A babushka is a head scarf that cover a woman’s head and is tied below the chin. The babushka scarf is typically a 3-foot (1-meter) square folded triangularly and tied snugly in a knot or a bow. Commonly worn throughout Eastern Europe by elderly women, the babushka can be any color or pattern and is an effective way to protect hair from the elements or to cover up wet or unkempt hair. Additionally, head scarves can be worn for religious purposes, as fashion statements or for social convention.
In Western culture, the head scarf has become a fashion accessory that also serves the practical purpose of protecting hair from wind, rain, sun and dirt or dust. Scarves can be in patterns and colors bolder than women might wear as clothing but traditional babushka style dictates that the scarf be tied below the chin and not in back of the head.
Many vintage scarves are widely available in secondhand stores and were favored by celebrities from Hollywood’s glamorous past like Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn. Former First Lady Jackie Kennedy Onasis often wore a head scarf with large sunglasses when avoiding photographers. Today wearing a head scarf is likely to attract as much attention as it deflects.
Many faiths including Islam and Christian dominations such as the Mennonites and Amish require women to cover their heads. Catholic nuns traditionally wear a veil. A woman without a head covering is considered to be immodest. The Russian Orthodox Church also obliges women to wear scarves during mass. This is one possible reason why the head scarf is referred to as a babushka — a Russian term for grandmother — in English since so many Russian and Slavic women wear a covering while in church. In some Slavic communities, head scarves are also worn by widows hence the association between an elderly woman and a head covering.
Customary Islamic head coverings vary in length from the hijab or head scarf to the burqa or garment that covers the entire head and body. Different Islamic countries and cultures have adopted different traditions with regard to female head and body coverings. Some countries require a head or body covering by law while others have enacted partial or total bans. In Western culture, the Islamic custom of the hijab or the burqa can be interpreted as oppressive to women or considered a security risk. For these and other reasons, head, face and body coverings are banned in schools and public buildings in some places.