Before White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx utters one well-versed word during President Trump’s task force meetings, we can’t help but notice her scarves. The pretty floral wraps — tied loosely around her shoulders or worn close to her neck like a cravat — bring a welcome bit of brightness to what’s become our daily dose of bad news.
“It is her signature accessory,” noted Andre Mitchell, a longtime Philadelphia fashion insider and manager of the Center City boutique Skirt. Mitchell describes Birx’s fashion choices as a sweet spot in his otherwise mundane day. “While delivering bleak and dire information, her fashion gives us hope.”
Dr. Birx’s daily scarf choice seems to be the only high fashion-driven conversation allowed right now, when discussing the details of someone’s wardrobe feels unnecessarily glib. But the scarves have found a cult following. In March, Fort Worth, Texas-based marketing executive Victoria Strout launched the deborahbirxscarves Instagram account. There, almost 30K followers debate Birx’s knot-tying skills and gush over how Birx contrasts her scarves — that she started wearing years ago in the same way her male colleagues wore ties — with her sweet shirtwaist dresses.
Here’s why scarves have become the fashion we need right now:
President Donald Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci’s messages differ at times, but both men display the same authoritative image in traditional dark-hued suits and contrasting ties. This standard man-in-power uniform lacks authenticity and individuality, yet our culture instructs us to revere them at first glance simply because of the crispness of their classic attire.
It’s clear that Birx — often the only woman on the podium — intuitively understands how to telegraph her strength through sartorial choices in ways men just can’t. Like former British Prime Minister Theresa May, Birx wears her silky accessory around her neck like a boss. Like May, she fancies neckwear from the French luxury brand Hermès, alongside other designer labels like Pucci, Ann Hand, and Randall Darwall.
While Birx’s scarves are certainly expensive, many women can connect to Birx’s power accessory because a silk (or silk-like) scarf is not hard to find, and reasonable facsimiles can easily be bought at Marshalls or Burlington. That makes Birx’s accessory of choice more relatable than, say, a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes or a Chloé bag. Competent women we trust drape themselves in scarves: our moms, our aunts, our teachers, and our own doctors (including our own Pennsylvania Health Secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine).
Going forward, scarves promise to be fashionable as well as functional because even when we return to our daily lives, we will have to cover our noses and mouths indefinitely. So during these spring and summer months, a decorative scarf will clearly come in handy.
“We are going to want to have something that’s pretty and feels better on our face than a medical mask,” says Karen Giberson, president and CEO of the New York-based trade organization the Accessories Council. “Personally, I’ve been wearing them when I go out now. Women like them because they are versatile.”
Our steady stream of video calls is likely continue for some time. And because they limit the frame, the only way to show style is by having swanky surroundings and looking good from the neck up. Giberson also predicts an uptick in statement jewelry — especially necklaces and earrings — as well.
“It’s about jazzing up that space between your head and shoulders that’s on camera all the time now,” said Atiya Angela Havens, designer and owner of West Philadelphia-based Amatullah’s Treasures, which specializes in modest women’s clothing. “I’ve noticed a small pickup of my online sales in all fabrics from silk to jersey.”
Gabrielle Mandel, the designer behind the West Philadelphia-based Supra Endura, has revved up production of her silk scarves that come in two sizes — 20-by-20-inch silk handkerchief and 70-by-30-inch full-length scarves — in several styles and prints. She’s preparing for what she hopes will be a decent Mother’s Day season.
Mixed in with the mask wearers, Mandel has seen “a lot of people wearing kerchiefs. “It’s another way to extend wearable art, and it’s interesting how they are having a moment right now," Mandel said.