The turban is one of those rare items that has survived the test of time, transcending religion, culture and gender
Deconstructing: the turban
Essentially a piece of wound cloth, the turban has come to embody so much more over the ages. Probably deriving from a practical need to protect one’s head from the sun, the earliest known examples are from Mesopotamian sculpture circa 2300BC, which show royals dressed in turbans.
Indian statues from the Sunga period (185BC to 75BC) also depicted men wearing mauli head-dresses, again as a sign of royalty, while Sikh men have worn formal peaked turbans – the dastaar – as a sign of religious devotion since the mid-1400s. Hindu men are identified by their colourful, haphazard style pagris, and Muslim Afghan men routinely wear turbans (or lungi in Pashto) over soft caps called topi.
Over the border in Pakistan, the turbans are bound around a stiffer embroidered cap. The Berbers of Morocco wear theirs with trailing scarves, as do the men of Upper Egypt, while Tuareg nomads of Mali and the Sahara wear elaborate turbans of beaten indigo cloth that stain the skin deep blue. The Hausa, Durbar and Fulani peoples in Nigeria all wear turbans that denote their identity, while Nigerian woman wear their colourful gele headwraps with pride.
Over in Europe, the painting Girl with a Pearl Earring (Vermeer 1665) features a turban, and nobles of the 18th century wore turbans as respite from heavy wigs. The shimmering women’s hats of the 1930 and 1940s were essentially pre-tied turbans, and in the 1960s, Yves Saint Laurent sent his versions down the runway.
Gucci has been using turbans since 2015, which coincided with a resurgance in retro 1970s styling and an interest in modest wear. In what was perhaps a step too far, the brand ran into controversy for its autumn/winter 2018 show, when it sent three Sikh turbans down the runway, drawing criticism of cultural appropriation.