THE AFRICAN AMERICAN headwrap holds a distinctive position in the history of American dress both for its longevity and for its potent signification’s. It endured the travail of slavery and never passed out of fashion. The headwrap represents far more than a piece of fabric wound around the head.
The headwrap originated in sub-Saharan Africa, and serves similar functions for both African and African American women. In style, the African American woman’s headwrap exhibits the features of sub-Saharan aesthetics and worldview.
During slavery, white overlords imposed its wear as a badge of enslavement. Later it evolved into the stereotype that whites held of the “Black Mammy” servant. The enslaved and their descendants, however, have regarded the headwrap as a helmet of courage that evoked an image of true homeland-be that ancient Africa or the newer homeland, America.
The simple head rag worn by millions of enslaved women and their descendants has served as a uniform of communal identity; but at its most elaborate, the African American woman’s headwrap has functioned as a “uniform of rebellion” signifying absolute resistance to loss of self-definition.”