Style Logs: Knots & Bows
The Story of the Head Wrap Crown
I struggled with what I wanted to write about, this time around. My topics never come to me beforehand. The ideas just kind of morph into something as I start typing. For this post, I started by thinking about pieces that I own, which I love and wear quite often. The things that stood out to me were all garments and accessories that allow me to pay homage to my culture. On a good or bad hair day, I live for a good head wrap. To me, the head wrap is a fashionable statement item, that also makes me feel rooted to my African ancestry and to all the strong women that have come before me. Head wraps bring me joy. Their bold colors, patterns and prints make me proud to be a descendant of a continent so rich in history. I also believe that a head wrap is a perfect example of #BlackGirlMagic.
Like any other trend, the head wrap is a recycled fashion statement that has peaked over the last few years. I started wearing head wraps after I discovered a few young, black, entrepreneurial women, making and selling head wraps out of their homes for profit. Two of my faves are The Wrap Life and Fanm Djanm, which literally means ‘strong woman.’ Not even going to lie, I was hesitant about including the links to these sites because I have my selfish moments, and I didn’t want y’all buying up all the wraps! But supporting these women feels good so I wanted to share that experience. I support black-owned businesses and also get cute wraps out of the deal. A win, win for everyone!
My wrap game started with the purchase of a wrap or two, and soon I found myself obsessively trying to keep up with every new print or color that was introduced by my favorite sites (I literally just bought another wrap yesterday!). Originally, I wore the wraps as a fashion statement, but more recently as I learned more about the history behind the head wrap, I started wearing them as a declaration of pride and unity, a form of solidarity with other women of the African diaspora.
A little history about wrap magic *insert swirling stars.* According to an online article The African American Woman’s Headwrap: Unwinding the Symbols by Helen Bradley Griebel, the African American head wrap is uniquely distinctive in the history of American dress due to its longevity and withstanding significance. The head wrap has literally survived the Middle Passage and slavery, yet has remained a fashionable item for black American women. Just wow! To us, the head wrap, which was birthed out of sub-Saharan Africa, is much more than head adornment. The fabric keeps us connected to our African mothers, sisters, aunties and cousins from the continent, from which we originated.
During slavery, slave masters made enslaved African women wear head wraps as a sign of enslavement. A head wrap was a quick and easy indicator of captivity. Despite this attempt at degradation, for enslaved women, the head wrap operated as a” uniform of rebellion” signifying absolute resistance to a loss of self-identity. Essentially, this means that African women took the head wrap, an element from their homeland, viewed negatively by white people, and wore it with great courage and dignity. If that doesn’t make us feel proud, then maybe singing along to ‘We Shall Overcome’ may do it for you.
Something else that I love about the African head wrap is its own distinction from other wraps worn around the world. Although the head wrap itself is not indigenous to Africa per se, the style in which persons of African descent wear the head wrap is very original. There is a powerful difference between the European method of tying the knot under the chin and the African method of tying knots either at the top or on the side of the head, often tucking the ends into the wrap.
So why am I so appreciative of the head wrap? Why did the wrap deserve an entire style post? It’s quite simple, actually. It is one of the few symbols of our homeland that belongs to us and can never be taken from us. Despite all of the cultural appropriation going on in America, *rolls eyes*, we know that this is ours. We can prove it. People of African descent in America have lost so much. We’ve intentionally been robbed of our cultural DNA -stripped of our lineage, names, languages, generations of family recipes, pride in self, economic stability (many African countries were thriving before the start of the slave trade), yet the head wrap survived all of this. It is one of a few symbols of our origins that remain. Thankfully, we also held on to traditions such as stepping and call-and-response singing. Shout out to all the D9 orgs out there in which these traditions are embedded into our history!
To break it down even further, you know that frustrated, flustered, mournful, enraged feeling you get when you lose something irreplaceable and dear to your heart? Maybe it’s a pair of earrings your mother gave you, or the note your partner wrote on a napkin during your first date. Well, imagine that feeling multiplied by a thousand because you’ve just lost EVERYTHING dear to you. This is what my ancestors felt when they were forced to come to America to build this country. This is what many black people still feel every day when we think about our genealogy. And this is why I have embraced the head wrap and committed myself to wearing them for the rest of my life.
Often times when I wear head wraps, black women compliment my style and say things like, “I could never pull that off, but it looks so good on you” or “I can’t wear those because I don’t know how to wrap them.” To those women I say, the head wrap is a part of who we are, a part of our culture and there are no rules to the wrap. Be courageous like all the women that have come before you. Join us as we wear our uniform of rebellion, our crown.
Dedicated to Nadiera and Ngina. These words are for you.