As a cultural symbol, the durag encapsulates the complexities of the private and public self, respectability politics, and Black hair. Durags are a central part of the rituals of Black hair care and have traditionally been worn in the private setting of the home to retain moisture and maintain protective styles and waves. Yet in popular television and movies like law-enforcement shows and public-service announcements from the “tough on crime” era, durags have been used to signify criminality as the fashion of “thugs,” “gangsters,” or other anti-Black stereotypes rooted in the remnants of slavery. Over the years, durags have become integrated into casual clothing while remaining important in Black hair rituals. As a Black person, I choose to wear durags in both private and public settings because of convenience but also as a way to resist respectability politics. For me, there is something undeniably Black about the way a durag can accentuate an outfit. Because there are so many ideas a durag can convey, choosing and tying one requires a certain precision: in the elegance, the history, the material, and the culture.
LaQuan Smith designed this durag in collaboration with online fashion retailer ASOS. Smith and his titular luxury ready-to-wear collections have a sleek and sensual aesthetic that is worn and desired by celebrities, like Beyonce, Rihanna, and Solange, and non-celebrities alike. Although officially named by ASOS as a “headscarf,” for Black folks the piece is unmistakably a durag. On this particular durag, the ornate crystal embellishments laid over the black base hold the multiplicities of the durag: on one level quotidian yet brimming with the potential for opulence and glamour.
A$AP Ferg, “How to Tie a Durag, According to A$AP Ferg,” GQ, April 6, 2018, video, 6:15, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Um98Xwi8S_Y.
Sandra E. Garcia, “The Durag, Explained,” New York Times, May 14, 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/05/14/style/durag-solange-met-gala.html.
bell hooks, “Beauty Laid Bare: Aesthetics in the Ordinary,” in Art on My Mind: Visual Politics (New York: The New Press, 1995), 119–24.
Brian Josephs, “Who Criminalized the Durag?,” GQ, March 2, 2017, www.gq.com/story/who-criminalized-the-durag.
Zora Neale Hurston, “Characteristics of Negro Expressions” (1934), in Within the Circle An Anthology of African American Literary Criticism from the Harlem Renaissance to the Present, ed. Angelyn Mitchell (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1994), 79–94.
Saleam Singleton, “The History of the Durag and How It Became a Cultural Symbol of Pride,” Byrdie, January 18, 2021, www.byrdie.com/history-of-durag-4798963.