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While in the fashion world, the stole is oftentimes confused with the shawl, there are differences between the two. Although each can be used as an accessory to a party dress or gown, stoles are commonly used to cover the shoulders. Shawls, however, are usually designed specifically as a means of warmth in addition to complementing an outfit.
Rather than warmth, a stole is often worn to show off a particular fabric, like satin, or fur, such as white mink. The major difference between stoles and shawls lies in the size and material. Stoles are usually rectangular and range between 2-4 feet wide (61-122 cm) and 5-6 feet long (152-183 cm). Shawls are generally triangular and larger in size—about 3 feet wide (91 cm) and 7 feet in length (213 cm). They are also constructed with heavier material.
Stole material generally includes lighter fabrics like chiffon, silk, and satin; or fur, which is lined with one of the lighter fabrics. Shawls may also be seen in silk fabrics, but are most often knitted or woven from cashmere or pashmina wool. Both of these fashion accessories are available in various sizes, styles, patterns, and colors. Stoles and shawls share similar uses throughout history, but in different ways.
Stoles were originally used as a scarf that hung down the front, often for religious purposes. These were typically dyed or embroidered to denote a particular event, such as the ordaining of a priest. Prior to adding glamor to clothing, fur stoles were actually worn to protect from fleas and lice, enticing them to the fur rather than the hair or body. Like stoles, shawls also served as a protective device, though for the purpose of keeping the body warm. In addition, these too could be seen in religious ceremonies, such as traditional Jewish funerals and weddings.
Additional uses for stoles and shawls exist today. For instance, a stole may be used to indicate the honors or academic achievement of graduates. Crocheted shawls are popular pastimes for many people, especially those wanting to help others. Also known as prayer shawls, these gifts are knitted by caring individuals and then passed onto to others to help ease their suffering with prayers and blessings.
While there are many similarities between stoles and shawls, there are also many differences. Learning how to decipher between the two isn’t difficult; just remember that stoles resemble scarves, only bigger. Shawls resemble triangles most of the time.