Ziegfeld dancer, Doris Eaton Travis, via
The turban, in all of its twisting and turning variations, has been around for thousands and thousands of years. It carries many cultural and religious connotations but even in a purely fashionable sense, it's been part of fashionable European dress since the early fifteenth century, and is a style which is continually revived and played around with.
The exoticism of the turban fed the imagination of designers in the 1920s like Paul Poiret, or Jeanne Lanvin (as shown in this illustration from 1923) or, at a more extreme level, in the later elaborately decorated towering turbans created by Lilly Daché for Carmen Miranda.
Turbans seemed to reach a peak of popularity in the late 1930s/early 40s. It was a Lilly Daché turban selected to be buried in a time capsule at the 1939 New York World's Fair (there's a great film about the time capsule here). In Talking Through My Hats, she describes this particular creation:
"The year, 1938, was a turban year, if you remember ... So I designed a turban of draped silk jersey in two Persian colours, emerald green and royal purple, trimmed in purple ostrich tips and held on by two jewelled fobs with combs attached. With the hat was my new 'complexion veil'; tinted green across the eyes, and blush rose on the cheeks, to give the effect of make-up to the wearer ... When scientists dig up this time capsule in 6938, they will know that women were chic, even five thousand years ago."
Photo by George Marks, via
In his book Forties Fashion, Jonathan Walford notes that "American Vogue declared 1940 the year of the turban" (there are lots of years of the turban it seems). The scarf turban became part of the uniform for female industrial workers in the Second World War as a simple and stylish way to get long hair out of the way.
On the beach. (No source found: please let me know if you have any details on this image)
Part of the reason why turbans are so popular is their versatility. They can hold up hair, or enhance a neat bob. They can look chic on the beach, or glamorous worn out for an evening. They can hide dirty hair, or hair that's being set for a special occasion. They can be bought, or easily made.
Turban tutorial from Marie Claire, 1943. Reproduced in Forties Fashion by Jonathan Walford, via
There's been hundreds of tutorials on how to tie your own over the years, like this Marie Claire illustration from 1943 (again from Forties Fashion) ...
From Cheap Chic, 1975
... or this illustration from 1975 in Cheap Chic.
In recent years, there have been lots of turbans on the catwalk, used to set off ensembles by the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier, Marc Jacobs and Prada.
But it seems to be out on the street that the turbans are regaining their fashion momentum, whether it's the 1940s look redone, or part of the Jazz Age enthusiasm currently sweeping the nation.
The many years, and looks, of the turban ...