Rihanna makes history by being the first person to ever wear a durag on the cover of Vogue. Durags make a statement, but it’s more than just fashion. They are a piece of history that has remained intact, allowing the wearer to express who they are.
The durag’s origin dates back to the 19th century, when poor black labourers and slaves needed something to tie their hair back as they worked. Around the 1930’s, during the Great Depression and the Harlem Renaissance, African Americans discovered they could also use this head-wear to maintain difficult hairstyles.
Amid the Black Power Movement in the late 1960’s, the durag started gaining steam as a fashion statement. One of the earliest published records of the durag was in the June 1966 Akron Beacon Journal. Companies like ‘So Many Waves’ were credited for selling their version of the durag in the late 1970’s.
The durag is simply an article of cloth worn around your head. It became a necessary tool for black men to train their curl pattern or to lock down hairstyles during sleep. It can also be used to improve hair textures.
Durags keep your hair looking fresh after a haircut, but additionally, it helps one achieve ‘waves’, a form of hairstyle that looks like ripples or waves emerging from the crown of your head. Durags can be made of velvet, silk or polyester.
Like many other styles and traditions chosen by black people, mainstream society labeled the durag as something criminal and crude. People who may not have fully understood the culture began associating durags with thugs and gangsters, thus criminalising it.
In 2001 and 2005, the NFL and NBA, respectively, banned durags and bandanas. This caused a huge uproar among players of both leagues as they believed they were unfairly targeted. Allen Iverson, an avid durag wearer said, “They’re targeting my generation–the hip-hop generation.”
The durag was popularised by hip-hop, with rappers such as 50 Cent, Nelly and Cam’ron wearing them everywhere. It became a symbol of inner-city black culture. The durag became bigger than anyone expected when rappers began wearing them to suit and tie events. The varied ways they wore durags were a testament to their versatility, along with their fashionable functionality.
Durags are an expression of artistry and creativity within black communities around the globe. In art, music and fashion, durags are embraced as a symbol of diaspora, a marker of identity and existence, and a tribute to black tradition.
In June 2018, Joseph Headen created the first Durag Fest at the black-owned gallery BLKMRKT in Charlotte, North Carolina, creating a ballroom for durags of all lengths and cuts. They are now recognized as luxury hair accessories.
Nowadays, durag’s are gaining popularity again because of celebrities like Rihanna, ASAP Ferg, Drake and Guapdad 4000 among many others. From the bedroom to the streets, to the red carpet, durags have symbolized so much in urban culture. The high fashion world has finally accepted the once criminalised durag.
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