What makes acetate scarves so special? Unique design for one, feel and a special place in history. Let's delve at PumpjackPiddlewick

How often do you hear someone say ‘I am in love with acetate scarves’? Yeah, I thought so. But truly it is something that should at least be on your radar if you love vintage clothes. Why? Well, what is not to love about something totally unique in design, and of its time in history. Oh, and it feels like silk.

I discovered acetate scarves when I opened my French Silk Scarf shop. As I learned to tell the difference between materials in my hunt for vintage scarves for the shop, I found and keep finding acetate scarves. And I became more and more curious about them. And a real fan.

What is Acetate

The industrial age saw many inventions, and this included acetate. Formulated and developed in a number of different countries, it was finally patented in Boston, Massachusetts in 1894 by Arthur D. Little. However, it wasn’t made commercially viable until 1905 in Switzerland, by the Dreyfus brothers. And commercially available until after World War I. So over 25 years in the making, as it were.

It’s considered a ‘semi-natural’ (though some prefer semi-synthetic) material as it is made from wood pulp, but with the addition of acetic acid (hence the name). It is this addition that differentiates it from rayon, which these days has been rebranded as viscose. The resulting combination allows for particularly bright colours. And a man-made fibre that is the closest thing to silk in feel, drape and look. (You can read more on it’s history and how it’s made here.)

It’s a Design Feature

For me, what makes acetate scarves particularly special, is their designs. I have never come across an acetate scarf that wasn’t truly unique. For some reason, unlike other made made scarves in particular, but also silk scarves, the acetate scarf showcases designs. Many are super retro, lots are touristic in nature (see the above picture) and others are just downright weird.

Truly, the most unusual scarves I have seen have always been acetate. It’s like someone somewhere decided that acetate is the material to use if you design something way out there. Or at the very least, if you wish to get your design noticed.

Of Its Time

The 1950s and 60s in particular were a no holds barred time period and the zenith of scarf designs. Acetate came into its own for fashion, and scarves, due to WWII. Shortages of silk used for parachutes meant this silk alternative gained in popularity.

However, after the 1960s we say a wane in use. The 70s saw improvements in rayon (eg viscose) and polyesters. These didn’t wrinkle as much, and were easier to clean, so took over the fashion industry when it came to synthetic materials.

Acetate still exists and is used today, but rarely as far as I can find when it comes to scarves. Thus vintage acetate scarf is truly of a specific time period. And to my mind, even more collectible.

Feels Like Silk

Acetate is known and was marketed as ‘artificial silk’. It truly does feel very similar to silk, as well as drapes very similarly. And sometimes it is only the slightly more noticeable sheen that can give it away. I know I have purchased many vintage supposed silk scarves from people online that stated to be silk, only to find on receipt they are in fact acetate. Acetate scarves can easily fool those not used to actually comparing to silk.

Sometimes it was and still is referred to as the ‘poor man’s silk’. (Though you’ll note it’s a poor man’s, not a woman’s. With tongue firmly in my cheek since most wearers of scarves are women still.) This was because it was much cheaper to make than silk, and so was indeed a fraction of the cost.

Acetate versus Silk

Now don’t get me wrong, I prefer silk to acetate when it comes to scarves. But that doesn’t mean I don’t own both. Silk is a fully natural fibre, and just pips acetate when it comes to the soft feel. And acetate is much harder to fix than silk if you get a tear or hole in it. Let’s add in that cleaning for both has to be done by hand. And a low heat iron has to be used so as not to damage the fibers, particularly in the case of acetate.

But, those designs. I really do get excited when I find acetate scarves because of the unique designs. Then add in the slightly more distinct sheen which really makes the designs pop even more, and I am in love. So if you truly want a statement scarf, or a real vintage classic that is no longer made, consider finding an acetate one.

More on Scarves?

I have written a few posts on the uniqueness of scarves, their history and materials. (Very obviously a passion of mine.) You can read more here : Vintage Scarves

If you would like to read more on My Shops quirkier elements, including eyeglasses, corkscrews, kitchen gadgets… Check out my writings in : Niche & Novelties

If you would like to shop specifically French Silk Scarves, check out My Shop dedicated to them. Or for Acetate Scarves, my Pumpjack & Piddlewick Shop offers a selection.

And for the general quirky selection, here’s a taste :

Simply click on an image to see more…

2024-04-15

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