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Headscarf as an Ingredient of Fashion and Cultural Traditions


Scarves in general captivate a lot due to their diversity in type, the purpose of wearing, and mode of wearing. They can be worn in a variety of ways including headgear, accent pieces, shawls, belts, and as garments which means that they are diverse and versatile and really add glamour to any style and clothing design. Fashion has for many years been dynamic and many people especially women have not been left behind in these trends. However, the modernization of society has seen a decline in the use of headscarves as women prefer hair and facial makeup ahead of the scarf.

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The headscarf is one thing that many women have ignored nowadays in their search for the beauty of the head. They have forgotten its beauty and purpose and continued to neglect its use, terming it as old-fashioned although the few who know its purpose and fashionable way of wearing it look presentable, respectable, and modern. The headscarf is meant to cover all or the top of a woman’s head. Those who wear it cover their hair and head to look traditionally presentable in the modern world. In culture, the headscarf was a major ingredient of fashion and traditions but in the modern world, it is losing its meaning and use.

This headscarf is a subject for discussion to everyone who loves fashion, religion, and good morals in this paper. The meaning of the headscarf is described clearly in this paper and the functions and purposes of its wearing are also outlined and illustrated. The effects of the scarf in society are also analyzed and the social impacts in terms of religion and culture are given. The paper also discusses the experiences of wearing the scarf including an experience where the headscarf cost an Egyptian woman her life for just wearing it and termed as the headscarf martyr. Self-identity where the experiences of the use of headscarves are included as well as the oppression that women undergo for wearing the scarf especially in the European nations, inclusion, and exclusion where the headscarves are viewed to describe people of certain groups and include them in their activities, cultural values where the connection of culture to religion is given which mainly determined the use of the headscarf, and the contested meanings of the headscarves are given.

Description of the headscarf

The purpose of wearing the headscarf ranges from one person to the other and from one culture or tradition to another. The main purposes are for warmth, fashion, sanitation, to hide baldness and social purposes. The social functions may be mainly religious, or modesty. Scarves are made from fabrics that may range from heavy wool knits, cotton, fine silk, polyester, to acrylic. They may be plain or have a pattern on the fabric and the individual is free to choose the color and pattern of the scarf to wear

Scarves on the head are traditionally known to be mandatory for women in some cultures, but in cold areas, they don’t have to be regulated. Women who undergo chemotherapy have used scarves to hide their bald heads and look fashionable despite the loss of hair from chemotherapy.

The headscarf has also accompaniment clothing that is worn to enhance beauty on the wearer; such include the scarf pad which makes the headscarf perfectly fit on the head and makes it hold steadily when not tied.

Types of headscarves

The mode of tying brings about the name of the headscarf. The types include the Dutch crown, the butterfly, rapunzel, the bun, the snood band, the Jerusalem twist, the glitter glamour, the crown, the ribbon, and the braid, among others (Schurman, 2008). Headscarves used as a bandana can be of many types they include the polar fleece bandanas, lightweight headscarves, wine weatherproof fleece bandanas, velvet fleece headscarves, creamsicle lightweight headscarves, and the polar fleece headscarves; this makes the wearing of headscarves a thrill and enjoyment. These many and fashionable ways of tying can be modified to suit the wearer in form of style, size, shape, and color (Küchler, & Miller, 2005 p.46).

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Different traditions and countries have several hair scarves which are made from different materials and are for different functions. The various types include the solid Italian satin square headscarf which is mainly made of one plain color square in shape and is usually very versatile and large, measuring around 31 inches. The oversized cotton woodblock head scarves which are of different shades of colors, as the name suggests are very oversize and big ranging to around 36 inches, and they are very versatile, they allow the wearer to make different folds and ties easily (Rahman, 2009). The oversized solid cotton headscarf is made from 100% pure cotton and is large 36 inches in size.

The swirled tie and dye headscarves are made from cotton which makes tie and dye look perfect and trendy. The cotton embroidered tie and dye headscarf is made from cotton and is used to express the traditional effect of the garment and the patterns can be drawn to express anything in tradition which makes the scarf wearer look reasonably respectable. The Italian chiffon printed headscarf is made of various prints which can be customized to suit any function since it brings out the beauty of color.

