History and Headwraps: How Culture Turned Into A Fashion Statement

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Perhaps “the only saviour of a half baked existence”* is to create. Artists do it, so too poets and writers. My beautiful friend, Natalie Augustin, a travel blogger, does it every time she journeys to an unknown place and gets stewed in its culture with photographs that bear marvel to the experiences that mould and change her thinking.

I admire that.

Still, in deciding to live fully we seldom talk about the stuff that muddies our rivers of joy. We Snapchat and Instagram our lives instead as if they were perfect, knowing that the filters may disguise the truth to others but never to ourselves and that they don’t completely hide the fact that triumph and defeat are one and the same.

The pain from where creation begins, the valiant efforts and the tears that come from living a life more than half-baked are hardly if ever, photographed or posted.

Take my latest video on headwraps for instance.

*Thanks to the lovely Natasha of the Ecstatic Flash for the quote that prompted this piece. 


My intention to learn how to create and style headwraps was inspired by my upcoming trip to South Africa where I want to worry less about how to style my hair and focus more on the experiences that a 4-week life changing trip will bring. The bold swaths of printed modern African fabric twisted and tied onto my head, I figured, would help me to blend in but also stand out with a signature style.

But as I peered into the mirror learning the how to’s of wrapping, other images of black women appeared side-by-side my own. I had seen them before of course, in movies, in my history books, on posters; women whose faces and eyes echoed a deep and unimaginable pain.

I turned to Google to understand the history and the connection and read what hardly ever gets discussed in any You Tuber’s glossed over video on the topic. There, on Google, was the very coexistence of opposing forces held in a story of triumph and defeat, pain and blessing.

Like many cultural artefacts from the African continent, the custom of wearing headwraps arrived in the Americas as a result of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It was the slave owners who enforced the practice of head wrapping on the plantations. For them, it meant ownership and mastery over the lives of others who were to be branded subservient and destitute. Property to be owned, beaten and commanded at will.

“In certain areas of the South, legislation appeared that required black women to wear their hair bound up in this manner.” Headwraps were supposed to denigrate the beauty and pride of the black women who wore them. In time, the women found that it also provided protection when working under a brutal sun for long hours on end and began styling them in ways to signify “individuality and community” – the very opposite of what slave owners wanted by commanding the practice into law.

Today headwraps are a unique expression of historical ties, a modern symbol of style that signifies an awareness, hopefully, of culture and identity. Headwraps are seen on the runways, magazine editorials and sitting on the heads of celebrities.

In the rudimentary and joyful applications that are captured in my video, something meaningful happened in the process. I learned about a history of pain and the deeper meaning behind what is now a symbol of both acceptance and rebellion.

When I bow in front the mirror to bring the single swath of fabric to the front of my head, and I rise to look into the mirror to begin to twist and tuck, I will think about what it is to create and remember the blessing and the pain.

  • Start by securing your hair firmly with bobby pins
  • Align your wrap so that an edge rests at the nape of your neck
  • Pull the fabric towards the front and off-center, then tie into a knot, making sure that one end is longer than the other
  • Tie the remaining ends of the fabric into a bow
  • Wrap the loose ends around each other into a small rope and tuck on one side of the wrap
  • Fluff each part of the bow; pull and arrange as you’d like

  • Fold your cloth to create a scarf that is roughly 6 inches wide
  • Align your fabric with the edge of your forehead, and bring both ends around to the back
  • Tie a strong knot
  • Wrap both free ends of the fabric in a two-strand twist, to create a long fabric rope
  • Bring the rope over your head, over to your forehead
  • Tuck the loose end into the front of your head wrap

  • Wrap a scarf or fashion a piece of fabric into a doughnut (socks, t-shirts all work), and pin to the top of your head firmly
  • Align your wrap so that an edge rests at the nape of your neck
  • Bring the two ends of the wrap forward
  • Combine the two separate ends by twisting into one large spiral rope
  • Bring the twisted rope forward and wrap around the doughnut, tucking and adjusting as you go along
  • Tuck the spiral on one side at the front edge of your head wrap, and voila!

  • Style your hair into cornrows or any other slicked back style
  • Align your wrap so that an edge at one end of the fabric rests at the edge of your forehead
  • Bring both ends around the back and tie a knot
  • Make sure that one end is significantly longer than the other
  • Bring the long end around, and wrap around your head until you run out of fabric, adding height as you go
  • Shape your high turban with your hands and fingers
  • Tuck the free end into the top of your turban, or fashion it into a loose structure

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