Part 1: The Turban Across Time


The Secular Turban Over Time

I truly want to understand the history and place of the turban in Sikhi. Unfortunately, I haven’t been told a satisfactory answer. So, I’m going to explore the topic a little further in hopes of getting beyond superficial rhetoric. My journey starts with tracing the secular path of the turban over time.

Turbans have been part of a person’s dress in many countries including India, Afghanistan, the Middle East, and Africa for as long as their recorded history

The image above is a 17th Century painting entitled, “Head of a woman wearing a turban,” by Gillis Van Tilborch. From

1000 BC

“The origins of the turban are uncertain. Early Persians wore a conical cap encircled by bands of cloth, which historians have suggested was developed to become the modern turban. But other theories suggest it was first widely worn in Egypt,” (1). Yet others believe that the turban can be traced to ancient Mesopotamia, “Carvings left by the Assyrians, who lived 3,000 years ago in the area that is now Iraq, show turbans on the heads of kings,” (1).


Depicted above is a carving of  Assyrian king, Tiglath-Pileser III, wearing a Shashta. The Shasta was worn by the ancient Assyrian kings and Bishops. (Source:

1000 AD

By, “…1000 A.D., the turban had evolved from a strictly utilitarian piece of clothing into something used to connote nobility and power,” said Brannon Wheeler, associate professor of Islamic studies at the University of Washington, (2).

“Just as shoes evolved from a practical foot covering into an item of clothing that reveals a person’s class and origins, so turbans evolved from a simple head covering into something that identifies people along cultural, religious, political and social lines. …In the past, emperors and leaders have worn grand turbans with feathers and jewels added as flourishes,” (3).


Turbans have been worn by men and women during the 1600s, yet the masses did not adopt the trend. One notable figure to have worn a turban was poet Alexander Pope, (3b).

Marie Antoinette Livingembellished

Marie Antoinette Livingembellished

1700 & 1800s

In the late 1700s, “European women adapted items of dress from the Ottoman Empire as part of elaborate costumes. At masquerade balls, women of fashion tied scarves into their hair to create a turban effect, which they referred to as dressing “à la turque.” This headdress was then decorated with pearls or other precious stones, flowers, or feathers; these expensive details could indicate the wearer’s wealth and social standing. The elaborateness of the shapes varied over the second half of the eighteenth century becoming more casual and less turban-like through the 1770s and 80s, returning to a more formal turban shape in the 1790s,” (4).

“The history of turban fashion in the West began in the late 18th, early 19th century, when trade with India brought on the beginning of the turban as a Western fashion accessory. Being fore fronted by Marie Antoinette and even after her death, the turban remained an accessory staple in England and France,” (5).


“We have Paul Poiret to thank for the revival of turban fashion in the early 20th century. By 1910 the turban had made a complete revival and was a staple in evening wear and the ultimately luxe society position,” (6).

Picture 2

 “The history of turban fashion is very consistent with glamour. Whether it is a classic 1946 film noir, a 1970’s British Vogue feature, a 1980’s tribute to Joan Crawford played by Faye Dunaway, or Sarah Jessica Parker herself reviving the turban a la Carrie Bradshaw for the 21st century… what goes around comes around. And the truth is our Western civilization will always be swept away by the exotic elegance of the East with the turban,” (7).

Read Part 2 here. The Turban Across the Globe

Alejandra Alonso modeling with a turban in Vogue Russia Circa May 2011. Source:

Alejandra Alonso modeling with a turban in Vogue Russia Circa May 2011. Source:










2 thoughts on “Part 1: The Turban Across Time

  1. Pingback: Part 2: The Turban Across the Globe | A Kaur's Thoughts

  2. Pingback: A hitchhiker’s guide to the turban « American Turban

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