Gele (Head wrap)

Yoruba women’s head ties, gele, are some of the most elaborate and sculptural of women’s headwear worn in Africa. The head tie is an important cultural marker of a Yoruba woman’s married status and her adherence to social norms about propriety and decorum. Among the Yoruba, wrapping one’s head also honors a person’s spiritual capacity, because the Yoruba believe a person’s destiny lies within one’s inner head. In addition to their cultural symbolism, head ties are also the material expression of a woman’s sense of style, artistry, and individuality. The head tie is made from about a two-meter (seven-foot) length of fabric. A woman folds and wraps the fabric around her head and tucks and pleats it to create a beguiling sculptural form. Locally woven cottons, as well as luxurious imported fabrics such as damask, silk, and velvet, are all used to create head ties. At each wearing, a woman rewraps her head tie anew with variations. This refashioning allows a woman to demonstrate her artistic skills, keep up with the latest styles, and rearrange her head tie to complement her attire. The wearing of head ties is not restricted to specific ritual or ceremonial occasions, but women regularly don them whenever they are in public.

Source: Arnoldi, Mary Jo. "Headdresses and Hairdos." In Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion: Africa, edited by Joanne B. Eicher and Doran H. Ross, 100–106. Oxford: Berg Publishers, 2010.