A shawl is an extremely simple item of clothing, loosely worn over the shoulders, upper body and arms, sometimes also over the head. It is usually a rectangular piece of cloth, often folded to make a triangle, but can also be triangular in shape to begin with. The first shawls, or "shals" were part of traditional male costume in Kashmir. They were woven in extremely fine woollen twill, some were even said to be so fine as to fit through a ring. Shawls can be in one colour only, woven in different colours(called tilikar), ornately crochetted or embroidered(called ameli).
Shawls are used in order to keep warm, to complement a costume, and for symbolic reasons. One famous type of shawl is the tallit, worn by Jews during prayers and ceremonies.
Another common purpose for wearing a shawl is for added warmth (and fashion) at outdoor or indoor evening affairs where the temperature is warm enough for men in wool suits but not for women in dresses and where a jacket would be inappropriate.
Some cultures incorporate shawls into their national folk dress, mainly because shawls were much more commonly used in earlier times.