Scarves for fashions represent the main usage and interest in society. Wearing a scarf may be done in different ways. It is usually tied on the head fashionably making the person wearing it look modern and trendy. For instance, a large scarf may be folded into two to form a triangle where you tie around the head while part of it is left loose to cover the neck and holding the hair in position (Schurman, 2008). The hair can also be held in position using a light band and tying it at the back or at the front. You can also tie the scarf in front under your chin which will allow you to play or jog around. Scarves can also be worn as a hairband or a turban. Creativity is all that is needed at all times in making the scarf look and suit the wearer. The scarf also protects the hairstyle and eventually one looks good.

Social effects

Traditionally, Muslims believe that wearing a scarf is keeping the commandments of Allah. They believe women should be modest and not show their beauty to the world including the hair and chest, but showing her beauty to her family and especially her husband is not a sin. Not all Muslims wear headscarves in that some wear the veil while others wear both the clothing also known as Hijab to keep the promises and commandments of Allah (Winter, 2008 p76).

Other religious groups also wear headscarves; they include the Jews who cover their head while going to the temple. Jewish women upon marriage shave their hair and wear wigs while in Christian traditions, it was regarded a sin for women not to cover their hair while they were going to church. They emphasized modesty and wearing a scarf was regarded as one mode of dressing for women (Chahrokh, 2009 p.45).

Nowadays, there have been a change and relaxation in those traditions. Women have been seen to rebel against those traditions claiming that they are oppressive and discriminatory to them hence abandoning the traditions altogether. They also protest that all Muslim women look the same while wearing traditional wear hence they should be abandoned. They claim that their body is their glory and should be shown to the world. What women don’t know is that the scarf is just a traditional dressing mode that can be fashionable and show the respect of a person. Women nowadays are spending a lot of time and money on different hairstyles every day to look fashionable, yet scarves can simply provide the same sense of beauty (Winter, 2008 p.97).

Experience and self-identity

Many women who wear the hijab in western countries are exposed to various experiences; some are awful and hurting while others are cases of indiscriminately sidelining women who wear the hijab. Many laws in the west have been involved in the oppression of women; in France, the headscarf was banned since it was seen as unimpressive to women. A real example of oppression for wearing a headscarf is perfectly expressed by Connolly & Shenker (2009 para.1) who, in his article ‘the headscarf martyr: murder in German court sparks Egyptian fury’ explain how Marwa el-Sherbini was stabbed 18 times in court during a trial for wearing a hijab. She has been termed as the headscarf martyr. Another example is in Georgia where Nasaw (2008 para.1) in his article ‘Georgia judge jails Muslim woman for wearing a headscarf to court’ explains how Lisa Valentine, 41, was jailed for refusal to remove a religious headscarf while in court. Other women were jailed for not removing headscarves in court and were charged with contempt of court. Most women nowadays are now barred from entering the courtroom with headscarves and this has been a common occurrence in Georgia.

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In Turkey, the courts were also involved in the oppressive practices of banning the headscarf. Tait (2008 para.1) in ‘Turkish court upholds university headscarf ban’ describes how the court disallowed the wearing of the headscarf in the universities. The battle seems to be an Islam phobia where Muslims and they are artier are banned in public in many European countries. Tait (2008 para.9) describes how a Turkish mayor was jailed for reciting an Islamic poem forcing her daughter to go and study in America to evade the rules concerning wearing headscarves in the university.

As Gentleman (2004 para.1) describes, it has been a risky affair for those who are staunch believers. Some defy all odds to wear the scarf everywhere including at school where they are banned. The case of two Muslim school girls who risked their lives for their symbolic headscarves gives an indication that women especially Muslims are ready to fight at all costs to be free from such oppression. According to the times (2009, para.1) women, police officers in the UK are now being issued with a hijab uniform as a way to enhance religion and eliminate discrimination. This can be seen as a major step to the winning of the battles associated with the scarf. If the scarf begins to be worn as a uniform by government forces, then other groups in the country will adopt the system hence a win-win situation for everyone.

