African headwrapping has a culture and history as colorful as kente cloth, according to Leeajiah Harvard.
Harvard, a librarian at Holts Summit Public Library and a headwrapping enthusiast, shared some of that history — plus how-to advice — during a talk Tuesday at Callaway County Public Library.
"This is something I do every day, if I'm having a bad hair day or I want to dress up an outfit," she said.
Harvard started experimenting with African-style headwraps as a child. After her mother pointed out Harvard's Haitian heritage has a headwrapping tradition, Harvard took a deep dive into headwrapping culture.
"I watch a lot of YouTube," Harvard confessed.
During her talk, she focused on three general styles of headwraps: the doek, duku and gele.
Doek and duku-style wraps are less formal styles, mostly simply wrapping around the head and tucking in. A doek is more of a South African style, while duku are more Caribbean, Harvard said.
"A duku is a more formal version of a doek," she said.
A gele, meanwhile, is primarily Nigerian, and much more elaborate, with the fabric twisting into rolls and pleating into folds.
"You need a lot of pins for these," Harvard said. "They show social status."
Styles overlap and intermingle throughout the African continent and the Caribbean, with plenty of regional variations. Those found north of the Sahara desert may show Middle Eastern influences. Traditional styles of headwrap traveled around the world during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, too, evolving in the process, Harvard said.
To try your own doek, grab a scarf. Thin fabric works, though a slightly stiffer cotton will hold its shape better, Harvard said. Coordinating your scarf with your outfit lends a more polished look, she said.
Fold the front long edge of the scarf over a few times in the middle, and position it in the center of your forehead. The cloth should drape over the top of your head, with the two ends trailing down your back. Hold the tails together against the back of your head, making sure the front is snug on your forehead. Then, start twisting the tails together, starting at the base of the skull and working your way down.
As the ends twist together, coil them into a bun shape at the back of your head. When you run out of fabric, simply tuck the tails into the coil.
"It should stay all day," Harvard said. "You could be having any kind of hair day under there."
She noted this can also be done facing the opposite direction, so the coil is centered on the forehead.
She also taught a variation to be used with a bun. Lean forward and drape the center of the scarf over the back of your head so the ends dangle forward, and the entire back of your head is covered. Gather the two ends of the scarf in the front and cross them over. Flip them backward and wrap the ends of the scarf around your bun, tucking them in.
Audience members joined in at the end, tying their own headwraps and enjoying fried plantains.
Librarian Sherry McBride-Brown said she thinks she'll try adding head wraps to her look.
"When I was growing up in church, the women always had their heads covered, though usually with hats," she recalled.