By Simon Crompton
One of the pleasures of dressing for winter is the ability to drape a scarf about the neck. Not only is it reassuring against the skin, but a scarf also has the ability to change one's look, proportion and silhouette.
A short stock, no more than an arm's length of cloth wound around the neck and tied before being tucked into the top of a piece of knitwear, is the most basic option. It crowns a crewneck cashmere sweater, extends the neckline and creates the ability to add colour at the neck in a casual setting. Men have little idea how fortunate they are to have permission to wear something as flamboyant as a silk tie; they will miss it when it's gone.
Stocks are, of course, rarely as bright as a silk tie, but they can be made in silk. The material is very good at keeping out the cold and warming the skin. In a dark or darkly patterned material, it need not be gaudy or effeminate.
The majority of scarves are longer, but they can be made shorter by their methods of tying. The typically French method is to fold the scarf in two, wrap it around the neck and insert the two ends through the loop. It is simple, effective and has a certain degagé air. But you couldn't call it elegant.
The most formal alternative is to tie the scarf simply end-over-end, and then bring one end up high under the chin. Once this length is lying flat down the front of the body, widen the scarf where it emerges from the neck by pulling it in either direction. A pleasing puffed effect results, which then looks very smart tucked into an overcoat.
What else? Just throwing one end over your shoulder works style-wise, though it's not so great for keeping the cold out. There is the plait, which is like the French loop except that you insert one end through that loop, twist it, and then insert the other end. The result sits rather more centrally on the chest than the French loop, and has the attraction of appearing rather clever and complicated.
Aside from different knots, there is the tightness of the knot itself. For example, a simple end-over-end, if very loose and hanging halfway down the chest, has a very different air from one pulled tight against the neck. It can work particularly well with a jacket, where a lightweight scarf is tied only where the jacket is fastened, leaving the space above to show off one's shirt and tie. If you care about your shirt-and-tie combination, that is no small advantage.
One last, golden rule to finish. If elegance is your goal, whatever you do don't fiddle with your scarf. As with ties, handkerchiefs and most aspects of men's apparel, any insouciant élan is immediately undermined if you are constantly adjusting and rearranging. Do it at home, stride out for the day's activities, and leave all thoughts of its arrangement at home.
Photo by Tommy Ton