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What is the Difference Between a Stole and a Scarf?

Christina Edwards
Christina Edwards

To some people, the difference between a scarf and a stole may not seem like much. In fact, these words are often used interchangeably. In the fashion world, however, they are almost always considered to be two different things.

While both are usually rectangular in shape and provide warmth and a splash of style, scarves and stoles do have their differences. Stoles are typically bigger than scarves, and they are worn around the arms and shoulders. Many times, a stole is saved for fancier occasions. Scarves are usually smaller, and they are worn around the head or neck.

Scarves are smaller than stoles.
Scarves are smaller than stoles.

A stole is considered to be a type of lady's shawl or long scarf. It is usually wider than a scarf, and it may be longer as well. Stoles are typically bigger because they are usually worn differently than a scarf. A stole is designed to cover a lady's shoulders and arms. Fur is a popular material for a stole, and they are often saved to wear over dresses and ball gowns for fancier occasions.

Scarves made out of satin are typically worn during the warmer months.
Scarves made out of satin are typically worn during the warmer months.

In Western civilizations, fur stoles were very popular at one point, and they were considered a sign of wealth by many. These could be either a plain rectangle, or the head and feet of the animal could still be attached. A variety of different animal furs can be used to make a fur stole, but because of the growing awareness of animal rights, many are now made from faux, or fake, fur.

Fur is a popular material for a stole, and they are often worn for fancier occasions.
Fur is a popular material for a stole, and they are often worn for fancier occasions.

A scarf is a long piece of cloth worn for warmth, fashion, and religious reasons. Sometimes, they may be longer than a stole. For example, an extra long scarf may be around seven feet (over 2 meters) in length. A scarf almost always has a smaller width than a stole though. Scarves are usually worn around the head or neck. They are considered by many people to be more casual than a stole.

Stoles may be worn with a formal dress.
Stoles may be worn with a formal dress.

Knit and fleece scarves are often worn in the winter to keep warm, and they make popular cold weather gifts. Scarves of lighter material, such as silk or satin, are typically worn in the warmer months. The purpose of a lightweight scarf is not necessarily to keep warm, but to keep up with the current fashion trends.

Scarves and stoles both may have fringe at the ends. This fringe may be simple, or it can be embellished with beads or other decorations. Fabric patterns can range from simple solid colors, paisley or plaid, prints, or even tie-dyed.

Discussion Comments


My nephew works is a clergyman and since I am always looking for a new knitting project, I knitted him a clerical stole.

He needs stoles in several different colors and I thought a knitted stole would be a nice touch. This is knit with real wool yarn with an eyelet lace design on the ends, and I sewed on a silky back.

I hope it is something that he will use and enjoy. It is always fun to find something a little different to knit. If he likes it, I will knit more for him in different colors.

He wears a stole for his job several times a week, and doesn't think anything about it. I always think the stoles look very professional.

It doesn't seem like you see stoles nearly as often as you did years ago. Some younger people do not even know what you mean when you are talking about a stole!


It used to be that I would only wear a scarf in the winter underneath my coat. Now I see them being worn just about everywhere.

At first it took me awhile to get used to having the scarf around my neck all the time, but now I love it.

My office building is always cold, and wearing a pretty scarf is a fashionable way to look warm without wearing a bulky sweater.

Most of them are very reasonably priced so I have a lot of them. Not only do I have them in solid colors, but also like the ones that have a pretty design to them. They can really dress up a plain sweater any day.

A stole is something that I have never worn, but can see how it would work great with an evening gown. Having some extra warmth when wearing something like that is always nice and I think a stole would not only be functional, but beautiful too.


@Sara007 - Whenever I think about silk stoles I always think about the church stoles I used to see. At my church the choir stoles and the clergy stoles were quite beautiful and detailed. I always wondered what it would be like to wear one. I suppose I just had to settle for the fashionable ones I've purchased since then.

