The Turban Fashion Trend in Historical Context

The Spring/Summer 2007 collections for several designers included turbans on the models’ heads. Here’s a turban from the Ralph Lauren collection:


and another turban from Prada’s show:


Celebrities, including Jennifer Lopez and Prince (at the Superbowl) have donned turbans recently, and a minor English designer, Fashion East, went all out and put some of their models in an updated version of full-out Islamic hijab/niquab wear:fashion-east.jpg

But it certainly isn’t the first time in history Westerners have embraced Islamic dress as modern fashion. It did look eerily familiar to me, so I dug out my favorite fashion history book, The Observer’s Book of European Costume. And indeed, during the Romanesque/Carolingian period, the line between European women’s clothes and that of their Middle Eastern counterparts was a fine line indeed. Here’s how women dressed in in the 11th and 12th century:



It was a time of major upheaval and reconstruction for the West. The Western Roman Empire that had knit Europe together had fallen, and existed only in the vestiges of its religious faction, Roman Catholicism, and its Eastern Empire, Byzantium. But Byzantium was now under frequent seige from a new sphere of power and influence: Islam, which would eventually subsume it.

Islam is increasingly part of our consciousness today, just as it was in time of the Crusades. In fairly recent times, the West has suffered brutal attacks from overtly Islamist forces: 9/11, the 2004 Madrid train bombings, the 7/7 London underground bombings, as well as ongoing campaigns against the Islamists in Afghanistan and Iraq, and worries about a nuclear Iran. Globalization and a shrinking European population means that Muslims are an increasing percentage of the population on the European continent, particularly in large Western cities. And some of the more radical Muslims are exerting their influence on those around them: there are anecdotes of women who live in areas with a predominantly Muslim population who cover their head as they go through their neighborhood because it’s a lot more comfortable to put on a scarf than to deal with angry stares.

Maybe the turban fashion trend is just a flash fad. Or maybe it’s a harbinger of the times we live in.

Hat tips (no pun intended): Fox News, Hawgblawg, The Costumer’s Manifesto

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