Pagan Fashion Part III: Scarves and Veils

nordstromlinenbluePublic Service Announcement:

This will be more of a pan religio-cultural installment of Pagan Fashion since scarves, veils and head coverings span just about every culture and religion out there.  And while I’m going to do my best to be inclusive, I am sure that I will probably forget someone.  Also, this will be a link/image heavy post.  If your computer is on the ancient side, like mine, it may take some time for everything to load.

Scarves are one of my go-to accessories for just about any occasion.  They can keep away the chill in cooler months, and provide extra sun protection in the summer.  My collection is constantly growing.  Even when you’re short of cash, a scarf is a great way to extend your wardrobe.

You can find scarves in just about any store that sells clothes.  From department stores to vintage and consignment shops, scarves are available in an endless array of colours, shapes, styles and textures.  Two of my favourite scarf tying tutorial videos can be found: HERE and HERE.

scarf, fashion, accessories
Click for more styles!

In the spring and fall, scarves provide that extra little bit of warmth that can allow your more summery outfits to transition into cooler weather wear.  And while fashion experts will tell you that you can still wear scarves in the heat of the summer, I tend to keep out only my lightest weight scarves and only for days when I will either be at the beach or inside somewhere that is air-conditioned.


Click to see how it’s done.

When the days get long and hot, the best option for scarves is to move them from your neck to your head.  Light silk blend scarves provide a classic/retro look to any updo and double as a way to keep fly-aways out of your face.

For more classic and boho head wrap styles, check out this post on Babble.  Having a really bad hair day?  Reach for your favourite scarf before you break down and dig out that baseball bap.  Many of the boho style wraps can be the saving grace for completely uncooperative hair.

Head scarves can be found in just about every culture and religion on the planet.  But before we get to veiling or covering for spiritual/religious reasons, I want to take a look at a few more cultural inspired fashions.

In Africa, the traditional Yoruba head wrap is called a Gele (pronounced “GAE lae”).  Gele styles are seemingly endless and range from simple head-wrapping to elaborate designs that twist and fan in every direction.  A few tutorials for tying and wearing a gele can be found HERE and HERE (these sites also happen to sell scarves as well, so they are a bit of a one stop shop for gele.

(copyright Ade Adetayo)
(copyright Ade Adetayo)

Traditionally, the look and style of gele depended on the status and area of origin of the woman wearing it.  Gele was more often worn by married women, and the more elaborate the design, the higher the social status of the woman.  A good tip to keep in mind when tying a gele is to keep spray starch at hand.  You want the fabric of your scarf stiff like paper.

Head ties from other regions of Africa are known as Dhuku, and Tukwi.  These wraps are often more ceremonial/religious in nature and are usually of a more modest style than the Nigerian gele.

Preity Zinta in Heroes
Preity Zinta in Heroes

Traditional scarves of South Asia are known as Dupatta or Chunni, and are worn as a sign of respect and modesty.  While the most common style of wearing a dupatta involves finger pleats and a simple draping of the center of the scarf across the neck with both ends over the shoulders, there are a variety of more involved styles.

One of my very favourite aspects of Indian fashion are the bold colours and beautiful flowing silks of the scarves and saris.  Dupattas in fantastic designs and colours are reserved for special occasions and weddings.

While the majority of the looks I’ve  highlighted here are for women, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t leave out men completely.  A garment that is growing in popularity among many men is the middle eastern Shemagh or Keffiyah (pronounced “she MAHG” and “keh FEE yah”).  The shemagh is valued for its utilitarian uses more than its fashion appeal.  It is a traditional head wrapping worn in multiple middle eastern countries to keep the sun off your skin and the sand out of your hair (and face depending on how it is wrapped).  Two great tutorial videos on how to wear a shemagh can be found HERE and HERE.


In many parts of the Western world, religious veils and head coverings have become synonymous with the oppression of women.  I’m not going to be taking on that argument here beyond saying that as a feminist, I fully support a woman’s right to choose what she will and will not wear.  In terms of religion and spirituality, veiling is a private choice that is between the devotee and her god(s).