Anyway, as far as an actual silk stole wrap goes, I think the best way to wear them is with a slim fitting top, and either a simple A-line skirt, or a pair of fitted slacks. Getting a completely casual look isn't easy, but I think you can at least go for a sharp business look. Just make sure you wear neutral colors and make your stole the focus.


My grandmother had a lovely crochet stole and a silk stole that she ended up passing along to me when she no longer wanted to dress up. I think that it got to be too much for her, and wearing simple skirts and sweaters just got to be easier.

I am a bit torn though, as I have no idea how to wear the silk stole without looking like I am getting ready to go to a ball. I have no idea how my grandmother used to make it look just like any other accessory. The crochet stole isn't an issue, as it has a much more casual feel to it.

Does anyone have any tips for how to wear a silk stole without looking overdone? It is a pale sky blue with a light sheen to it.


When I was getting married I really struggled with finding a gown I liked because so many of them were sleeveless, and to be frank, I hate the way my arms look. I just don't feel comfortable with the world seeing my bingo arms.

I ended up buying a gorgeous wedding stole made out of a fine lace and it really helped me out. I ended up choosing a sleeveless mermaid gown with a tight silk bodice, and with the stole wrapped around the top I felt beautiful and confident.

I think a proper sole can be a secret weapon for those ladies that aren't fans of their arms. Artfully draped fabric can hide a lot.


I just started wearing a scarf for the first time last year, and I was surprised to find how much warmer I felt with it on. I even had to take it off at work, because I got hot.

I wore a pink microfleece scarf with fringe on the edges. It was thick and long, and even after I secured it around my neck, the edges came down to my belly button.

I have considered getting a couple of thinner, more lightweight scarves. Does anyone know if these could be worn in spring and summer, or would even a light scarf provide too much warmth? I like the look of silk scarves, but I'm not sure if I could wear them in warm weather or not.


@seag47 – I generally prefer scarves to stoles, also, but when it comes to special occasions, I like to wear a stole over my dress. Many banquet halls or special events rooms are kept too chilly for my taste, and wearing a stole is a stylish way to keep cozy.

I definitely would not want to wear my black peacoat over a glamorous evening gown. I have to attend banquets and dances for work several times a year, and I have a black crushed velvet stole that goes with just about every dress I own.

The stole is something I don't have to surrender to the man who takes people's coats at the door. I feel lovely in it, and I don't have to sit and shiver.


My grandmother has a lovely wrap that she crocheted, and I have heard it called both a shawl and a stole. I think that because it is made from yarn instead of fur, it is more often called a shawl.

When I think of shawls, I think of thin wraps made of loosely woven material. Though it does go around her shoulders like any stole would do, it doesn't provide much warmth or protection from the biting wind.

I grew up wearing shawls that she made for me to church. My mother wouldn't let me wear them to school, because I played to rough at recess. The shawl could have easily been torn, and it would have been nearly impossible to repair it.


When I think of stoles, I envision a rich, older lady with a mink stole wrapped around her shoulders. I associate them with the elite, and I have never really wanted to own one.

Also, a stole brings to my mind the animals that often were killed to make them. I know that not all stoles are made from real fur, but this is how they started, and I can't break that association in my mind.

I greatly prefer simple scarves that you can get for around $10. They provide plenty of warmth when paired with a good winter coat.

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    • Scarves are smaller than stoles.
      By: iredman
      Scarves are smaller than stoles.
    • Scarves made out of satin are typically worn during the warmer months.
      By: Unclesam
      Scarves made out of satin are typically worn during the warmer months.
    • Fur is a popular material for a stole, and they are often worn for fancier occasions.
      By: Subbotina Anna
      Fur is a popular material for a stole, and they are often worn for fancier occasions.
    • Stoles may be worn with a formal dress.
      By: Geo Martinez
      Stoles may be worn with a formal dress.
    • Most knitted scarves are designed to add warmth during cold weather conditions.
      By: RTimages
      Most knitted scarves are designed to add warmth during cold weather conditions.