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.
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.
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.
How to Style and Tie an African 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.
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!
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!