Like the handkerchief, the scarf began as a hygienic accessory, rather than one used for fashion, warmth, or religious reasons. The Ancient Romans invented the earliest version of the scarf, which they called a sudarium. They were generally carried or worn around the neck by men who used them to wipe the perspiration from their heads and necks on hot days. When women started wearing them soon after scarves became fashion accessories that were considered indispensable by the beau monde.
The original scarves for men were made of highly absorbent materials like wool, since their job was to soak up sweat. But the new, more decorative versions were made of much softer fabrics, such as silk, cloth, or pashmina. As ornate as they were, these scarves were popular with warriors from China and Croatia and may have been used to denote rank. The necktie was actually inspired by a thin type of scarf that was worn around the necktie cravat.
By the middle of the 20th century, scarves were considered an essential fashion accessory for men and women from all walks of life. But they also served a practical purpose. A scarf can be tied around the neck or even the head to keep us warm. In drier, dustier climates, a type of scarf can be tied around the head to protect the hair from airborne debris. Head scarves and kerchiefs are pretty much de rigueur in the desert.
Devout Muslim and Jewish people around the world also wear different types of scarves for religious reasons. Because long, flowing tresses are considered ostentatious or a sign of pride, some married Jewish women wear a scarf called a tichel to cover their hair. Another type of headscarf called a keffiyeh is the traditional headdress for Arab and/or Muslim men, while the women wear something called a hijab. More read at scarves.