African head wraps have been a part of both the African and the African American culture for centuries. The colourful cloths represent the history of the African people and are worn proudly by both men and women. African Americans who wish to preserve their heritage typically choose to wear head wraps even today. The head wrap has a different meaning when worn by men than it does when worn by women. Even the colours of the head wrap have a different meaning.
Head wraps have served as a head cover for Africans, mostly women, since at least the early 1700s. According to Danya London Fashions For All, a group of African slave women appear in a 1707 painting that was created by Dirk Valkenburg, a Danish painter, that depicted them wearing head wraps that appeared high on the forehead and above the ears. However, it is believed that African cultures used head wraps before the days of slavery so that men could show off their wealth and the level of their social status and so that women could prove that they were prosperous and spiritual.
The head wrap typically covers the hair completely. One cultural significance about the African head wrap is that African women typically secure the wrap using a knot at the base of the crown which leaves the neck and forehead exposed. Part of the reason for this is to make the facial features appear striking so that anyone that wishes to look upon an African American woman would look up at her face rather than down at her body.
African head wraps come in many bright bold colours that animate the face. According to Africa Imports African Business, in West Africa, head wraps are referred to as "gele" in Yoruba or "ichafu" in Igbo. Some African American women continue to wear head wraps to boast their spiritual strength.
The Clearinghouse on Educational Policy and Management at the University of Oregon states that policies should not restrict religious expression and that various forms of religious expression such as a head wrap should be respected as long as students' expression of religious beliefs does not infringe upon the rights of others.
According to Danya London, the head wrap has now become a staple of traditional black dress; arrays of wonderful head wraps, fashionably worn at special events, have now become a fashion statement for the black woman. In history, the head wrap was hard to come by and therefore usually worn by wealthier black men and women. Now the head wrap is an available garment for men and women of all statuses to wear.