The neck rag, the wild rag… the scarf. I don’t know of many people who call this piece of cowboy gear a scarf, and calling it a wild rag seems a little over the top to me… but that may just be me. What this neck rag DOES though… that’s undeniable.
The lineage of the neck rag is traceable all the way back to pirates circa 1700—but for purposes of this magazine, we are focused on the functionality and use in the Western lifestyle.
The neck rag, or the mascada, for the vaqueros is not only a way to demonstrate your political or buckaroo affiliations (if you really HAVE seen Tombstone), it is a truly functional piece of equipment.
There are two main functions of the neck rag—warmth and another, less well known reason, as a filter.
In Montana and the northwestern climes, we know the weather can change and the ability to adapt is a must—a silk neck rag is the best option for insulation because much like polyester, silk will adjust to the wearer’s heat and humidity, creating a custom level of comfort on every wearer.
Another reason why the rag is silk? Silk is one of the most hydrophobic proteins ever designed by nature, and if you watched episode 1 of #AskNorth40, you will know that this means it is great as a wicking layer. So in the cold, the silk neck rag is going to help water and sweat leave your body, retaining that critical dryness you need to stay warm, whereas cotton is hydrophilic and will soak up that moisture and keep you cold.
And silk is a finer weave and preferable over itchy wool on your neck.
So warmth and wicking properties of silk aside… there is another reason cowboys opted for a silk neck rag—because of the tight weave of silk, it acted as a much better filter than cotton.
Cowboys didn’t have these high-tech filtration devices wildly available to everyone now-a-days—there were no microfilters and quick draw straws for clean water back in the day.
The first filter was your beaver skin cowboy hat, 10X. Then came your neck rag over the mouth of your canteen—and this is where silk once again bests cotton. Where cotton would allow mud through, silk kept it out. This was the same when it was dusty and dry out—pull up your silk neck rag and breathe easy—the dust will stay on the outside.
There’s a brief history of the silk neck rag—now let’s figure out how to tie it.