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African Headwraps 101: A Powerful Accessory

Three African American women wearing different styles, colors and prints of headwraps, in orange, purple and black, red, and white and blue.

What is an African Headwrap?

An African Headwrap or African Head Wrap (two words) is a piece of cloth tied around the head in an intricate style. It can be a strong cultural statement, a fashionable accessory or a smart fix for those days when you don’t want to style your hair. 

Available in many colors and patterns, fabrics and sizes, headwraps are usually about 60-72 inches—or the length of an average scarf. 

A headwrap can be worn for a casual day at home or the most special occasion. It might be just a simple piece of cloth, but it can show off a woman’s beauty and strength like nothing else.

African American woman wearing a black and white zebra print headwrap, black top, and silver earrings.

A History of African Headwraps

The African Headwrap or head scarf as it is sometimes called, has stood the test of time and history. Women have been wearing them for centuries—throughout many regions. It is still important to many African American women today. 

In other languages, the headwrap is called “dhuku” (in the Shona language), “duku” (Chichewa), “gele” (Yoruba) and “iduku” (isiZulu). 

Originating in sub-Saharan Africa, the head scarf was designed using traditional colors and patterns like kente. 

Head scarves often told a story of who a woman was. They let everyone know about a woman’s age, marital status or wealth at a glance. They were also used the way today’s accessories are: to enhance a woman’s beauty.

Unfortunately, when African women first arrived in the U.S., the head scarf became a sign of their enslavement. However, as African American women and men began fighting for freedom and equality, the traditional scarf reemerged as a symbol of pride and Afrocentric celebration. 

African American woman wearing a gold and orange headwrap, matching top, and crown queen earrings.

Why Wear an African Headwrap? 

The headwrap’s crowning glory is its versatility.  There are so many reasons to wear a head scarf:

  • To protect the hair at night: Many women use silk or satin head scarves instead of a bonnet at night, keeping their hairstyles in place and safe from drying fabrics.
  • To avoid styling your hair during the day: If you don’t feel like doing your hair in the morning (or the night before!), large headwraps are a great way to keep your coils in check.
  • To take part in a ceremony: Many African immigrants, inspired by their native culture, wear a tribal head scarf for weddings or other ceremonial events.
  • To express your style: Today, many African American women wear headwraps for style and simplicity. Pre-tied African headwraps are a convenient way to look nice and cover your hair, while the untied versions can be shaped in many unique and attention-grabbing ways.
  • Celebrate African heritage: As more women come to love their natural hair, many have started incorporating fashion headwraps into their daily look as a point of pride. African head coverings (and garments like caftans) are also worn for cultural celebrations.
  • To add style and meaning to church wear:  Instead of the traditional Sunday hat, some women prefer to wear a patterned or jeweled headwrap.

No matter what you’re wearing, an African headwrap is a sophisticated, easy way to add color and standout style while celebrating your heritage and unique beauty.

Fall In Love With African Headwrap Styles

Did you know that African headwraps have a glorious history dating back to sub-Saharan Africa, and even ancient Egypt? Before headwraps became the style trend they are today, women wore wraps for many reasons.

Historically, some wraps represented a woman’s age and status in the community, and other wraps indicated her marital status. In Egypt, women wore heavy elaborate headdresses to showcase their royal status. Throughout history headwraps have been a symbol of culture and beauty and the legacy lives on today.

Today, headwraps are a favorite accessory worn by women for practically every occasion. Whether you’re headed out for a night on the town or running a few errands, there’s a headwrap style for every occasion to fit you perfectly.

Getting Your Crown Ready For A Wrap

Before we dive into style suggestions for wrapping your beautiful crown, let’s get prepared. Headwraps can be worn at all times. Depending on the weather, your hair prep underneath will vary.

In the humid summer months and definitely in the dry freeze of winter, our hair needs extra loving care. Protective styles for natural hair are the rage, and many women choose twists, braids and sister locs to tuck away the hair. Don’t forget about headwraps as an option!

Headwraps can be an affordable way to keep hair feeling nourished, while you go about your life in style. You can rock your personal style with an amazing accessory that’s easy to find. Add a little moisturizer (pro tip: Leave-in conditioner is your friend), braid your hair and get ready to work that beautiful fabric into a fashionable look.

Tips for Protecting Hair When Wrapping

Without question, protecting the edges of your natural hair is of the utmost importance.  Breakage around the hairline is one of the downsides to the range of hair style trends these days. Here are a few of the major reasons the hairline may be suffering from the styling.

Top causes of hairline breakage

  • Lack of moisture
  • Poor health
  • Over-manipulation/over-styling
  • Adhesives and glue
  • Tightly braided protective styles
  • Wearing hair out in the elements

While all of the reasons above are key, African-American hair is particularly sensitive to the friction from tight protective styles. Too much time in the rain or in heat can be a hassle also.

A silkier, more strand-friendly fabric tied semi-loosely is the answer to many concerns about wearing headwraps to help fight breakage. Tucking your ends away helps the oldest and weaker strands stay healthy. Check out our blog for more info about using headwraps as a protective styling option.

Headwraps for hair loss or healing

If you deal with hair loss due to illness, knowing how to wear a scarf or headwrap is so much more than a style option. In these situations, the use of breathable fabrics in great colors can be the exact boost a woman keep an uplifted spirit. Try some of the many fabrics available in an array of colors and patterns that will fit any woman’s style and circumstance. Create the look you love! Read more here about how wraps can provide a lift as you heal inside and out.

