Scarves, Capes, Shawls, And Wraps: What’s The Difference?

Scarves, Capes, Shawls, And Wraps: What’s The Difference?

If you are looking for a luxury cashmere item this autumn, you will find a huge array of scarves, shawls, capes and wraps to choose from. You may even find ponchos and stoles on the list, and it gets to a point where you might not be quite clear what the difference between all these items is.

They are terms that are often used interchangeably, but for true fashionistas there are some differences between them. Here’s what you need to know.


The scarf is a classic neckwear accessory that you are probably familiar with already. It is a rectangular or square shape that can be of various lengths and widths, but it’s often long and narrow to allow the wearer to wrap it around their neck and shoulders for extra warmth. Square scarves are often folded and worn over the head or shoulders.

Some lightweight scarves are worn purely as a decorative fashion accessory, while thicker wool or fleece scarves are designed for outdoor winter use.


A shawl is a typically larger piece of fabric than a scarf, and can be square, rectangular, or triangular. It is draped over the shoulders and can be used to cover the whole of the upper body. They are a stylish and elegant alternative to a coat or jacket in cooler weather, providing an extra cosy layer.

They are often worn for decorative purposes, particularly in more lightweight fabrics such as silk and pashmina that have patterns or prints. 


Stoles are a sort of cross between a shawl and a scarf: usually longer and wider than a scarf, but narrower than a shawl. They are wrapped around the shoulders and upper body for extra warmth, and are often used on formal occasions to accessorise a sleeveless evening dress. They are made from light fabrics that drape well. 

It is thought that the name ‘stole’ originated from the ancient Roman word stola, which is the feminine version of a toga.


A cape is a large square or rectangular piece of fabric that drapes over the shoulders and will usually reach the waist or hips. They are sometimes fastened at the neck with a brooch to hold them in place and are made from soft flowing fabrics.


A poncho is a typically square or rectangular shaped piece of fabric with a hole or slit in the centre to put your head through. This allows the garment to drape over the upper body and stay in place without any wrapping or pinning. 


A wrap is a more general term to describe a piece of fabric that can be wrapped around the body, and it can encompass shawls, scarves, and stoles. 

So there you have it: these details may help you select the best accessories for your wardrobe, whether you are looking for winter warmth, a splash or style and colour, or a multitasking piece of knitwear that will take you from day to evening.