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African Britishness – On Scarves and Head wraps

those stunning, sophisticated Headties known as Gele

Aso Oke gele from T&Bee Makeover – Instagram

It is interesting to jump from a serious topic like Education to a nice light one on the Nigerian Head tie popularly known as Gele.

If you have attended a formal Nigerian occasion perhaps a wedding, big birthday or an event then it is highly likely that you have seen Gele on women.

Gele completes a formal African outfit, most especially a Nigerian one. A lot of people admire the ‘colourful’ head gear but many do not understand why an African British might value it.

Funnily, when I think of scarves, an image of the Queen and Princess Margaret comes to mind! For the Queen, head scarf is synonymous with relaxing and ‘roughing’ it and taking long walks in Balmoral with her corgis.

Scarves

To be candid, I always believed it is an old fashioned look and that nobody wore scarves anymore but I just watched Housewife Heather Dubrow displaying all her designer scarves in Bonker’s Closets on Facebook!

In the 80s and 90s, scarves were popularly worn round the neck. I will not even dwell on where all that came from. All I can say is that most women of all types and races followed the fashion trend.

Nowadays, headscarf is also seen as a religious statement. The older generation of African British in their 40s, 50s and 60s upward are likely to use scarf of some sort to cover hair that they might consider rough.

Head wraps

Head wraps came into fashion as a statement of being of African origin and proud of it. That is what I think anyway. A lot of black women young or old wear it. Jada Pinkett-Smith uses a lot of head wraps in episodes of her talk show Red Table Talk.

Photo by Dazzle Jam – Pexels

Women even go the extra mile in learning how to wear it on social media. YouTube, for example, is filled with tutorials of fancy head wraps. It is a reclaiming and respecting a past that dates back to, dare I say it, slavery.

In discussing traditional African outfits, I will once again lean heavily on Nigeria, and especially south of the country to support my claim.

Our traditional African outfits require Gele as a compliment. Some people ignore this and prefer to just wear their own hair.

However, the complete traditional look has brought a new breed of experts. Where scarves and head wraps are made from silk, polyester, velvet, cotton or a combination Gele is made from stiff material of organza, Net or Aso-oke( a handwoven cloth).

Stiff material Gele – Me and friends at a Big Birthday Celebration – Stella Ahmadou

Gele

Gele completes the look for a big birthday and wedding, party or other formal occasions. In September 2016, Lupita Nyong’o wore a gele with her Carol Herrera dress for the debut of her film Queen of Katwe. Although it was passable I believe if she had approached an expert it would have been stunning.

A whole group of experts have emerged from the gele industry. Usually, traditional Nigerian wedding which I will cover in another article is not complete without the bridesmaids and family wearing uniform outfits with a matching gele. In the past, guests would panic and refuse to wear the gele due to the difficulty in tying it. With experts now charging a stipend to make you look like a queen for the day, there is no more fear.

One of the world’s foremost experts in gele is make up artist, Segun Gele. His story is worth reading online. He learnt to tie the gele so well that he is in demand all over the USA and invited to top occasions.

I have not even described the gele, but seeing is believing. Experts pleat layers that sit like an elegant cup on the head. But if you want to make a huge statement, you could have a big one tied on your head. Nowadays, the fashion is more for the multilayered pleated look. Online magazines, like Bella Naija, produce stunning visual delights of Nigerian wedding.


Ready made Gele

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Today, smart merchants team with cloth makers from China to produce gele caps of varying materials and colours. It means for about 25 to 35 pounds, you could purchase your gele from African clothes and accessory shops. Nevertheless, it’s more than likely that you can only find this kind of shops in South or East London where there are large African communities.

Thus, if you have gazed with longing and envy at geles, make your way to those shops and buy some. There are many at Woolwich, Plumstead, Peckham, Dalston and Brixton.

As for me, I like the bespoke look and my gele tied to fit my head. T & Bee, based in Thamesmead, South London, is well known for her skill in doing this.

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