Many are aware of the Muslim and Orthodox Jewish traditions of head covering, but veiling has been growing in popularity in many Pagan circles in the past several years.  With advantages spanning from psychic shielding to divine devotion, veiling in Pagan religions is often a way to connect with the ancient traditions on which many of our faiths are based.

For anyone interested in learning more about veiling in the context of Pagan faiths, please check out Covered in Light.

muslim, hijab, scarf, veil, fashionOne of the most elegant styles of religious veil, I believe, is the Muslim Hijab.  A hijab is most commonly recognized as the head covering worn by devout Muslim women, however, the word “hijab” appears to have a broader and deeper meaning.  It is an Arabic word meaning barrier or partition, and can be interpreted as referring to a Muslim’s whole attitude towards modesty.

In researching this article, I made a point to read the blogs of some Muslim women to see what the hijab meant to them, and why they do or do not wear it.  It would seem that the “Hijab” story is as common on Muslim sites as the “What brought you to Paganism” story is on Pagan sites.  Though I did run across a few rants about it being something that “proper Muslim women MUST do”, the majority of the posts were very thoughtful and reflective.

Some wear the hijab because they feel it to be a protection and liberation from the shallow nature of Western fashion.  They feel that when they are covered, they are not judged by their looks, but by their beliefs and their actions.  Also the extra time that need not be spent on worrying about the right clothes, diet, hair style and make up allows them to spend more time in spiritual contemplation and communion.

Others come to the hijab through a journey of spiritual self discovery.  When they are ready to truly embrace their faith, they no longer worry about being singled out because of their beliefs or questioning why their god should ask that they wear modest clothing.  To me it reads as a dawning of spiritual insight, when everything just clicks, and thus dressing the part just feels right.

Traditionally, a Muslim woman begins to wear a hijab at puberty, though many Muslim women in North American seem to wait until they are college aged to adopt the practise.  The hijab can be a complicated procedure, requiring practise and pinning, but like anything, you get more out of it when you put the effort in to it.  Three of my favourite styles were the Pink Waterfall, the Summer Hijab, and the Arabian Princess.  This list is nowhere near exhaustive.  Search Youtube for “hijab styles” to browse for your favourites.

English: Women's Tichels, Headscarves, (image ...
Photo credit: Wikipedia

A Tichel is a headscarf worn by many Orthodox Jewish women.  As far as I understand it, Jewish women are called to cover their hair after marriage.  It is a symbol of modesty, faith and the unique and special relationship she has with her husband.

This article is a beautiful description of one woman’s view of the tradition of Jewish head covering.  While scarves are not the only option available to observant Jewish women, it is, in my estimation, one of the loveliest.  Many of the tying styles appear to be a bit more simple than other headscarves explored here, but with a little creativity and the right scarf (or scarves, depending on the look you are going for), one can make a powerful statement that goes beyond fashion.  Also available to the modern Jewish woman are premade tichels that slip on as easily as a hat.

Like most Canadians, the only head covering I tend to employ is a hood or a toque and both function as a barrier against the winter cold.  The global span of religio-cultural head coverings has not escaped me, however, and in writing this article, I find myself wondering at the sacred truths behind such a practise.

Multiple faiths view the unbound head of hair as a direct conduit to the divine.  In the ancient world, most of the oracles were priestesses.  In this context, it makes perfect sense to require head covering of those more sensitive or susceptible while in a religious temple setting  and when not in the position of opening one’s self to oracular vision.  Binding or braiding the hair is also  believed to provide a sense of grounding to those sensitive to divine impulses.

Scarves are a multi-versatile wardrobe enhancement no matter what your beliefs or background.¹  They can be found in a vast array of colours, designs, and textures.  They can provide warmth and religious expression.  Is there really any wonder that they are a must have accessory?


[1] I realize that this topic can raise issues of cultural appropriation.  I leave it to the individual to act in accordance with their own conscience and ethics.  That is all I will say on the subject.

PS – I know that veiling can give rise to controversy and heated emotions.  I just want to let everyone know that all comments on this blog are now moderated.  Any exceptionally inflammatory comments will not be approved. 

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