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What is a Durag: History, Styling, & Maintenance

The ’90s remains a top trendsetter in the history of fashion. Besides the baggy clothes and mini low-waist skirts that trended in that era, 90s fashion had a way of symbolizing Black culture. Take the durag as an example.

a black girl wearing glasses and a durag

Though this accessory existed during the transatlantic slave trade, it wasn’t until the 1990s that young black people made it a part of their identity. More than 30 years down the line, durags haven’t gone out of fashion. Celebrities and fashion influencers keep donning them to create style statements worth recreating.

If you’ve had this hair accessory on your radar, this piece is a cheat sheet on how to style it. But to better appreciate it, we’ll take you down memory lane to how this headwear came to be. And, of course, see why they’re an integral part of Black culture.

The Timeless Appeal of Durags

man in orange durag (back view)

This fashion item is a close-fitting cloth tied around the head to protect the hair and add more style to your look. It also helps to speed up the development of waves, dreadlocks, or braids. Some call it a wave cap, du-rag, or do-rag.

Beyond that, durags also help to maintain your hairstyle, elevate your style, and protect your hair pattern from shifting while you sleep.

ALSO READ: Everything You Need To Know About Fascinator Hats

A Little History of Durags

Nelly and some other rappers wearing durag

During the 19th century, slave women used headwraps to keep their hair out of the way during labor. Hence, it served as an easy way to identify slaves and paupers.

However, this notion changed in the 20th century as people wore accessories to protect their hairstyles. For instance, during the Harlem Renaissance and Great Depression of the 1930s, people wore the durag to maintain their coiffure. And that was how the headwear became popular.

Later years saw more adoption of the accessory in fashion. For example, in the August 27, 1965 edition of LIFE magazine, a photo caption described a man wearing a “do-rag on his new hair-do.” Similarly, the June 1966 edition of Akron Beacon Journal described the fashion item as “a cloth band worn around the forehead as a sweatband to keep hair in place.”

Furthermore, in the ’70s, more black men began to explore the durag’s power to maintain hairstyles, wearing it over their curls and waves. Then came the 1990s and early 2000s, and the durag switched from its exclusive functionality to becoming a style expression.

Black Americans donned it to make a fashion statement. Soon, it began to symbolize Black culture with hip-hop stars like Jay-Z, Slim Thug, 50 Cent, Nelly, Ja Rule, etc., rocking do-rags in their music videos. Similarly, athletes jumped on the trend, and that was how the durag moved from being a haircare item to a proper fashion item. Some wore the accessory just like that, while others wore it underneath a cap. Whichever way it was worn, it was sure to make a style statement.

The Durag in Today’s Fashion

Durags continue to be a mainstay in today’s fashion. And contemporary celebrities aren’t backing down. For instance, Rihanna has worn durags countless times. But two we won’t forget in a hurry: her look for the 2014 CFDAs, where she bagged the Fashion Icon award wearing a sheer Adam Selman dress with Swarovski crystals. The second is when she covered British Vogue’s May 2020 issue rocking a durag from Stephen Jones Millinery. This move from the Fenty founder was a shift from the usual high-fashion looks common on magazine covers.

Similarly, other stars like ASAP Rocky, Solange Knowles, Lupita Nyong’o, Zendaya, Wiz Khalifa, etc., have worn this accessory on major occasions. Recent iterations of the head tie come in countless colors, prints, lengths, and fabrics. Furthermore, they’re customizable to suit any look or attitude. These relics have retained their appeal, allowing you to express yourself. They’re more than an accessory but a style statement and a fashion symbol.

What Does a Durag Symbolise?

a guy wearing a durag with  short-sleeved shirt and pants

Despite how fashionable durags are, they’ve been misjudged to be associated with thuggery/gangsterism. This is as a result of the stereotype of black Americans portrayed in movies as gangsters.

However, this criminal and crude labelling of durags has lost its essence as the headwear has long been embraced as one of the artistic representations of black culture. Durags are now seen as a symbol of the diaspora and the divinity in art, music, and fashion. As Alisha Acquaye, Contributing Writer for Allure, captured it:

“It is a marker of identity and existence, and a tribute to a black tradition that should no longer be ridiculed but revered.”

Therefore, this headwrap symbolizes self-expression and identity. Since it represents the Black people, wearing one gives you a chance to reclaim the pride of the colored race.

Why You Should Wear a Durag

a handsome guy wearing a durag

This head tie isn’t just an accessory. It offers great perks, some of which are:

1. It Improves Hair Texture

Just as a satin bonnet helps you retain moisture in your hair, applying hair oil or cream and wearing a du-rag will keep moisture in your hair. This will improve your hair texture and give you healthy and shiny hair in the long run.

2. It Helps to Maintain Waves

If you love to rock wavy and curly hair, a durag will help you maintain those waves better. It’ll save you the stress of brushing your hair to retain the waves. That’s why it’s also called a wave cap. Since durags usually sit tight on your head, they ensure your hair remains on your head instead of growing outward. Also, when you sleep, you have nothing to worry about as your wavy hairstyle is safe underneath this head tie.

3. It Protects Your Hairstyle

Durags also protect your hairstyle so it lasts long. For instance, your braids and waves will stay smooth when you wear a durag to sleep. So, the accessory is an excellent choice to protect your hairstyle and prevent stray hairs from coming out of your braids or twists.

