How the Durag Became a Political Statement

The case for why this much-maligned style accessory deserves our admiration

Jame Jackson
ZORA
Published in
4 min readJul 2, 2019

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Illustration: Rachelle Baker

TThe durag is an easily recognizable piece of cultural iconography in the Black community. For men, it serves as a tool to keep their waves on point; for women, it’s the solution to flyaway baby hairs and moisture loss, preserving our hairstyles as we go about our week. Despite its often negative and somewhat derogatory depictions in mainstream media, the durag is more than a physical garment with a functional use. Now more than ever, Black women are reclaiming it as both a fashion and political statement.

WeWe can anecdotally trace the durag back to the early 19th century, when slaves used scarf material to tie their hair back while working. More recently, the look became widely popular in the 1990s and early 2000s as rappers wore them publicly like Cam’ron, who sported a pink durag under a pink bucket hat while performing in the Rap City basement. 50 Cent, Nelly, and Jay-Z also popularized the look, which took on a personality beyond preserving hairstyles to represent a shared experience of Blackness.

Black women have used durags not only as fashion accessories but also as catalysts for social discourse.

“The narrative around the durag has morphed quite a bit throughout the decades,” says Anabel Maldonado, fashion journalist and founder of The Psychology of Fashion. “Growing up in Toronto, one of the most multicultural cities in the world, especially during a time that was hip-hop’s golden age, I saw the durag as aspirational and fetishized.” But not everyone agreed on its sartorial value. In 2005, the Washington Post featured a column by Jabari Asim titled “The Case Against Do-Rags” where he argued that durags were not “an emblem of individuality and rebellion against the status quo,” but rather “represents the opposite: slavery.”

DDespite its detractors, Black women have used durags not only as fashion accessories but also as catalysts for social discourse. We’ve unabashedly taken the style from the red carpet to the covers of glossy magazines. Think back to 2014 when Rihanna wore a Swarovski crystal-encrusted durag to match her Adam Selman dress to accept…

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