Brief Encounter with a 1940s Head Scarf

My second wee ’40s-inspired Style Snapshot comes from a blink-and-you-miss-it moment in that 1945 classic, Brief Encounter.

For most the film, the main character (played by Celia Johnson) wears a realistically limited assortment of sensible suits, overcoats, and perky little hats. As would have been the case for most women of her era, she has a small but well-tailored and well-maintained wardrobe.

The article of clothing on which I’m focussing today appears early in the film, when Laura happens to run into Alec on the street (before their romance begins in earnest). She is doing the weekly shopping, and her hair is tied up in a head scarf:


As brief as this sartorial encounter is, it was the one that stayed in my mind, costume-wise.

The 1940s head scarf is probably best known as the necessary accessory of working women, the most famous being the now utterly iconic Rosie the Riveter:


There are plenty of other photographic examples of this type of workplace head scarf. Here is an assortment:








This type of practical hair arrangement had been prompted partly by the well-known Veronica Lake scenario: After women had begun to emulate Lake’s famous “peekaboo” wave…


…the actress was urged to encourage women to put their hair back instead, in order to avoid workplace injuries. She obliged with a publicity campaign to this effect:

The association of head scarves with working, casual, and/or more “masculine” attire can also be seen in other photos of the time:


Returning to Brief Encounter, though… what interested me most was the scarf’s pairing, not with trousers or overalls, but with rather more formal apparel. Although rarer, this is a look one can also find evidence of in 1940s sources:






And here are a couple of modern takes on the same theme:



All in all, a rather chic way to be out-&-about, and one deserving of re-visiting!

Here’s a video tutorial on tying the scarf:

And if you’re interested in making your own 1940s head scarf, here’s a blog post with instructions:

Finally, some additional articles & sources:

Many Styles, Many Shapes: A Headscarf How-To

5 thoughts on “Brief Encounter with a 1940s Head Scarf

  1. Great post! My own grandmother lost a patch of hair when her long locks got caught up in a wringer washer, back in the early 1900’s. A head scarf or protective hat would have saved her from that trauma. Interesting that turbans and head scarves are once again very stylish, just look them up on Pinterest!

  2. Fabulous! My mother wore such a head scart when I was a boy back in the late 1940s and through the 1950s. I love these scarves! Thanks for this very interesting post!

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