A middle eastern tradition that took the world by storm


The Shemagh! The She-what!? you ask… Well, with the social acceptance of certain taboos in society, it is no wonder if you were to assume that a new gender has evolved. Unfortunately not as exciting as reporting on a new gender, but exciting nonetheless. The ‘Kufeyyah’ or as Westerners know it – ‘Shemagh’ is a multi- purpose traditional Middle Eastern garment that has taken the Western World by storm. A square piece of cloth intended to cover the head, its effectiveness as a source of protection against the elements resulted in armed forces adopting it as part of their war attire. If that’s not enough, its widespread international ‘trendiness’ had lead it to be a prominent feature on catwalks in the early 2000’s making its mark in the world of fashion. In this post we review the Shemagh- an item which we consider to be more of a gadget than a fashion accessory.


It is difficult to tell exactly when the Shemagh came into existence. While many assumptions are made, its history lays in the hands of the early Bedouin Arabs that were exposed to the elements while navigating their way through the harsh desert conditions. The Shemagh protected their heads and necks from the burning sun, whilst also preventing dust and sand from entering the mouth, nose and ears. With covering of the head as a sign of respect in eastern cultures, the Shemagh bridged the gap between versatility and tradition. It is assumed that the earliest Shemaghs were made of wool, with the only notable change to cotton which arrived from the east in the second half of the first millennium BCE. Its signature checkered pattern cannot be traced and to this day, no one knows where it had come from.

Country Variations

Yaser Arafat – Palestinian Shemagh

As the Arabic dialect differs between regions, so too does the Shemagh, with each region in the Arabian Peninsula having adopted their own style. The checkered print however remains the same and iconic of this garment. The plain white and red-white combinations are most popular in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. In Jordan the red-white combination is significant of the countries heritage and contains tassels at the ends. The size of the tassel is indicative of a person’s rank, with higher ranking people in society dawning larger tassels. In Yemen, Oman and Muscat, a variety of tribal colours are worn and are given preference to, over the red-white, black-white or pure white combinations. In Palestine, the black-white fish net print is the norm, and has become a symbol of support for the liberation of Palestine.

Fashion Trends

Surfacing in the United States during the 80’s, the Shemagh was spotted draped around the necks of punksters. Around the same time, leftists in Europe wore it as a sign of solidarity with Palestine. In the early 2000’s the Shemagh made its way to Tokyo where it became a fashion trend amongst the youth. Since then, the trend recurred in the west in the mid 2000’s where it made its way onto cat walks and quickly became a trendy fashion accessory amongst hipsters. Being a symbol of solidarity with Palestine, certain stores that stocked the item at the time were forced to remove it from their shelves due to pressure from Jewish lobbyists. Today the Shemagh is sold worldwide, and even though the market has since saturated, it continues to remain one of the trendiest fashion accessories of the 21st century.

Armed forces

A number of western nations have adopted the Shemagh as part of their attire. British Forces lead the pack with their claim of usage before WWII. Strictly forbidden during the Gulf war, U.S. forces have only in recent years (since the onset of the ‘War on Terror’) followed suit. Australian Armed Forces have used it since the Vietnam war, and extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Shemaghs practicality in an arid environment, explains its enduring popularity with soldiers. Soldiers often wear the Shemagh the same way that their rebel counterparts do; folded in half into a triangle and wrapped around the face, with the halfway point being placed over the mouth and nose.

How to wear

There are various ways in which a Shemagh can be worn. From simply draping around the neck to wrapping the entire face and head (leaving only the eyes visible), the possibilities are endless. Irrespective of the style adopted the Shemagh’s adaptability complements almost all fashion trends and ranks among the few fashion accessories that come with a purpose. Having one handy proves an invaluable asset under all circumstances.

Other Resources

A simple search on Google will reveal tons of intricate information on Shemaghs. Countless resources on ways and methods in which they can be tied are available. Having researched more than a few of these ways, we found the best tutorial here.