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Sat, 11.29.1800

The Do Rag, a short history

*The western history and heritage of the Do-Rag is featured on this date in 1800. 

A Do-Rag is a piece of cloth used to cover the head and is also spelled doo-rag, du-rag, durag.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster, the term derives from do as in hairdo: a do-rag is often worn to protect a processed hairstyle.  The do-rag has been popular throughout many different eras and is not a recent Black fashion in America. For centuries, men and women of African descent from around the world have used various fabrics and scarves to cover their hair.

The custom is also known from ancient China, where wrapping the hair (often held in a topknot) was common during physical labor and military service.  Large silk handkerchiefs (or bandanas) are frequently found in Latin America as well, though they are typically worn under a Panama hat. They commonly seen in Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Colombia, & Peru (this custom came from the African slaves brought to this part of the Spanish speaking world during the Middle Passage).  These handkerchiefs were in much wider use at one time, being worn by the Spanish of the American Southwest. It was common to see a black or white silk bandana worn under a matching black or white bolero hat by the Spanish horsemen or vaqueros. The most notable example is the one worn by the fictional character Zorro. 

In the 1930s American women began wearing bandanna-like cloth to fasten their hairstyles in place while their hair set.  In the 1940s the style among women shifted into the workplace where they were taking over factory jobs and needed a safe way to keep their hair out of the machinery. Rosie the Riveter is famously featured wearing the blue-collar woman's do-rag. From the 1930s to the 1960s, they were used by Black men to hold chemically processed hairdos in place while they slept. Originally, they were made from pieces of handkerchief, bandannas, or women's stockings; now many are made from polyester. Do-rags resurged as a fashion trend among urban youth in the 1970s and 2000s. Do-rags are worn in a variety of colors, with black being the most common.

Do-rags are regularly used to create and maintain waves. They are also used for corn rowed hairstyles. They usually have long ties on either side that are wrapped around the head to secure the do-rag and tied at the back.  It is also used by women who have had Japanese Hair Straightening done to their hair and is worn by motorcycle riders to keep their hair from blowing into their face and eyes, bugs out of their hair, and to absorb sweat.  Many African American men use do-rags to maintain the wave patterns in their hair. After brushing, oil sheen or grease is use on the hair which is then wrapped in a do-rag overnight to keep the wave pattern.  Some gang members wear do-rags to represent their gang colors.  In 2001, the National Football League banned its players from wearing do-rags and bandanas underneath their helmets. The ban did not apply to players who wore them for medical reasons. 

A do rag is also similar to the 'mitpachat': an Israeli style of head covering worn by Orthodox Jewish women. It comes a variety of colors and fabrics, but often it is longer than the average do-rag and tails down the back of the neck. Women who wear the mitpachot often cut their hair short as part of Jewish law that stipulates that a woman's hair must be covered once married. Some women prefer to keep their hair long and tie the mitpachat in a knot at the back of their head, covering the hair.  Mitpachot are color co-coordinated to match clothing, but on special occasions white is popular. 

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