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What is a Fichu?

By Rebecca Partington
Updated May 21, 2024
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A fichu is a type of scarf that is usually made of lightweight fabric. Fichus are often square but folded in half to create a triangular shape before wearing. Fichus are worn over the shoulders and may be tied in a loose knot in front, held closed with a pin, brooch, or pick, or else the ends might be tucked into the wearer's other garments. Alternatively, the fichu's points might extend past the wearer's front to their back, where they are then fastened with a knot or pin.

Both historically and in modern times, most fichus are made of linen fabric, although they are often edged in lace and are sometimes made entirely of lace. The term "fichu" is derived from the past participle of the French word "ficher," which means "to fix." The English word "fichu" should not be confused with the French word "fichu," which is a curse word roughly approximate to the English "damn."

Before the 1700s, the fichu was generally worn by servants, ladies who were poor, and elderly ladies, all of whom often received upper class ladies' hand-me-down dresses with the fashionably low-cut necks of the period. While the ladies needed clothes and sometimes required those donations of clothing to satisfy their needs, they were unwilling to sacrifice modesty for the sake of fashion. To solve this problem, they wore fichus to cover the exposed areas around their necks.

At first, the rich and fashionable ladies scoffed at the poorer ladies' use of the fichu as a cover-up. However, the fichu gradually became more popular among the upper classes as an accent to other clothing and finally became a standard article of clothing. This occurred during the first half of the eighteenth century, and fichus were worn until the late 1800s or early 1900s. Ironically, as fichus became popular among the upper classes, more and more women of limited means — even those who did not receive hand-me-down dresses — took to wearing fichus in order to imitate the styles of the richer ladies. Today, fichus are sometimes worn by women who seek a bit of warmth or an accent to their other clothing but do not want to wear a larger scarf.

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