A stole is an item of clothing that is typically draped around a woman’s shoulders. These shawl-like garments are often paired with ball gowns or cocktail dresses, though they are not sold as part of an outfit. The wrap accompanies day or eveningwear as an accessory that provides warmth. Along with the addition of heat, a stole also provides style. Generally manufactured from high quality materials, stoles may be worn throughout the calendar year.
Aesthetically more basic than cloaks or wraps, stoles are—more often than not—long, simple, rectangular pieces of fabric. Though it’s similar to a shawl, it is generally narrower in size. The two ends of a stole may be rounded, pointy, or squared off. A stole is finished with simple stitching and may be hemmed according to the consumer’s size. It may also be as tall or taller than the wearer when held upright, as stoles are generally measured to be around 5 feet (roughly 1.5 meters) long.
Another difference between wraps is the luxury factor. Shawls, scarves and other similar products may be made of inexpensive fabrics such as cotton, linen or jersey. Stoles, however, are often made of cashmere, satin or silk and thus deemed more fashionable; some people deem them a status symbol. Fox and other animal furs have also been common for centuries, though their popularity has somewhat decreased due to animal cruelty campaigns and overall public interest. Faux fur stoles have found their place in the market, too, and are much cheaper than genuine fur stoles.
Stoles made from a lighter fabric are typically worn in the summer months, while heavier stoles — which are often lined with additional fabric, to boot — are worn in the winter months. They are often worn on special occasions or at formal events such as weddings and galas. Unlike a shawl, which is wrapped loosely around a lady’s shoulders and occasionally the neck, a stole is manufactured to fit the body more snugly. They may be simply draped around the shoulders, or tied in a loose knot at the sternum. Though not a typical usage, ladies may also use this version of a wrap to cover their legs if they are feeling chilled below the waist.
Though the term stole generally signifies a fashionable garment, there are other topic-specific roles for stoles. A graduation stole, also called an academic or honor stole, may be worn by a graduate during commencements to signify distinguished honors. Priests and other clergy members wear religious stoles.
Though fashionable in any month, most women utilize shawls for daily use and save stoles for fancier gatherings. Depending on the fabric, a stole may be hand-washed, though dry-cleaning is usually the best option. Stoles should be hung straight on hangers or neatly and gently folded.