The Durag Is Reclaimed By The African-American Community

It may seem hard to imagine, but the 21st-century has seen a range of bans established which target the wearing of the durag by African American males. In 2018, a Massachusetts charter school banned the durag from being worn by young black males because of a perceived association with gangs. The universal acceptance of the durag as a fashion statement for both men and women has not reached all levels of society despite the best efforts of entrepreneurs and celebrities. Social media is filled with African-American entrepreneurs pushing forward their very modern interpretation of the garment which began life as a way of holding a hairstyle in place and forming the much sought-after waves of the 1970s.

Throughout history, many garments have been used to cover the heads of African American men and women as part of the restrictive rule or to hold the hair of the individual in place. In the 1700s, religious laws in New Orleans, Louisiana required female slaves to cover their heads using a piece of cloth which many see as the precursor to the durag. By the 1960s, one of the most sought-after hairstyles among the African-American community was waves, which were tightly formed close to the scalp. The durag was worn in its earliest forms by many groups who wished to express their individuality and African heritage. The reputation of the wearing of the durag as somehow being a sign of aggression can be traced back to the garment being accepted by members of the Black Panthers organization in the 1960s. The government and authority figures began to deride the durag as a sign of criminality and hindered its acceptance by the fashion industry for decades.

After being marketed across the U.S. as a way of forming waves and protecting cornrows by the African-American entrepreneur, William J. Dowdy the durag began to be rehabilitated. However, the rise of the rap genre in American music in the 1980s and early 1990s saw many young males in the music industry take the durag as a sign of their success and history. Members of the rap industry, such as Jay-Z and Nas have been wearers of the durag for almost two decades leading to the continued derision of the garment by authority figures. The durag has been linked to the work of Jay-Z and his wife, Beyonce throughout the 2010s as a sign of African-American heritage in videos detailing the lack of people of color in art. The rise of the designer durags has always been accompanied by bans from major groups, such as the NBA when Allen Iversen began sporting the headgear on the court during 2005; however, the garment is now being reclaimed by designers inspired by Beyonce and Rihanna. When Rihanna accepted the 2014 CFDA Fashion Icon Award wearing a diamond-encrusted durag, the world sat up and took notice of a garment often seen as only for the lower classes of African-American society by members of the high fashion industry.