With a series of twists, turns and tucks, Yasmine Abellard transforms a rectangular piece of African fabric into a pompadour-like wrap atop her head.
She pairs the black and white patterned wrap with a simple black dress.
“It makes me feel bold, fearless, fierce,” she said.
Abellard started wearing African-inspired headwraps more than 10 years ago. She said when she would travel to Haiti where she has family, some of the women disapproved of her wraps.
“I remember certain individuals in my family not being happy that I was wearing a headwrap because, from a social standpoint, the headwrap represented the status of a maid,” she said.
Headwraps have been a part of African and black culture for centuries. They have represented wealth, social status, spirituality and served as a symbol of resistance.
Now, the headwraps are becoming more popular and mainstream — a must-have fashion accessory. There are tutorials on YouTube on how to tie them, photos of women wearing headwraps flood Instagram and plenty of headwrap devotees live in South Florida.
In North Miami, Deborah Rose is putting the finishing stitches on a shimmery brown headwrap inside her design studio and store.
Rose is a fashion designer who describes her aesthetic as afrocentric.
She’s seeing more and more customers dropping by her North Miami shop, and they’re not looking for clothes.
“Most times they come in and say, ‘I want a wrap. I want to tie my head and look different from everyone else,'” she said.
Karla Ferguson, owner of Yeelen Art Gallery in Little Haiti, recently hosted a daylong event celebrating headwraps and the women who wear them.
“With black women, women of color, our hair has always been our biggest struggle on how to make it appropriate and safe for our society,” said Ferguson. “With the headwrap, women are really embracing the Africanness within us.”
In America, headwraps have historically been used as a way to suppress black women’s beauty, Ferguson said.
During slavery, in places like New Orleans, there were laws forcing black women to cover their hair in public. It was supposed to be symbol of their lower status in society. The women wore tignons, a Creole word for headwraps, but they adorned them with flowers and wrapped them intricately.
“They started to wear these very colorful head wraps, and it attracted more attention than their hair did,” Ferguson said.
Paola Mathe showcased her Brooklyn-based headwrap line called “Fanm Djanm” at the Little Haiti gallery. Fanm Djanm means strong woman in Creole.
Mathe said she’s seen headwraps become trendier in recent years, but sometimes there’s still a negative reaction to women who adorn their heads with bold patterned fabrics.
“I’ve gotten comments where people tell me, ‘Oh this is beautiful, but it’s too African,” she said. “It’s something that really makes me cringe as if you have to water it down with something that is not African.”
Abellard, who initially received a negative reaction from family members for wearing headwraps, said thinking about all the different reasons black women have tied their hair empowers her when she ties hers.
“I think people need to understand the headwrap,” she said.
Whether it’s the tignons of New Orleans, the regal geles of Nigeria or practical scarves worn by women in marketplaces across the Caribbean — Abellard said it’s a cultural connection to black womanhood.
“I feel authentically beautiful,” she said. “I feel me.”
HOW TO TIE A HEADWRAP