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vintage scarves

What Color is Your Parachute (er, Scarf)?


What Color is Your Parachute (er, Scarf)?


Richard Nelson Bolles’ What Color is Your Parachute was self-published in 1970, and since 1972 has gone through 40 commercially-published editions, translated into 22 languages, and sold over 10 million copies. After reading it many years ago, I felt like it expanded my perception of what was possible in a career.

At the same time that Bolles’ book first became widely available, Vera Neumann (1907 - 1993) was flying high. Her parachute cloth (more about that in a second) had been unfurled and printed in ecstatic colors, becoming a form of modern wearable art. Glitterati and career women both wore Veras—whether wrapped around ponytails, necklines, or waists, they gave a fresh, expressive look to an outfit.

The more you look, the more you see

“Color is the language I speak best” —Vera

Vera Neumann used to be simply Vera…the one and only Vera. Now we call her by both names to differentiate her from the newer Veras (Wang and Bradley) on the scene. She was born Vera Salaff on July 24, 1907. A truly prolific designer, she got a good start from her father, who took her to the Metropolitan Museum of Art every Sunday, and gave her 50 cents per art-filled sketchbook as a child.

Vera met and married Austrian George Neumann in 1943, and together with their friend Frederick Werner Hamm they began silkscreening textiles in their studio apartment in Manhattan, calling their business Printex. They started out with just placemats because they were curing these in their own small oven. The business, and the space required, expanded rapidly after Hamm secured their first order from B. Altman. It was during the peak of World War II when linen became difficult to obtain that Vera first came across some parachute silk being sold at an army surplus store. By the late 1940s she had expanded from home textiles to scarves made of parachute silk.

Vera was the very first to sign her name to a scarf, as an artist signs a painting. In the 1950s her work was popular with Marilyn Monroe, Bess Truman and Grace Kelly. John Lennon was the first customer for a Vera painting when her oils were shown in 1970. Department stores started presenting her scarves like artwork in the early 70s. By 1977, Vera’s sales were over $100 million.

A tour of Vera’s history in 2:25. Time well spent.

The designs of Vera Neumann took many forms over the years, ranging from the small, often botanically-inspired designs, to boldly patterned, modernist abstracts. She obviously loved juxtapositions of bright colors, and gave a lot of thought to how her layout of pattern could make an interesting scarf. There is a consistent love of detailed natural elements and energetically free brush strokes. Nothing looks like the paint has even dried yet, so fresh are her designs.

How many scarves To make a parachute?

Dizzy yet?

I recently acquired a large drawstring bag filled with scarves. How large? Large enough for Santa to sling over his shoulder and make children feel giddy, only in this case I’m the one who is giddy. The bag came from one woman, and most of the contents are scarves made by Vera Neumann between 1960 and 1982. 

I don't know the woman who collected these scarves, but I know a few things about her based on her collection. She loved Vera of course, and she wore just about every color, some more often than others. I have had to put aside over 30 of the scarves because their wear has been a little too much (these are now in the hands of a colleague for her reuse). Very special designs I believe the collector kept rather carefully, protected from overuse. Most of the very best were not overused. 

I have been given a few Vera scarves as gifts through the years, and admired the ones I've found secondhand, but never have I seen 100+ of Vera's scarves at once before. 

Right now you will find 40 or so Veras in my Etsy shop, and there are more to come. But caveat emptor: This batch is going fast.


The best parts of this world were not fashioned by those who were “realistic.” They were fashioned by those who dared to look hard at their wishes and then gave them horses to ride.

Richard N. Bolles, What Color Is Your Parachute? 2016 edition

Vera may have needed to use parachute silk at one time in her life, but she had no trouble with flying high.

How fortunate we all are to be able to wear such an artistic flight of fancy as a Vera scarf, having to think about tying ideas instead of fit—and to make the world brighter and more interesting at the same time.

Do you have any Vera scarves yourself? What color is your Vera?



Wear scarves: Sophia Loren edition

Bad hair day? I am having a bad hair life, so there’s nothing more handy to me than being able to compensate with a beautiful scarf. This look, glamorized by Sophia Loren, looks vaguely peasant-y while adding vintage je ne sais quoi. 

I couldn’t resist adding the door knocker earrings...anyone need her fortune told?



Wear scarves: Make a dress wearable edition

I have a particular reason for wearing this scarf: I love the style but not really the brick red color of this 1970s Young Edwardian dress on me. Changing what’s going on at the neckline can make it perfectly wearable with my coloring.

Good save, don’t you think?


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Wear scarves: Big square as shrug

Big square scarves are extremely versatile. With just a couple of knots, today’s scarf got to act like a shrug, or wrap. Basically it is like a shrug with full sleeves.

I got the idea from a post on Vmac and Cheese. Check out the other uses for a large square scarf in this post!

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Wear scarves: Expo ’74 edition

In 1974, Spokane was smallest city ever to host a World Exposition. It is now the 40th anniversary of Expo ’74, and the denizens of my smallish city are still feeling the fair’s positive impact.

Today’s scarf (a vintage souvenir from the fair) is one I’ve been pulling out quite a bit this year in tribute to the anniversary. It features the Möbius strip, symbol of the fair which was the first to have an environmental theme.

Thinking 70s, I made a wide headband of my oblong scarf, and included a twist à la Möbius.



Wear scarves: Natalie Wood edition

Any woman who was young in the 1950s probably had a chiffon scarf tied around her hair or her neck at one point. I chose Natalie Wood because...well look at her:

The scarf I’m wearing today is a 1950s souvenir of Hawaii, and it could be worn the sock hop way, with a knot to the side of the neck.

Or I could go the headscarf route, which certainly shows off the design. (Darn, where is my convertible?)

I opted for a not-so-characterstic rosette made by twisting the scarf throughout its length. A pin holds the scarf together and a clip holds it in my hair.


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Wear scarves (ties): Diane Keaton edition

In honor of the cool and iconoclastic style of Diane Keaton, and with Father’s Day in sight, this is a post about wearing ties.

I have worn ties ever since...a long time, and still wear them. Yes, I can do a Double Windsor.

You have to have a certain sense of irony wearing a tie as a woman, but heck, it’s almost to the point that you have to have a sense of irony wearing a tie as a man.

So why not wear it without a collar?

Wear a straight tie as a bow tie?

A bow tie as a hair clip?

A tie as a belt?

I believe Annie Hall would approve.

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Wear scarves: Rosie the Riveter edition

This cute photo Effie shared on my Facebook page reminds me that head-wraps and turbans are some of my favorite scarf looks.

If I had Effie’s enviable long black hair I would do this all the the wrapped up-do!

Head wrap-tying icon: Rosie the Riveter
For one super simple wrap, just halve a big square scarf to make a triangle. The long side of the triangle goes at the base of your neck and ties above your forehead. Hair in or out? It’s your choice!



Tie one on

...a vintage scarf that is!

I’m doing just that this month, and I already love the habit.

Here are a few beautiful/interesting new and vintage ideas I’ve seen online (and pinned on my Scarf Tying Pinterest board):

(Images credited where possible on my Pinterest board)



Happiness is a long organza scarf

This month I’m wearing my vintage scarves every day. (It is a Vintage New Year’s Resolution.)

I love my two long organza scarves. The one in black is easily the most useful scarf I own. This one is silk in iridescent orange and green.

If nothing else a long scarf is dramatic, and if it is crisp like this, it can be made into very structural knots and bows.