• Shona Moran

Rihanna Makes History in a Durag on the Cover of British Vogue

Singer, songwriter, actress, and businesswoman – Robyn Rihanna Fenty is not short on talent, and to add something else to the mix, she has now made history as the first woman to appear on the cover of the British Vogue wearing a durag.

Why is this particular garment so significant? Well, the durag has a weighted history in the black community. Originally worn by poor African women labourers and slaves in the 19th century, the durag was enforced on women as a means to suppress the beauty of black women and distinguish their low-class status.

But that’s not the whole story. In functional terms, the durag is used to help maintain frizz-free hairstyles such as braids and deadlocks, while accelerating the developments of waves in the hair. It was only after the Black Power Movement in the 1960s that the durag began to be worn as a fashion statement among African Americans. No longer was it a symbol of oppression or something that must be hidden, but a fashionable practicality of everyday lives. Beyond that, durags carry cultural significance and were seen as an expression of identification within the black community.

As time went on, seeing the durag out-and-about became a lot more frequent. Hip Hop culture in the 90s arguably ignited false narratives attached to the durag. Rappers such as Jay Z, 50 Cent, Nelly and Ja Rule were heavily association with wearing a durag, and so, it became a prominent sighting on the streets. The increasing popularity of the durag with black men in particular eventually led mainstream society to demonise the style as it took on a criminal, aggressive and gang-related association. But if we think about it, all this connotation comes down to is consistent social stigmatisation of black cultural expressions. What about a head-tie used to maintain well-kept hair is threatening? Other than a fear of the unknown or unfamiliar cultural practices – it doesn't honestly make a lot of sense.

Hence the shock of seeing the durag elevated and proudly featured on the cover of the British Vogue. According to the magazine’s editor-in-chief Edward Enniful, the headwear was Rihanna’s idea, communicated via Whatsapp message at 2 a.m. The singer has consistently been at the forefront of the durag's narrative, reclaiming its history redefining its meaning within society. By inviting the durag into the exclusive world of high fashion, it becomes a symbol that black culture is starting to be accepted by society and the mass media. Ultimately, to destigmatise the durag in an attempt to make space for it in popular culture is to tell the black community that their history is no longer rejected or ignored.

This is not the first time Rihanna has sported the durag as a fashion statement. In 2014, Rihanna paired a Swarovski crystal-embellished durag with her equally blingy Adam Selman gown to collect her CFDA Fashion Icon Award. Two years later, Rihanna wore a durag during her iconic VMAs performance of ‘Rude Boy’. And in 2017, Rihanna adorned her models in an array of pastel-coloured durags for her Spring Fenty x Puma fashion show. The fashion icon continues to shatter misconceptions by showing the world that durags merely represent the styles of an often-misunderstood counterculture. Just days after she made history as the first woman to wear a durag on the cover of British Vogue, Rihanna showcases the durag in all its glory again – this time for a new set of campaign images for her Fenty fashion line. To promote the new collection of faux leather Fenty pieces, Rihanna can be seen wearing a luminous red durag and bright red lipstick to match. Beyond an accessory or a trend, she upholds an unfaltering pride of the head-piece and continues to wear the durag as a beacon of her self-expression, artistry and creativity in the fashion world.

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