Also, when you’re commuting and don’t want rain or the wind to tousle your hair, wear this fashion item to keep your hair in place. And when you arrive at your destination, you can take it off and flaunt your hair.

4. It Protects Your Hair From Excessive Sun Exposure

When you stay too long in the sun, your hair can lose its shine and look dull. But wearing a durag will prevent this even if you spend long hours in the sun. However, the wave cap you wear has to be bright-coloured, as dark colours absorb heat and do little to protect your hair from sun damage.

5. It Keeps Your Hair Straight

Say you just straightened your hair and don’t want it to lose its sleekness. Tie a durag around it, and rest assured your hair will remain straight and in good shape.

6. It Expresses Your Personality

What better way to express your style than with your fashion choices? Wearing a durag means you love to exude style. Whether it’s a simple durag to match any outfit or an eye-catching one made with multicolored fabrics, this headwear can take your look from zero to 100 in a second.

Popular Durag Fabrics

Durags are made from silk, velvet, spandex, African textiles like ankara, etc. Some fabrics are great at maintaining your waves (silk or velvet), while others are more of a fashion statement.

ALSO READ: Ankara Hats: How to Pull Them off the Fashionista Way

How to Wear a Durag

young teenagers wearing colorfukl durags

Tying a durag can be achieved with these easy steps:

1. Pick Your Durag

First, pick a wave cap. Choose any colour or style you like or one made with stretchy fabrics, making it more breathable when tied to your hair.

2. Place it on Your Head

Place the head tie on your head and ensure the centre seam is on the same line as the centre of your head. Make sure the front edge stays between your hairline and your eyebrows. That is, let it cover your hairline. But if you have sideburns, there’s no problem if they stick out.

3. Tie at the Back of Your Head

Take the ties in your hands, one in each hand. Then, pull both ties backwards to create an ‘X’ look at the back of your head. While doing this, note that the ties should rest behind your ears and not on them.

4. Cross Ties in Front of Your Head

To ensure the ties stay crossed at the back, wrap them around the centre of your forehead again. Be careful not to pull too tight to avoid a headache.

5. Tie Into a Knot

Lock the ties into a knot as though you are tying your shoelace. When you do this, ensure the knot sits at the base of your skull.

6. Pull Down the Flap

After wrapping into a knot, you’ll notice that the flap drapes down your neck beneath the ties. Pull down the flap to tighten the durag and make it sit well on your head as if you’re trying to make it reach your back. Do this gently lest you should ruin what you have already tied.

7. Pull it Up if You Don’t Want it Down

If you don’t want the flap hanging down your neck, tuck it underneath the ties. And if the flap is long enough, tie it into a knot and tuck it into the ties. Doing this will result in a bump where you tucked the knot.

For a visual explanation, watch the video below.

Also, how you tie a wave cap for everyday use differs from how you tie it to sleep. To learn how to wear a durag for sleeping purposes, the video below will guide you through.

How to Style a Durag

Man wearing black Balenciaga durag

Pair your durag with any of these types of outfits:

Casual wear

a lady wearing a pink head wrap and a pink jacket

Wear this head tie with your jeans and tees, sweaters, sweatshirts, sweatpants, cargo pants, tank tops, gym wear, and other laidback pieces. It’s a great accessory to elevate your casual outfits.

Smart casual

a lady pairing her blazer dress with a head wrap

This headwrap will look great when you rock it with a blazer or a pair of pants and a shirt with the first two to three buttons out. It adds an edgy vibe to your look.

Unconventional Ways

a celeb wearing a statement durag with a suit on the red carpet

Imagine pairing a durag with a senator outfit. Edgy, right? Not many would pull it off unless they’ve got cup-runneth-over kind of style guts. If that’s you, go ahead with it.

Start by going bold with your formal outfits by pairing this accessory with a suit. It is the perfect add-on to give you an iconic look and help you make a style statement at a red carpet event or a random day at the office. Or better still, pair it with your African prints and other native-wear outfits. Whichever way, you’ll still look badass.

How to Maintain Your Durag

Denola Gray rocking a do-rag with a blue tuxedo

Just like any other type of hat or headwear, durags should be taken care of to ensure they last long and keep your hair and scalp looking their best. So to avoid dirt and bacteria on your durag that can affect your skin, do these:

  • Hand-wash your durag with mild soap every week or more often, depending on how much product you use.
  • Rinse and gently wring excess water.
  • Air dry instead of using a dryer.
  • Don’t share your durag with others so they don’t use it carelessly or you contract skin diseases.
  • Hang your durags on a hook to keep them fresh.
  • When your durag starts having holes, know it’s time to let go.
  • Have another durag so you don’t overuse one.
  • Know when to let it go (usually when the holes start).

And that’s a wrap on durags. Ready to hop on this timeless trend? Use all we’ve shared here so you can create edgy outfits and take care of your headwrap properly.

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Victoria B. Willie

Writing has always been a part of me. From writing stories as a young child to studying Communication Arts in the university, it has always been more than a medium of expression to me.

And then one day, I found myself toeing the path of an entrepreneur and becoming a fashion enthusiast. This made me develop an interest in content marketing and copywriting which I've been chasing alongside my fashion career.

That aside, when I'm not sharing style articles, selling with stories, or sketching fashion-forward pieces for Ria Kosher, you'll find me telling wild stories that always come with a twist.

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