Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Dashing History of the Fighting White Scarf

My friend Matthew Cobb's book The Resistance: The French Fight Against the Nazis, is due out later this year. I asked him whether it contained anything on clothing. He obliged with this description of the maquis--bands of resistance fighters working in the countryside, here under the leadership of Georges Guingouin . . .

Hiding out in the woods might have been fun in the height of the summer, but in the cold and wet of winter it became more difficult, and far more dangerous. The maquis needed to be safe – bare trees and snow made the men more visible – and they needed to be warm . . . Guingouin equipped his men with a winter uniform – leather jacket, sheepskin gilet, green trousers, thick socks, white scarf and helmet. Like all the maquis leaders, Guingouin wanted his men to be disciplined – giving them a uniform not only strengthened their feelings of solidarity, it also reinforced the popular impression of the maquis as a serious military force. 

What interests me here is the white scarf. This is a piece of kit most commonly associated with WWII aviators . . . dashingly worn by pilots looped around the neck, above a leather jacket. According to the wonderful men's vintage website The Fedora Lounge, the scarf was not just decorative but functional. Pilots were constantly swiveling their heads to scan for incoming foes. The scarf, typically silk, prevented chafing against the wool sweater and leather collar. 

Given the incredible bravery of these pilots and rebel fighters, it's unlikely that the gallant white strips would have been used with any frequency to signify surrender. But if you choose to wear one, it might, under certain circumstances, be an interesting option . . .


  1. I am also interested in these scarves as they are reminiscent of the 'favour' given by a lady and carried by a medieval knight taking part in a tournament. My RAF officer father was given a spotted neck-scarf by his girl-friend/fiance (later to become my mother)and I have a poignant photo of him and other crew members standing under their aircraft in spring 1943, proudly wearing their scarves tucked into their uniform collars. By midsummer, literally on the night of the longest day, all except my father were dead. After baling out from the burning aircraft, my father was hidden by very brave members of the Dutch resistance and their families. After six weeks he navigated an open boat back to the English coast, with another RAF pilot and some escaping Dutch resistance members. His neck-scarf brought him luck, and he married my mother six weeks later. He survived to live happily for another 40 years.

  2. What a beautiful story! Thank you so much for sharing it.

  3. And just because I knew you were all wondering...the pilots also used their scarves to wipe off engine oil that would collect on their goggles. The airplane engines of the time leaked quite a bit of oil, and flying was a very dirty profession!

  4. Like you I love to wear scarf,seven colors is really good.