Coping with covering female hair

On the street in New York. Photo: Tarek Awad, via flickr
by carol ann rinzler

Some years have special names. The United Nations calls 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. For the Chinese, who name each year for one of the 12 animals of their Zodiac, 2017 is The Year of the Rabbit. But for fashionista feministas, 2017 is The Year of the Head Scarf. In February, Muslim women serving in the Turkish armed forces won the right to wear the hijab. One month later, the European Union’s Court of Justice turned hard right, ruling that employers could ban female head scarves at work. In May, responding to a petition signed by nearly 140,000 sports fans and players, the International Basketball Federation said female players could to wear hijabs (and male players, yarmulkes) while on the court. And as you read this, the Museum of Modern Art features hijabs in a show called “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” set to run through January 2018.

While the influx of Muslim refugees and immigrants, not to mention conflict in the Middle East, has brought the hajib front and center around the world, the preoccupation with how to cover female hair is nothing new. The Old Testament (Isaiah 47:2), the New Testament (First Corinthians 11:5-6) and the Quran (24:31) all require women to hide their obviously bewitching heads. For many married Orthodox Jewish women, the rule remains a regular scarf, a snood, a full or half-wig, or a hat, but for Catholics modern times have brought some modern change. In 1959, John XXIII decreed that women no longer had to cover their heads in church and nuns might update their habits with a modified wimple or even bare hair. As for the hijab, that’s now worn not only by observing Muslim women but also by some young Americans, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, who choose it not for its religious significance but as a symbol of personal rebellion.

There is, of course, a Manhattan chapter in this story. Jackie Kennedy, born in New York, covered her hair with the Hermes scarves she made a famous alternative to her equally famous “pillbox” hats. So famous, in fact, that East Side activist Joie Anderson, a one-time member of Community Board 8, practically danced for joy (no pun intended) years ago when she found her very first Hermes lying on the street in the middle of Park Avenue where someone had dropped it. Last month, at the annual meeting of the Turtle Bay Association, Pam Hanlon, author of “A Worldly Affair: New York, the United Nations, and the Story Behind Their Unlikely Bond,” remembered losing her own Hermes on Park Avenue at around the time Joie found hers. “I was working in the Pan Am Building (now Met Life), and my daily ritual was to walk to work along Park Avenue. I remember one morning leaving my apartment with my blue-and- gray-tone scarf. When I got to the office, it was missing. I’ve always hoped it found an owner who adored it as much as I did.”

No, Hanlon’s scarf wasn’t the one Anderson found. But somewhere, maybe even in a Park Avenue apartment, Pam’s lost scarf sits in a lucky lady’s bureau drawer as happily as Joie’s unexpected treasure sits in hers. It may not be an O. Henry ending, but it’s definitely the perfect New York denouement.

Carol Ann Rinzler is the author of more than 20 books on health, including “Nutrition for Dummies.”