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Turn heads with stylish headwraps and fix bad hair days too

The headwrap, which is catching on overseas and in Singapore, dresses up outfits instantly

Aarika Lee started wearing headwraps almost by chance, when she was growing out her short hair five years ago and looking for a way to hide it.

The musician says her hair looked messy and was not long enough to be tied up.

She debuted her new look at a music event and received such a flood of positive responses that the headwrap quickly became an everyday accessory for her and not just one for bad hair days.

The 34-year-old mother of two, who likes to tie her headwrap with a bow at the top with the ends sticking out, says: "I've come to like just this one style. It makes me feel confident and it's a form of expression."

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Lee, who is also the marketing director of marketing and branding agency Elementary Co, has about 30 plain and patterned headwraps in cotton and linen. To add texture and colour to her outfits, she wears a headwrap up to five days a week. She describes her style as bohemian and relaxed.

Often approached by strangers who compliment her on the headwraps, she says: "I get a lot of comments like, 'Oh, it's so nice, but I don't think I can use it', or they say the look doesn't suit their face shape. Or people think the headwrap might not go with the rest of their wardrobe."

And no, it does not feel hot.

It makes me feel confident and it's a form of expression.

MUSICIAN AARIKA LEE, who owns about 30 headwraps and uses the accessory up to five days a week

"I get asked that question a lot," she adds. "I'm not sure if I've gotten used to it, but cotton headwraps are quite light."

The headwrap, essentially a piece of fabric wrapped around one's head, is a fledgling trend here. More women have expressed interest in it, but are still working up the confidence to wear it as a fashion statement.

Overseas, headwraps have long been in the stylebooks of celebrities such as American actress Eva Mendes, American singer-songwriter Alicia Keys and Malaysian singer Yuna.

Luxury fashion brands are catching on too. Dolce & Gabbana's Spring Summer 2017 advertising campaign and Gucci's Resort 2018 runway featured models with heads wrapped in fabric, either with a large bow at the top of their heads or in a neat turban style, with their long hair cascading underneath.

More retailers selling headwraps as their hero product - with accompanying video tutorials on how to wrap them - have also popped up online. These include The Wrap Life (thewrap.life), Fanm Djanm (www.fanmdjanm.com) and Wrap Century (www.wrapcentury.com) from the United States.

Wearers of headwraps here are taking promising though baby steps to solidify the trend.

Ms Santhi Tunas, co-founder of home-grown scarf label Binary Style, says more women are inquiring about how to use her scarves as headwraps, instead of the oft-used style of a shawl.

The 43-year-old started the label with her twin sister two years ago to share the history and stories of Singapore. There are scarves with scenes of Kampong Glam and bumboats on the Singapore River.

Ms Tunas, who recently collaborated with the National Heritage Board on a series of silk scarves, adds: "The trend of wearing headwraps is starting to grow, although at this stage, more people still use them as scarves. (But) people don't see it as something that is unusual anymore, so they are willing to give it a try. I think Singaporeans are more adventurous now."

The scarves, priced between $70 and $88, will be available at the board's Museum Label shops in August.

Local lifestyle brand Matter recently collaborated with Lee to produce a collection of three batik headwraps.

All 60 wraps produced were sold during the Multiply: A Majestic Playground event at the New Majestic Hotel late last month, where artists, designers, craftsmen and chefs set up pop-up ateliers, art installations, tasting bars and workshops.

There are plans to produce more wraps due to popular demand, says Matter co-founder Renyung Ho, 31.

And with the launch of homegrown label OliveAnkara last Saturday, which sells apparel and accessories such as tote bags and headwraps, women here have more opportunities to try on and buy headwraps.

An upside to wearing one is that it saves time and money spent on getting the hair done.

Ms Daryl Teo, founder of public relations agency Bless Inc Asia, frequently attends fashion events during the week and used to go to the salon to get her hair styled before each occasion.

She spent up to an hour each time at the salon and sometimes visited it up to three times a week, spending close to $200 in total on her hair.

The 42-year-old says: "Because of my size (UK14 to 16), it's not easy for me to go shopping and find something I like, so I focus on shoes, hair and accessories. I have to choose my battles - it has to be quick and easy."

Now, with her headwrap, she is ready in minutes.

Ms Teo, who loves wearing headwraps so much she has accumulated at least 30 pieces since she started wearing them last September, says: "The headwrap makes me feel feminine and dresses up any outfit instantly.''

The singleton, who wears the headwrap almost every day, adds: "A lot of people think you have to dress like a bohemian to wear a headwrap, but that's not true. You can wear it with a T-shirt and jeans or with a black dress and heels."

Although the headwrap is mainly seen as a fashion trend here, Lee says it has opened up lines of communication with women and enabled her to help empower them.

'Perfect for bad hair days'

"There are women who want to give the wrap to friends recovering from hair loss, perhaps because of chemotherapy or another reason," she adds.

"And I've been able to be there to support women, across distances, by doing something as simple as donning a headwrap. I get women reaching out to me and asking how to tie it on Instagram."

On her collaboration with Matter, she highlights its positive social impact - proceeds from the sale (minus production and shipping costs) of the headwraps went to SukkhaCitta (www.sukkhacitta.com), an organisation in Indonesia that connects rural artisans to a wider market by selling their crafts online.

For others, wearing the headwrap reminds them of home.

Ms Ify Ubby, founder of OliveAnkara and an Italian of Nigerian descent, says wearing the headwrap reminds her of her West African culture and roots. She has been living in Singapore for four years.

Ms Ubby uses ankara fabric for her apparel, accessories and headwraps, which are priced from $12 for a bangle to more than $200 for a dress.

Ankara fabric, which she sources from Nigeria, is a type of African wax print fabric which is brightly coloured and patterned.

It is made of tightly woven cotton and is suitable for headwrap styles which require a stiff fabric to hold their structure.

The scientist, who is married and in her 30s, says: "At home in Nigeria, my relatives use it for fashion and to cover their heads when they go to church.

"When I was little, I wore headwraps to copy my mum and aunt. Now, I wear the headwrap as a way to express my culture."

Of course, the headwrap is a stylish and practical solution for bad hair days too.

"When I feel my hair is super messy and I don't know how to style it, the headwrap is the easiest way," says Ms Ubby, who is growing out her dreadlocks.

"But I have to say, now that I have a lot of dreadlocks, it's becoming more difficult to tie the headwrap. I need to make a bigger one."


Rock the headwrap

Aarika Lee, 34, musician and marketing director of marketing and branding agency Elementary Co, describes how to tie a headwrap in three styles.

1 High turban with ruffled ends peeking out 

1. Holding the wrap behind the head, bring the ends to the front, just above the fringe and just off the centre of the face, and tie a knot. The fabric should not cover the whole head yet; the top of the head should be exposed.

2. With the knot as the base, tie a bow. 

3. The bow will look quite floppy; tuck the ends into the gap at the crown and adjust it until you are happy with how it looks.

2 High turban without any ends peeking out 

1. Tie a knot with the headwrap at the top of the head. 

2. Continue tying another two knots on top of the first knot. 

3. Tuck the excess cloth into the back of the wrap, near the crown of the head.

3 Wrap-around knot (suitable with a large square scarf) 

1. Fold the square scarf in half so you get a rectangular strip of cloth. 

2. Tie a knot with the headwrap in front of the head and tie another knot just above it. 

3. Bring the loose ends of the fabric to the back of the head and tuck them under the wrap to secure.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2017, with the headline 'Heady statement'. Print Edition | Subscribe