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What is a Turban?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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A turban is a piece of traditional headwear, created by wrapping a length of cloth around the head or around a soft supportive cap. Turbans are widely worn across the Middle East and Southeast Asia, by people of numerous ethnicities and faiths, and they can also be seen in parts of the West Indies. In the West, turbans are most commonly seen on the heads of people of the Sikh faith, despite popular belief that the turban is an exclusively Muslim garment.

The practice of wearing turbans is believed to be quite ancient. Numerous works of art depict early forms of the turban, and turbans are also described in various written historical records, including religious texts. Some people wear turbans in accordance with their religious beliefs; Sikhs, for example, are required to cover their hair. Others wear turbans simply because the turban is a traditional and familiar garment, or as a fashion statement. In the West, cancer patients may wear soft turbans designed to keep their heads warm after the hair loss associated with chemotherapy.

There are all sorts of ways to wrap a turban, and in many regions, there is a specific regional technique used for wrapping. People who are familiar with the various styles in which turbans can be worn can often identify someone's social class or religious beliefs by the style of turban worn. Depending on regional traditions, the turban may be wrapped around the head, or wrapped around a cap of some form; some militaries have historically wrapped their turbans around spiked metal helmets.

There are a number of alternate names for this garment, including pagri, tagelmust, dastar, 'imamah, dulband, and tülbent. Turbans can be made from a wide variety of fabrics, and they occur in a range of colors and decorative styles, from plain unbleached white muslin to richly embroidered African turbans. It is also not uncommon to see a turban worn with decorative ornaments such as chains and religious insignia.

At one time, turbans were very fashionable in Europe, as paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries can attest. The turban fad was accompanied with a general interest in “Oriental” culture and the Ottoman Empire. However, turban wearing is much less common in the West today, and unfortunately many people who wear turbans experience discrimination, due to a lack of understanding about the rich and diverse culture of the turban. In the United States especially, the turban is linked with Muslim extremism, thanks to the fact that it is the preferred headwear of well-known terrorist Osama Bin Laden.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a BeautyAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By GrumpyGuppy — On Oct 20, 2010

Facts about turbans: 99% of the people who wear turbans in the United States are Sikhs. There is around 15 ft. of cloth wrapped around the head every time a turban is put on. A turban is not a hat. It can’t be taken on and off casually. It has to be very carefully retied every time it is put on.

Sikhs have been known to feel a sense of humiliation if asked to remove their turban in public, almost as if we were asked to remove our clothes.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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