Once individuals are used to doing something they get accustomed to the act. Head scarf-wearing is a habit to those who like wearing it such that one really feels headless when not dressed in one especially if one has formed a habit of wearing it. The headscarf needs experience in many areas of use and different occasions will require wearing a scarf of a certain variety, thus it is upon the wearer to know the occasion and choose the scarf accordingly (Morris, 2009 para.15). Color is the first to choose and it must match the entire outfit. For example, it may be a customized color so as to look unique especially on a happy occasion.

The size should also be looked at when one is considering the occasion; for parties where a lot of movement is involved smaller headscarves will do the trick, although generally the large scarves are preferred. The style of wearing the scarf also ranges from size to occasion. Looking fashionable makes all the difference so the wear must invent fashionable ways of wearing the scarf which means making the right twists and turns to make one unique (Shweder, Minow, & Markus, 2004 p.165).

The purpose of wearing the headscarf makes the experience and self-identity more unique. While some wear them while going to church, or to mosques, or temples, others wear them to suit certain occasions or for fashion.

Those who wear them for religious purposes have a unique way of doing it. Some cover the whole head including the face and neck; others cover just the hair, while others cover a portion of the head and leave the rest exposed. The experience is the best teacher and once an individual is used to wearing the scarf, then tying and folding it will be very easy and fast (Phillips, 2007 p.143). Turban wearers are already accustomed to it and they wake up and tie the turban as a daily occurrence. These are people who are in a better position to invent various ways of wearing the scarf thus eliminating the monotony of style.

People wearing turbans or other headscarves always have their identity. When one sees a Muslim with a veil the deductions of his worship are direct (Chaudhry, 2009). Similar to the headscarf, those who wear headscarves especially the large ones generally command respect from onlookers and the general public. In areas such as the Muslim world, the headscarf seems compulsory making it easy to identify the Muslims from the non- Muslims. Even in the Jewish states, the staunch Jews who wear the scarf are easily identified. The self-identity of an individual is seen in a headscarf especially in the color of the veil. An all-white headscarf will declare the presence of prominence and holiness on the wearer. Many people wear multi-colored headscarves since they see them as fashionable and more comfortable.

Inclusion and exclusion

Many who wear scarves for religious purposes follow doctrines that are made by others, who believe in modesty and respect. They may have a feeling of being left out or being oppressed in following such doctrines and laws. All people who wear headscarves should do it from their own liking so as to walk proudly and be confident that they look great and cool. Many women are forced to follow doctrines they do not like. However, full participation in decision-making on the mode of wearing of the scarf is important to avoid instances of women claiming that they are being oppressed in making choices.

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In the Nigerian capital, for example, the majority of the women have large head scarves which are portrayed to express the culture of the country. The headscarf is one piece of cloth that really shows one’s ego, beauty, and courage if one is included in the decision to wear it. Many women rebelled against the scarf just for not being involved and therefore, women should be included in every decision that is meant to affect their life especially those affecting the looks putting in mind that women are so sensitive about their looks and appearance. When two Muslims meet, the artier and especially the headscarf play a key role to ensure the right greetings are made as per one’s identity (Morris, 2009).

Cultural values

Cultures that still hold their traditions expect all women to hide their hair at all times from the public. Cultural practices and traditions create guidelines on what is right or wrong in society and are applied to all. However, although fashion is a fusion of traditions many traditions have been seen to favor men and not women in their application of regulations. Many people just find themselves in a culture that was prepared by their forefathers and has tended to stick to it; however, this does not mean whatever was good then is good today. Culture, to some extent, is influenced by religion and in most cases, religion calls for modesty and respectful dressing (Shweder, Minow, & Markus, 2004 p.154).

The absence of culture will give a lot of freedom to people to do anything they like whereby, the headscarf, being a traditional cloth which many people view as old fashioned may find itself heading to oblivion. However, this does not make it any less fashionable to those who enjoy wearing it or are forced by circumstances especially the Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Hindus all of whom profess the headscarf as being their cultural wear. Although many have resisted and revolted against it for a long time it still remains the controversial cloth. Given different cultures and their use of the scarf, one can conclude the scarf is a universal cloth and many people have used it for different purposes. Modern cultures have been seen to ban the Muslim headscarf which is normally worn in schools especially in Europe, e.g. France, Belgium this can be described as the European fear of identity (Islam, 2004). The ban can be view as the power of the headscarf in proving one’s identity. For those who do not reject culture and traditions, traditional wear can be of much significance since it makes one have his true identity.

