I won't lie, I find this interesting, and I'm ashamed I didn't think it enough of an issue to address right off! But, hey, better late than never, right? Let's dig into this together!
Now that we've got that settled, let's get into the not-so-clear part of head wrapping: Who can wear which wraps?
I didn't feel I could bring as well-rounded and diverse a viewpoint that this discussion requires, so I asked for the opinions of others to aid in the discussion. I've also pulled quotes from articles on the subject and included a few more resources at the bottom for your further reading enjoyment and learning!
"I wonder about the history of some vintage styles. They have definitely been inspired by cultures other than dominant Western ones, and even if I'm referencing vintage style, I wonder about cultural appropriation." - Kim Koin
I think most of us are afraid to try certain wraps we're unsure of because we don't want to insult people. We don't want to appropriate from other cultures, and we do want to respect other people groups. We don't want to act out of ignorance and hurt others. I hope Dasha's words will encourage you as we go further:
"But the fact that we all pause and think, 'How can I do this [headwrap] justice?' is a step in the right direction, as opposed to blindly doing things without facing our own ignorance... We're all trying not to offend each other." - Dasha Guyton of Windy City Wardrobe
|"... head coverings will always have a place in society." - Dasha Guyton of Windy City Wardrobe|
Discussion is important, and just asking the question is a show of maturity and awareness.
What wraps are in question?
Most of us probably don't have a problem with anyone wearing a "Rosie the Riveter" style wrap or such styles that are just plain "vintagey" and Western or worn for utility. From what I can tell, many wraps in question for you guys are inspired by black/African (differentiating between these is a whole other conversation we won't get into!) or even Middle Eastern styles. The way the fabric itself is wrapped may be the "iffy" part for some of us, or sometimes the print on the fabric (such as kente cloth or wax prints) may make some of us feel uneasy about trying them. We may even be concerned after watching wrap tutorial videos if the person in them doesn't look like us.
Who needs to question their wrap styles?
Unless you can clearly, unambiguously connect yourself to a particular wrap style as far as culture or history goes (such as being a Nigerian wearing a Nigerian wrap), then you should do an evaluation before wearing. This evaluation is not limited to a particular race, culture or people. Anyone borrowing a wrap style that can be attributed to another culture should ask themselves if it is alright to wear, just as a starting point. The answer may differ from situation to situation or person to person, but most of us are going to need to start by asking, "Am I the person to wear this wrap?"
So how do I evaluate?
"El-Amin Naeem argues that the practice of headwrapping came before some religions, for practical reasons, such as keeping hair clean and blocking sand from the nose and mouth. 'No one group owns it. You decide for yourself,' El-Amin Naeem says." - from this article
|"You decide for yourself." - Zarinah El-Amin Naeem|
1. Do research. Is this wrap style originating from a certain people group, religion, or era? Does the fabric's print have a name or signify something?
2. If it originates from a certain group, has that group expressed their opinion on "outsiders" wearing the style? Is there someone from that people group you can ask for insight, or articles that may share their thoughts on it? (If you discover through several resources that they really don't want "outsiders" wearing it... don't do it. If it seems ambiguous, use your best judgement and keep evaluating with the questions below.)
3. Are you at least knowledgeable enough about the wrap or fabric to be able to converse about it and show a basic understanding of its roots? Honestly, if you aren't willing to do a five minute google search on a wrap or fabric that belongs to another culture, you don't deserve to wear it. Yep, I'll be that blunt.
4. If it's not exactly a traditional wrap, is it a version "inspired by" or very similar to a wrap claimed by a cultural group? Is there a version you can buy that would support the community it originates from? If not, are you willing to support a company that has knocked it off without giving credit?
5. What do designers say? Look at shops that sell head wraps. Do they feature anyone that looks like you wearing their products? If not, is there any information on their social media profiles or website that express their views on people outside their group buying and wearing their products? (I found this IG post from the feed of @thewraplife to be a good example.)
6. Do you ROCK IT?! After all the evaluating, this is the question it all comes down to... Does it flatter you? Do you feel downright amazing in it?! If so, rock it!
While I have my ways of evaluating for myself which wrap styles I wear, I also wanted to share some tips and thoughts from others on how they decide what wraps they should and should not don:
"Head wraps have existed in all cultures for aeons, but we have to be mindful that cultural relativism actually shifts over time. What projected one way decades ago projects in another today. I think it's today we are concerned with, not yesterday--even as this is a vintage clothing discussion site. We don't live in the past, and regarding racism and sexism, we sure as hell wouldn't want to."
- Robin Edgerton
"IMO, as long as you are not wearing a culturally significant textile or wearing a religious turban, I think it's ok to wrap a scarf or fabric and tie it on your head. I generally stick to solid fabrics or pattern scarves that are in no way culturally tied."
- Aly Rose of Aly Rose Vintage
|Mary of Verily Merrily Mary|
- Mary of Verily Merrily Mary
[Black women], too, have to ask ourselves if it would be offensive to our culture or anyone else's. After all, Africans and African-Americans have a tumultuous history. We have to face the elephant in the room and ask ourselves if we are selling out by mimicking the style of ancestors who sold us into slavery?"
- Dasha Guyton of Windy City Wardrobe
"I don't think it's appropriation if you are not wearing a religious turban, and you are taking care to wear an ethnic wrap with respect to the culture. Especially if you're supporting the local designers of color. Rock your head wrap!"
- Nisha Miles
"Don’t wear a wrap just so you can say you’re 'pro-black' or something… Don’t do it because you have a political reason. Do it because you really like it, because you appreciate the ability it gives you in creating a new look for you."
- Aziza Lynn, aka "The Bargain Beauty"
|"The bigger the knot, the better you feel." - Aziza Lynn, aka The Bargain Beauty|
- Allison Dyke
So, readers, what about you? Are there head wrap styles you feel nervous about trying? How do you decide which wraps to wear? Has any of these people's insight changed your thoughts on what you would wear?
How A Head Wrap Taught Me An Important Lesson About Professionalism And Race
The Curious History of "Tribal" Prints
IG conversation on @thewraplife feed
Black America, Please Stop Appropriating African Clothing and Tribal Marks
In Order for Black Americans to Appropriate African Culture...
Culture Is Not Costume
Under wraps: Style savvy Muslim women turn to turbans
You're Wearing That Out?: My Family's Disdain for Headwraps and Why I'm Embracing Them
The African American Woman's Headwrap: Unwinding the Symbols