Everything You Need to Know About African Headwraps
If you’re looking for a sophisticated Afrocentric accessory to add color and style to any outfit, look no further than the African headwrap. This versatile garment is more than a simple piece of cloth – it’s a beautiful way to style or cover your hair while celebrating your African heritage.
Introduction to African Headwraps
Available in a wide variety of sizes, colors, patterns and fabrics, African headwraps are accessories full of history and heritage. Today, they’re worn for both casual and special occasions. Women will add a headwrap at the last minute out of convenience or as part of a carefully planned outfit designed to dazzle the audience.
In short, the headwrap’s crowning glory is its versatility.
What is an African Headwrap?
Traditionally, African headwraps are patterned pieces of cloth that are tied in intricate fashions around the head. They can be as small as a square bandana or as long as a yard. However, typical wraps are about 60 inches, or the length of your average scarf. In fact, a lot of women wear patterned pashmina scarves as headwraps, getting two uses out of one accessory!
African headwraps have different names in other languages, including dhuku (Shona), duku (Chichewa), gele (Yoruba), iduku (isiZulu).
Here are a few reasons women wear headwraps:
- 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 tame the 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.
- As part of a ceremony. Many African immigrants, inspired by their native culture, wear a tribal head scarf for weddings or other ceremonial events.
- For fashion. 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.
- To celebrate their 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 to celebrate Kwanzaa.
- To put a twist on church wear. Instead of the traditional Sunday hat, some women prefer to wear a patterned or jeweled headwrap.
A History of African Headwraps
The African headwrap history is extensive. They’re one of the oldest accessories still important to modern African American women’s culture, but they’ve had many meanings throughout the centuries.
Headscarves originated in sub-Saharan Africa and were designed using traditional colors and patterns like kente. There, these fashionable scarves held a lot of cultural significance, letting everyone know about a woman’s age, marital status or wealth. They were also used the way today’s accessories are: to enhance a woman’s beauty.
Unfortunately, as African women 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. That meaning still persists today, and there are many unique headwrap styles available for black women.
How to Wear an African Headwrap
You can wear African headwraps with short hair, long hair, braids, bangs and everything in between. There are no intricate sailor-style knots; tying African headwraps is often just a matter of 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, 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 as normal, then tuck in the ends. Fan out the exposed part of the bow for volume.
Watching videos is the easiest way to learn how to tie a headwrap. There are many naturalistas on YouTube who you can follow along with. Or, you can go with pre-tied head scarves if the DIY approach is too much trouble. The main point, however, is to leave your forehead and neck exposed in order to show off your facial features and statement jewelry.
And when it comes to choosing a style, the only limit is your imagination. African headwrap styles include:
- Traditional African patterns and symbols.
- Solid colors.
- Floral patterns.
- African-inspired colors such as red, green, orange and black.
How to Style an African Headwrap
Because headwraps usually come in Afrocentric patterns, you may be hesitant when it comes to accessorizing with them. In fact, many women will choose to wear headwraps and caftans made out of the same fabric to keep things simple. This is obviously a fabulous look, but you can get more wear out of your headwraps by pairing them with other outfits and jewelry. Fashion your favorite broach into a headwrap accessory by pinning it above your eyebrows, or try wearing a headwrap with a long scarf of a contrasting color. You can also wear African headwraps with a neutral shirt and jeans to add a flash of color to a casual look.
Choosing a Headwrap that Celebrates Your Heritage
With more woman 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.