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square, oblong, or triangular protective or ornamental article of dress worn, generally by women, over the shoulders, neck, or head. It has been a common article of clothing in most parts of the world since antiquity. The period of the 19th century up to the 1870s, when the fashion silhouette changed, was known as the "shawl period" because women in Europe and America wore shawls with almost all their clothing. At the beginning of that century, shawls were a necessity in a fashionable woman's wardrobe because dresses were thin and decollete; it was a sign of gentility to wear a shawl gracefully.