“Must you wear that thing?” – The headwrap struggles

“Must you wear that thing?” Yep! That is something I have heard my mom exclaim a number of times in our house as either of my sisters or I leave the house for work. She always has that ‘Oh no! Nobody is going to take her seriously,  she’s going to get a warning at work’ concerned look on her face. Funny enough I’m always like ‘they can’t do anything to me!’

In our elders’ eyes wearing a head wrap is unprofessional, unpolished and untidy. Our parents’ generation is the true product of colonisation, so much denial of culture and heritage. Our generation is a lot more informal and expressive in terms of presentation and dress sense and I think my mom and others are slowly coming to accept that we are embracing our Africaness and that’s just how it’s going to be. Unlike them, we have the freedom to be unapologetically African.

Based on my personal experience and observation, head wraps are received with the exact same bias that dreadlocks and natural afro hair are received in. You hear such comments:
“Why are you wearing that?”
“Do you really have to wear that?”
“Can’t you wear that some other time?”
“Oh! She’s making a statement.”
“You can’t wear that in this kind of environment!” -this kind of environment being in the formal workplace.

Sometimes you see discomfort on people’s faces and other times admiration.

Truthfully, wearing a head wrap had never really appealed to me because I too had been lead to believe it’s something worn by rural unexposed people. Why wrap your head when you can show off your hair in a long beautiful silky 18 inch weave? Besides I’d only seen mostly older women, grannies wear them, it’s more of an age and marital status thing. I also didn’t have the confidence to wear one because mine looked so odd and unshapely! Ha ha! Tying and fixing on a head wrap requires skill, stylists actually get paid to tie these things for fashion photo shoots and events. And as you can imagine with our modernisation it is a sort after skill, some even offer classes. This is serious business! We’re now living in a time were one can make a sustainable living off skills that were simply passed on from generation to generation. We are making money off our own culture and heritage! Crazy right?! Though, the cool thing about wearing a head wrap for fashion is that there’s no right way to tie it, you wear it in any style you want. I’ve really come to like wearing a head wrap every now and again, it gives me more fashion accessory options and I can play around a lot more with my style. Also the tying skill is really making me exercise my creativity.

Anyway… let’s do a little background history on head wraps. 

Head wraps symbolise various types of things such as marital status; age; amount of children or grandchildren you have; ranking; wealth; social status; etc … . This is communicated by the type of cloth, style, colour, size and embellishments, much like a royal prince would have certain jewels on his crown which would also probably be smaller than that of his king. Some head wraps are for more of the conservative everyday wear, the kind you’d wear while doing house chores so as to not get your hair dusty and others are worn at key events and occasions such as weddings, social gatherings and funerals. Covering one’s head or hair is a form of showing respect and honour. I recently learnt from a Southern African culture that married women cover their ears as well when wearing the head wrap to cover their ears from gossip and ‘hear-say’. Interesting.
Other reasons why people adorn this head gear is to get protection from the weather, i.e.: the sun’s harsh UV rays (think turbans in the desert) or the icy cold windy weather. If like me, you might simply just want to wear a head wrap to hide your ‘bad hair day’ and wear it in between trips to the salon.

In Southern Africa the vernacular names of head wraps mostly originated from the Afrikaans word ‘doek’ which means cloth. So in:
Shona (Zimbabwe): dhuku
SeSotho (South Africa): tuku
SeTswana (Botswana): tukwi
In the Nigerian languages of Yoruba and Igbo it is called ‘gele’ and ‘ichafu’ respectively. I’m not entirely sure about this but I’ve seen that head wraps are predominantly worn in southern and west Africa.


In African American society a head wrap was and might still be seen as a ‘uniform of rebellion’. The white slave masters stereotyped it as the black mammy servant’s wear, though the enslaved bravely regarded it as their helmet of courage that evoked the true image of the homeland of Africa. It is much more of a fashion statement and accessory than anything else in present modern day. It is ornamental and people have embraced it as a big part of culture and heritage.

One style of head wrap that catches my eye is the Nigerian ‘gele’. It is so elaborate, stylish and large. I like the flamboyant rich colours with gold embellishments on silky fabric. Sensibly so, it is far from anything conservative, you can’t miss it in crowd.

I am finding it a lot of fun  exploring  and incorporating cultural attire into our daily lives in both subtle and bold ways. It makes life a whole lot more colorful! Go forth and rock your stylish dhuk’!


AngieTinashe 😘

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Now you know I got all this info from somewhere…




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