Scarves. Head wraps. Geles. Black women have long celebrated their culture and pride with intriciate wraps of fabric. Twisted this way and that, a woman’s head wrap speaks volumes about her confidence, her lineage, and her ancestry.
But is wearing a head wrap in a corporate setting appropriate?
It’s a question I’ve asked myself when a twistout didn’t turn out quite the way I’d hoped, or I simply wanted to accessorize. Can a head wrap become a political statement, or a reason for HR to call me into their office?
One woman explores her feelings and the history behind head wraps in an XO Jane piece, “How A Head Wrap Taught Me An Important Lesson About Professionalism And Race.” Alisha Acquaye struggled with the decision to wear a head wrap at her new job. “Practical reasons aside, I stopped myself before bringing a colorful cloth to my head, wrapping both sides into an intricate contraption and stepping into my office,” she writes. “Is it acceptable for us to wear that too, America, without people judging us or disliking it or deeming us “non-professional”?
Although head wraps are seen as an article of cultural pride, we still have to contend with the stares, uninvited comments, and criticsms of coworkers, higher ups, and people who just don’t know any better. “That is one of the first things I noticed when I started wearing headwraps in general. People thought about how to treat me. They wondered if me wearing a headwrap meant I was straight from Africa.”
Head wraps have a long and complicated history. “For the African woman, the headwrap represents far more than a piece of fabric wound around the head : it holds a distinctive position in the history for its longevity and potent significations as it has endured the travail of slavery…The enslaved and their descendants, however, have regarded the headwrap as a helmet of courage, a uniform of communal identity standing for absolute resistance to loss of self-definition.” Back in 18th century Louisiana, we were actually required to cover our hair under the Tignon Law. “Apparently, women of color were wearing their hair in such fabulous ways, adding jewels and feathers to their high hairdos and walking around with such beauty and pride that it was obscuring their status. This was very threatening to the social stability (read: white population) of the area at the time. The law was meant to distinguish women of color from their white counterparts and to minimize their beauty.”
Head wraps or not, we’re just plain fly–and that’s something we can’t cover up.