Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Turban Makes a Glorious Comeback (last fall!)

Kirsten Luce for The New York Times

I clipped this article from the New York Times last fall, but it got misplaced in some pile or other, and I've just recovered it. I think it's still of interest.

It focuses on the claim of June Ambrose (pictured above) who, it says, wore a turban every day during New York Fashion Week. And it traces the current trend to a Prada show in 2006, which wasn't picked up, but then began to catch on by 2009. Kate Moss wore one at the Met gala in May 2009. And it started showing up on the street, on young women.

The new fashion connected them to "sophistication linked with Hollywood glamour of the 1920s and ’30s, when women like Garbo, Gloria Swanson and Joan Crawford wore them. “From way back, turbans signified a woman who was very educated and worldly,” said Caroline Rennolds Milbank, the fashion historian."

The article goes on to say that, 'Because turbans have historically been associated with Arab dress, it is tempting to connect them with the conflict in the Middle East. “They make a strong political statement, like wearing harem pants,” Ms. [June] Ambrose said. “We take an element of other cultures and internalize it”'

For his part, the curator of the Costume Institute at the Met, Harold Koda, 'isn’t convinced that they have anything to do with politics: “It’s not a part of a Kumbaya fashion movement. I think it’s more of Poiret’s view of Orientalism than women watching the news and referencing what’s going on in Afghanistan. It’s an exoticism, a sense of the other that is visually compelling.”'

Fashion historian Caroline Rennolds Milbank meanwhile 'noted that in the past, Western culture looked at the Middle East for its exotic form of dress, which was seen as sexually liberating. “If you look back at the portrayal of women in films like ‘1,001 Nights,’ ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ or even the television show ‘I Dream of Jeannie,’ the West depicted those women very sexually with sheer fabrics and an exposed midriff,” she said. “Going back to the turban is a return to the allure and sexiness of a foreign culture.”'

My opinion is not that it's a question of either/or. Probably the trend has something to do with Middle East politics--in some displaced fashion. And no doubt it's also rooted in the history of popular Orientalism in the US. Check out the slideshow that goes along with the article for more turbans. I particularly liked the photo of Nina Simone wearing one.

(credit: Associated Press)

I've posted a few times on turbans, as well as related Orientalist fashions. Re Maria Montez and Lana Turner, here. Rudy Ray Moore and more here. Beyoncé here. Kim Wilson. Chuck Willis. The Fabulous Ottomans and Sam the Sham. Prince and Prada. Ongoing obsession.

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