How To Wear an Arab Scarf

Woman in Arabian garb

There are different ways to wear an Arab scarf; how you will wear it depends largely upon where you are from or the specific type of Muslim religion that you follow.

More commonly known as a keffiyah or shemagh, the Arab scarf is a square cloth made of a breathable fabric, which is wrapped around the head. Men wear keffiyahs to block the sand and dust from blowing up into their eyes as they are traveling or taking care of regular chores. Women of Muslim faith or Arab descent have been known to wear their scarves, otherwise known as hijab, in more abundant ways. The hijab is worn to completely cover their heads so that no hair is shown, and nothing but their hands and feet may be displayed in public. Though it is custom for women to cover their faces, leaving only their eyes open to the public in Saudi Arabia, some have been seen covering even that from public view.

Lately western culture has taken to wearing Arabic scarves as a fashion statement. Men use them to accent their clothes, and women use them to dress up an ensemble. The fashion-forward Americans have been known to call them anti-war scarves, or peace scarves. However, controversy has surrounded this new trend as some Arab-Americans consider this use of the scarves to be disrespectful to their religion and culture. As a result, certain clothing stores have stopped selling them. Some would argue that the fabric used by westerners is not worn in the "traditional sense", since the Western adaptation is to fold the cloth into a triangle and tie it in the back leaving, a loose point down in the front. The Arab tradition involves folding the fabric around the head; if you are a women, then you may also cover over half of the face.

Here are the proper instructions on how to wrap a keffiyah or shemagh:

  1. Fold the cloth into a triangle, and place the fabric on your head so that the two points fall on both shoulders and one on your back.
  2. Grab the point from your left shoulder and bring it to the right covering half of your face.
  3. Still holding onto the point, wrap it all the way around until the point from the back falls to the front and the left and right points are crossed in the back.
  4. Then, with the left shoulder point still in hand, pull it over the top of your forehead above the eyebrows.
  5. Cross the point in your hand with the point on your right shoulder, and bring one of these through the space closest to your head. Pull tight, and tuck the piece pointed toward the sky into the band above your forehead. The piece at the bottom should be tucked under the remaining fabric on your chest and shoulder.

Remember that you will have to adjust the pieces of fabric around your face as you go, practice makes perfect! There are different variations on this, so do your research and enjoy process of learning how to wear these scarves in a culturally appropriate way.


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