Headwrap Styles for short hair

African headwraps are for women with short hair too! Just because your natural hair is styled in a super short cut doesn’t mean you have to be left out. Women who wear TWAs (teeny weeny afros) and bald heads can get in on the look by using square cut scarves and smaller headwraps to create gorgeous looks. To successfully head wrap short hair or bald heads, try these tips:

  • Use non-slip fabrics! At the end of the day, you want a head wrap that will stay in place all day without slippage. Some headband scarves are made with elastic to softly stay in place.
  • You can also find stretchier fabrics that will stay in place BECAUSE you have less hair weighing down the fabric. Lock that gorgeous look in place ladies!
  • Try to find moisture-absorbing fabrics. Depending on the flow of your day, headwraps and hairbands with features designed for exercise do a great job at keeping your head dry. Less sweat means your wrap stays in place longer.

Read more on the Ashro blog about styling headwraps on short hair.

Headwrap Styles for long hair, braids and faux locs 

Women with longer hair or those who are already wearing a protective style such as braids or faux locs can also rock gorgeous headwrap styles. There are popular options that allow you to simply gather your hair, place a ponytail on top, then twist and style your wrap into a look you love. 

For longer hair styles, some research suggestions include: front-knotted wraps, big bow style, and the ever popular top bun to name a few. A quick internet search will help you find a ton of video tutorials that will help you get going. 

You can also find options for pre-tied headwraps if you find that dealing with fabric and your long hair is too much.

Headwrap styles for Afros

One of the most beautiful looks is an afro hairstyle adorned with an African-style headwrap. Often, women who wear their hair in afro styles feel the same sense of hesitation that women with short naturals feel. No worries, we have a few tips to help you make creative wraps for your amazing afro.

Tips for Afro Headwraps

The larger the afro, the larger the fabric size you need to work with; always adjust for the size of your head and hair. A looped headband style is an easy option for securing your hair while letting your crown remain free.

As more women embrace head wraps for preserving and healing natural hair, they are a firm favorite for great African-inspired looks.

How Tie an African Headwrap

African American woman wearing black, red, orange, yellow and white print headwrap

It doesn’t matter what kind of hairstyle you have. You can wear African headwraps with short hair, long hair, braids, bangs—and everything in between. 

If you want to learn how to tie an African headwrap, don’t worry, there are no complicated knots to learn. Tying African headwraps is often just tucking in the ends. If you want to learn how to tie an African headwrap and don’t know where to start, here are some of the most popular wrapping styles:

The front-knotted headwrap 

  • Hold the cloth behind your head with its ends in each of your hands. (Make sure you have an even amount of fabric on each side.) 
  • Bring your hands forward so the scarf wraps around your head from the back. 
  • Twist the trailing ends around each other, then curl them into a circle (like a lazy dancer’s bun) above your eyebrows. 
  • Tuck in the ends to hold the headwrap secure.

The bow style

  • Start the same way you would with a front knot, but tie the ends of the scarf once at the front of your head rather than wrapping them around each other. 
  • Tie a bow, and tuck in the ends. 
  • Fan out the exposed part of the bow for volume.

Watching videos of headwrap tutorials is the easiest way to learn how to tie a headwrap—or, you can always go with pre-tied head scarves; there’s nothing easier. 

No matter what type of headwrap you try, a good tip is to leave your forehead and neck exposed. A headwrap is meant to show YOU off, so make sure that your facial features and statement jewelry are the star. 

African American woman wearing a white headwrap.

What to Wear with an African Headwrap

Head scarves often come in Afrocentric colors and patterns which can be tricky to mix. To keep things simple, many women will choose to wear headwraps and caftans made out of the same fabric. This creates a fabulous, stunning  look, but don’t dismiss mixing headwraps with other clothing you already have. Pairing a brightly colored and patterned head scarf with a neutral shirt and jeans can add a flash of color and style that looks amazing. 

Adding your favorite jewelry to a head scarf brings in another creative element. Try fashioning your favorite brooch into a headwrap accessory by pinning it above your eyebrows. This is a timeless, gorgeous combination. Adding large hoops gives you a high-impact look, too. 

You can also try wearing a headwrap with a long scarf of a contrasting color. If you already own a pashmina scarf, you can also wear that as a headwrap—getting two uses out of one accessory. When putting your look together, the sky’s the limit!

African American woman wearing a green, brown, black and white print headwrap and matching dress with drop earrings and leopard print necklace.

Choosing a Headwrap that Celebrates Your Heritage

If you want to celebrate African culture, a headwrap is a beautiful, practical way to do just that. Finding a headwrap with traditional African print or color can be a fun discovery journey. Look for mudcloth, kente or dashiki fabrics in colors like red, green, orange and black—or any colors and patterns that speak to your spirit.

With more women turning to head scarves for elegance and style, it’s safe to say these accessories aren’t going away anytime soon. In fact, their popularity means there are now many places where you can buy African headwraps, including your favorite Afrocentric clothing stores. Wrap up headturning style with a head scarf; a truly powerful, truly beautiful way to express yourself!

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Published on Apr 02 2021

Last Updated on Sep 06 2022

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