Monday, March 12, 2007

Fresh Junk: B&W

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So I published this post a few hours ago to the tune of "oh looook, this scarf's really cute, and blah blah", but thanks to anonymous, I was pointed towards an article about the heavy connotations the shemagh scarf (also known as the kaffiyeh) has. (You can read the article here ). I considered removing this post in its entirety as it might be misconstrued as a political or ethnic statement. In the end, I decided to keep it up. Most often than not, people see fashion as a vapid, self-indulgent niche of society, and when things are worn solely for their aesthetics and their history is ignored, I'm afraid that that's all fashion can be. Hopefully the controversy will shed some light on the responsibilities that we as consumers share. Please read the article before you go buy something like this. The biggest faux pas you can make is to be misinformed.

25 comments:

Brittany said...

this is so cute

Anonymous said...

FYI: From NYtimes (re: trendiness not the political aspect, although interesting)

Where Some See Fashion, Others See Politics


By KIBUM KIM
Published: February 11, 2007

THREE months ago, Jay Hukahori, a 24-year-old fashion design student at Parsons, went to a party at Guesthouse, a club in Chelsea, in an outfit topped off by a kaffiyeh, a scarf with a black and white chain-link pattern and knotted tassels that is typically worn in Arab countries.

''I knew that with the doormen, it'd be easily identifiable as a hip accessory,'' Ms. Hukahori said.

Once the trademark headwear of Yasir Arafat, and long associated with his Palestinian countrymen, the kaffiyeh has lately shown up on the shelves of adventurous boutiques in the United States and even mainstream retailers like Urban Outfitters.

Its newest wearers, who wrap it around the neck like a scarf, say they are less Fatah sympathizers than fashion party crashers. The kaffiyeh appears to be the dubious successor to last year's Che Guevara T-shirts, a symbol denuded of any potent political associations by pop culture.

But not everyone finds it so simple a fashion statement. A blogger named Mobius, posting Jan. 16 on Jewschool, a Jewish blog that targets a young audience, blasted Urban Outfitters for selling kaffiyehs. Taking issue with the retailer's decision to label the item an ''anti-war woven scarf,'' Mobius posted pictures of terrorists adorned in kaffiyehs.

The same day Urban Outfitters, which had offered the scarves in several color combinations for $20, pulled them from stores. Its Web site posted this explanation: ''Due to the sensitive nature of this item, we will no longer offer it for sale. We apologize if we offended anyone, this was by no means our intention.'' A spokeswoman for the store, which has 95 branches nationwide, declined to comment further.

Hanyi Lee, a graphic designer in New York, who had bought a kaffiyeh at Urban Outfitters and now owns three, didn't intend anything provocative when she wore hers. ''I didn't think it was anything that heavy,'' Ms. Lee said, noting that she takes fashion cues from a variety of cultures.

Ms. Hukahori thought it strange that Urban Outfitters would call the kaffiyeh (pronounced kuh-FEE-yeh) an antiwar scarf.

''That's so cheap of Urban, a PR gambit,'' she said. ''But I think it's great that this controversy will get kids to start learning about it.''

Clearly, many wearers have not considered the kaffiyeh's political import. ''I'm not too up to speed in what's going on in the Middle East,'' said Liz Chernett, a strategic consultant in branding and a youth trends expert who bought a kaffiyeh from a vendor on St. Mark's Place three months ago. ''It's an aesthetic thing.''

Perhaps what is most telling about the mainstreaming of the kaffiyeh is what it says about the country's political mood. The scarf's popularity seems to have less to do with solidarity with Arabs than it has to do with the war in Iraq. Marketing it as an antiwar statement, as Urban Outfitters attempted, would probably have been even more controversial a few years ago, when the country was more divided about Iraq, said Ted Swedenburg, a professor of anthropology at the University of Arkansas, who blogs about pop culture, music and the Middle East.

In Britain, where voters are even more united against the war than Americans, the kaffiyeh's fashionability has been taken a step farther. TopShop, the high-street juggernaut, is selling kaffiyehs stamped with skull prints, conflating two hot looks of the recent past.