Contested meanings

Several meanings have been given for the use of the headscarf. A cloth that is worn to resemble something especially religion can be the subject of heated debates. Some view the headscarf as a mere tradition while others see it as the expression of respect and modesty. The definition or meaning of a headscarf will depend on the perspective one is looking at or how one takes it, either dislikes or likes it. Many people have been identified by other group members just by their dressing; the headscarf identifies the Jews from Christians and consequently from Islam due to the headscarves worn. The idea of dressing in headscarves has been mainly protested by women all over the world (Phillips, 2007 p.129).

Many women take it as slavery and oppression from men and end up rebelling against it. Many religions have been reluctant to enforce the rules but some Muslim nations still hold on to it. The headscarf has been a common union indicator between many groups, mainly religious groups, although other secular groups are coming up socially to use the scarf as their identity. Religion has already defined headscarves to represent modesty and respect and society has adapted this. The meaning should be enhanced by the extended use as well as creating awareness to the women about its importance despite preferring to spend more on their hair than a simple headscarf that is going to express their real worth as women. Although many women claim that the show of their hair will imply they look attractive and modern, the headscarf has an internal meaning of true beauty which is reproachable.


Whether one wears a headscarf for religious purposes or secular, it is no longer compulsory in the current society. Modern fashion has seen the revolution of the many styles, shapes, colors, and purposes of the headscarf leaving onlookers mesmerized by the variety of designs. Socially, the headscarf has been used to bond people of the same culture, religion, and similar groups or houses in which it perfectly fits. The wearing of a headscarf may be old-fashioned to the many who are not up to date with its trends and use and they should revisit the issue once again in order to use the headscarf in a free and fashionable way. The smartness of an individual wearing a skirt suit will appear more glamorous with a headscarf that matches the suit. The headscarf has not been left behind in fashion; it has only been rejected by the wearer because of a stereotype of culture and religion.

Modern society may have evolved in many ways, but the ban of religious wear (headscarf included) in public is uncouth and dictatorial by all means. Society is already transformed to give freedom of the clothes one wears as long as it inspires the individual. Respect and modesty depend on the minds of the onlookers but never affect the wearer if he/she is confident. The headscarf has been associated with good morals, respect, and confidence and therefore everyone should be free to wear it for whatever reason.

Reference List

Chahrokh, H., 2009. Discrimination in the name of neutrality: headscarf bans for teachers and civil servants in Germany. Geneva, Switzerland, Human Rights Watch. Web.

Chaudhry, S., 2009. Fashion and the Headscarf. Web.

Connolly, K. & Shenker, J., 2009.The Headscarf martyr: murder in German court sparks Egyptian fury. The Guardian. Web.

Gentleman, Amelia. 2004. Muslim schoolgirls risk careers for their symbolic headscarves. The Guardian. Web.

Islam, S., 2004. Headscarf ban misses the point. Yale Global: A Publication of Yale Center for the Study of Globalization. Web.

Küchler, S. & Miller, D., 2005. Clothing as material culture. New York, Berg Publishers. Web.

Morris, M. 2009. Belgian Muslims criticise Islamic headscarf ban. Web.

Nasaw, D., 2008. Georgia judge jails Muslim woman for wearing headscarf to court. The Guardian. Web.

Phillips, A., 2007. Multiculturalism without culture. New Jersey. Princeton University Press. Web.

Rahman, E., 2009. Love in a Headscarf: Interview With Author Shelina Zahra. Web.

Schurman, A., 2008. How to Wear Head Scarves. Web.

Shweder, R. A., Minow, M. & Markus, H. R., 2004. Engaging cultural differences: the multicultural challenge in liberal democracies. New York, Russell Sage Foundation. Web.

Tait, R., 2008. Turkish court upholds university headscarf ban. The Guardian. Web.

Winter, B., 2008. Hijab & the republic: uncovering the French headscarf debate. New York, Syracuse University Press. Web.

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