“Online shopping for silk scarves to tie around my face until this is over,” tweeted the artist Sam McKinniss last week. “I simply must do this my way or not do it at all.”
His way, as it turns out, is not only his. As the White House has pivoted to recommending that Americans cover their face with masks—with the addendum that one can make do with a scarf—the silk scarf has emerged as a new defensive accessory, the kind of small gesture of glamour that boosts morale in times of crisis. The RealReal shared with GQ that the searches for silk scarves have accounted for a larger proportion of overall searches on the luxury resale site since the beginning of March. When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, issued their revised guidance that Americans should wear cloth masks on April 3, search demand for all scarves increased 4.8 times.
And not just any silk scarves: “People are going ham on Hermès scarves on the realreal,” observed Garage editor Laia Garcia on Twitter earlier this week. She was onto something: during the week of March 22, searches for Hermès silk scarves grew 1.3 times over all silk scarves from the previous week, according to The RealReal’s data. Daily search volume for Hermès scarves reached its highest point a day after the CDC’s announcement. (When McKinniss later shared a selfie with one of his silk scarves, the Hermès logo was front and center.)
The undisputed first name in luxury silk scarves, the Hermès scarf is an emblem of the French house’s singular approach to craftsmanship—thoughtful and trend-agnostic, with a deep regard for its artisan designers. A new scarf retails for upwards of $420, but on The RealReal, gently used designs can be found for $275 (they go all the way up to $2,800, for the sable-trimmed Ex-Libris design). Earlier this year, they had become a key component of the new menswear movement that saw men dressing like wealthy older women.
The scarves epitomize Hermès’s artisan-focused atelier, which puts the name of the scarf’s designer on each piece. “Hermès scarf designers can be found in places from Poland to Japan, not to mention the U.S. post-office sorting room in Waco, Texas,” Christina Binkley reported in a 2013 Wall Street Journal story on the scarves. Binkley added a detail that fans of John Prine, the Americana songwriter (and former mailman) who died earlier this week of complications from the coronavirus, will appreciate: “Kermit Oliver, a longtime postal employee, has designed more than a dozen Hermès scarves.” Oliver is the kind of Hermès scarf designer who inspires a cult following: in 2012, Texas Monthly profiled Oliver and his scarves, including one design introduced in 1987 that commemorates Texas’s 150th anniversary with a huge and glorious turkey surrounded by the state’s flora and fauna.
And now, if you can’t sew or are wary about purchasing cotton masks, the Hermès scarf is a glamorous substitute. “That tiny Hermès book on how to fold scarves into whatever does not seem like it’s such a silly thing to have kept in my collection,” one woman said on Twitter, sharing a photo of herself with a silk scarf knotted around her nose and mouth. Others who set aside their scarf collections long ago are bringing them out again, deploying widely circulated instructions on using a bandana and elastic hair bands to make a mask at home.
But it’s not merely the CDC’s guidelines that have Americans hunting down silk scarves. Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, has attracted attention from Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan, as well as on Twitter, for the seemingly endless wardrobe of silk scarves she wears during coronavirus press conferences, artfully bundling and knotting them around her neck, tying them around her shoulders, or simply wrapping them around her collar. Onstage, between two walls of men in big suits, Birx is a vision of elegant expertise.
Hermès has also proven itself a model business in dealing with the economic fallout of the pandemic. While a number of businesses—both luxury and fast fashion—have furloughed and laid off workers, Hermès has pledged to maintain the basic salaries of its 15,500 employees around the world, in part by trimming a planned dividend increase for shareholders and forgoing annual pay increases for executive chairmen Henri-Louis Bauer and Axel Dumas. (The house has also felt the human impact of the novel coronavirus: its storied window display designer, Leila Menchari, died of the virus earlier this month.)
The silk scarf, according to the CDC’s guidelines, is a “last resort” when it comes to combating the virus’s spread. But in its own unlikely way, it has become a small comfort amid the tragic disruption of daily life—or at least a new obsession to dive into during all those hours indoors.
Originally Appeared on GQ