Dr. Swedenburg said he thinks that the exotic element of the scarf becomes more important, and the political aspect less so, as it becomes mainstream. ''It's chic because it's different,'' he said. ''It's Eastern.''

According to Professor Swedenburg and others who have studied the history of the kaffiyeh, it was originally the headwear of Palestinian peasants, worn around the head and fastened in place by a band called an agal. In the insurrection against the British occupation from 1936 to 1939, the kaffiyeh became a symbol of Palestinian nationalism as well as an expression of class struggle. The insurgents forced upper-class Palestinians, who typically wore the Ottoman fez, to don the kaffiyeh to show sympathy with the fighters. The kaffiyeh rose in prominence again in the 1960s when the Palestinian resistance movement started and Arafat famously adopted it. ''Above all, it's important to remember a kaffiyeh is something to wear like a hat, to keep out the cold, keep out the sun,'' said Rochelle Davis, an assistant professor of culture and society at Georgetown University's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies.

But if an older generation of Arabs still wears it as utilitarian headwear, the younger generation in the Middle East may wear it expressly to show support of the Palestinian cause, and it is also used by militants to disguise their faces. The black and white kaffiyeh is often associated with Fatah; the red and white with Hamas.

Many in the Jewish community, in particular, object to people wearing the scarf as a fashion statement. ''Because there are people who wear the kaffiyeh as a sign of solidarity with Palestinians, some people view it as an endorsement of terrorism,'' said Mik Moore, chairman of the board of directors for the Jewish Student Press Service, an independent nonprofit organization.

Dr. Swedenburg doesn't think it should be viewed this way. ''I think to associate it directly with terrorism is to tar all Palestinians with the brush of terrorism,'' he said. ''That's a mischaracterization.''

Dr. Davis shares this opinion. ''I think it diminishes its meaning and its value to just say 'it's been used by terrorists,' '' he said. ''I think it has a much richer history and a much richer meaning system than that.''

For those with a long memory, the current kaffiyeh craze may seem familiar. The scarves became a fashion statement in the United States at the start of the first intifada in 1987. In 1988, CBS News and Time magazine chronicled the trend. In a 1992 Michigan Quarterly Review article about the kaffiyeh's modern history, Dr. Swedenburg wrote about how a ''sign of Palestinian struggle suddenly appeared in the ensembles of 'downtown' U.S.A., together with black turtlenecks, ripped Levi's, high-top sneakers and eight-zippered black leather jackets.''

In its 2007 revival, the kaffiyeh has similar sidekicks. ''It's hipster 101: I need my skinny jeans, some sort of scarf and a beat up T-shirt,'' Ms. Hukahori said. ''O.K., I'm a hipster now.''

Whether the scarf is seen as a political statement is usually in the eye of the beholder. ''I think the meaning is given to it as much by the viewer as the wearer,'' Dr. Davis said. ''I see it and immediately think, 'Is that person wearing it for a reason or just as a fashion accessory?' ''

Ms. Chernett has not encountered any reactions to her kaffiyeh in New York but she has in cities like Philadelphia.

''I've gotten a lot of comments about it, like, 'Doesn't that support terrorists?' '' she said. '' 'Aren't you Jewish?' '' (Ms. Chernett said she is half-Jewish.)

Ms. Hukahori doesn't have to answer any such questions; she hasn't worn her kaffiyeh in public in months. It would never make her stand out with a club doorman today, she feels. The kaffiyeh, she said, is ''dead.''


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connie said...

Thank you so much for posting that. I really had no idea that this scarf had so much significance. I'm going to be editing my post. Thanks for the heads up.

Martin said...

There is a HUGE difference between the Kaffiyeh and the Shemagh. The Kaffiyeh is the entire headress wherease the Shemagh is just the scarf part. That article is classic NYT, making people feel stupid while not even defining the terms they use themselves. The scarf is inherently not the Kaffiyeh, because there is no band and it is not worn on the head. These things have been fashionable for many years in Europe, and are more prominent in young, punkster kids. By all means wear one, I actually own two.

connie said...

Bean, you own two?

Anonymous said...

yes, they've always been worn in europe -- admitedly with a slight political connotation.
I was surprised that so many people didn't associate it directly with arafat.
i've never worn one. just too much political message.
A

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