a camisole under dresses and tops that seem a little too low-cut … is that an option with any of the dresses you mention? [Oh, I do that all the time, but even camisoles leave a lot of skin showing… do you remember the post I did on the “Backwards T?” That works, too. This is to create a more formal and elegant cover-up. – PB]

  8. You might look for handkerchief linen. It is sometimes available on-line from sources that cater to Renaissance costumers and re-enactors, who would use it for chemises. Or, maybe you are looking for a tucker– item of Regency costume that was tucked into the low neckline of the gown? Some of those were lace or lace trimmed. Linen is washable, also. The reason you can do this with a quarter or 1/3 of a yard is that fabrics are often 44-45 inches wide, which should be long enough.

  9. With the warm weather coming on you can usually find some more matte lightweight scarves that are square rather than long. BTW, That’s how I solve the problem of the ugly necked preaching gown — a white triangle tied around my neck and tucked in gives a nice soft effect to the neckline without making you look like Judge Judy. [Squares are always either way too big or too small to fit around my short, fat little neck. But that’s a great idea for those with more swan-like necks. – PB]

  10. Hmmm, you need these scarves in white/ivory or black? I think I know what would be perfect here, but I’m not sure where you can buy it! I’d recommend a length of English tulle in silk or cotton, which is extremely soft and lightweight, and it lies flat. You’d avoid the problem of too much bulk around the neck and chest. You’d probably need a length something ~12″ wide and 40″ to 44″ long. High end bridal salons may carry this fabric, also it’s available from online sources. English tulle has a hexagonal design, not the diamond pattern you see in nylon tulle or Bridal Illusion.

    You could ask a friend who sews to help you out here. Also it’s worth checking out vintage fabric shops for beautiful older lace pieces. I’ve seen vintage lace veils that could serve very well as your modesty scarff. Good luck!

  11. I once bought some lace ribbon that was packaged in a little clear ball. I think it was for people who wanted to make Christmas crafty angels and snowflakes, or maybe for adding a cuff or something. But I hand-stitched it to the inside of the v-neck of the top I was wearing to a wedding. By “hand stitch” I mean about one stitch per inch – just to keep it in place. It was white lace on a navy blue top. I think I used a safety pin or two just at the spot where the ends crossed at the bottom of the v-neck. It looked great; people asked where I bought the top; and when I confessed all they said they Never Would Have Guessed.

    You may do the same. Or even use safety pins, if you wish.

  12. Down here in NC the fabric stores have cotton gauze. It’s great; comes in several colors, sometimes in patterns, washable, and comfy. Buy a quarter to a third of a yard or each color or pattern you like, and maybe you know someone who would hem it for you if you don’t want to. Anybody who sews or quilts would know how.

  13. @S J – oh yes, a chemisette would be good. I would love to be able to find one. I don’t do cleavage and am sick of buying camisoles that don’t conceal anything.

  14. I think the chemisettes are awesome but they don’t look like they afford any more coverage than my 8 or 9 camis and sleeveless T’s. I might buy one dressy one and I think it’s a great link, but I’m going to stick with the fichu style.

  15. Glad to see Mary W as a model; my information had come from her equally admirable contemporary Jane Austen.

    You used to be able to get the most interesting table-runner-type things in thrift stores that did this job perfectly. About ten inches wide and two feet long. The best ones had been handmade by a generation of women who apparently knew more ways to use them than a younger woman would think of.

    And by the way, no matter how far I lean over, it is very rare for me to engage in a festival of inappropriate sharing — although I suppose there are those with misplaced hopes keeping their eyes open… hence, the lace.

  16. Hi PB, I thought this was supposed to be the DE-frumpification of ministers and not the frumpification. This fichu is going to age you big time and could make a neckline too busy and fussy IMHO especially if you don’t have a long neck and are not a crafty sort familiar with fabrics and draping etc. and there is a busty bust involved. You wrote the book on good use of cardis, backward Ts, pashmina and scarf work so why a fichu? It’s similar to the capri debate. With the right shoe and right proportions (of the capri and the body/legs involved) they work but when they don’t work they really don’t work! De-fichification. Hey, I invented a new word!
    I’m also liking the new tone of this blog in these recent weeks. Is something going on in the PB life? It has a kinder, gentler feel and I’m enjoying the give and take. [You’re too funny and cute! Okay, on the fichu thing: I was having a Mary Wollstonecraft moment, and I promise I would keep it hip and cool if I go that route. As far as my personal life goes, geez, how did you guess? It’s wonderful what the right person in one’s life can do. – PB]

  17. The fichu as worn by 18th century reenactors could work for you; from what I’ve read here you’ve surely got the style sense to make it non-frumpulous. These folks sell reasonably priced ones: (Just for an example, here’s a pic of me wearing one in a reenactment context: You just sort of tuck it in and arrange it as necessary, and voila! No unseemly display, and no lobster-red sunburnt chest for later!)

    By the way, I’m a longtime reader and brand-new commenter, and I love what you’re doing here. I’m a pagan lady priest (“priestess” sounds kind of twee sometimes) who has become determined not to repeat the sartorial mistakes of her co-religionistas. I like your style and your attitude! 😀

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