From ancient times until the present day, the most common headwear for Indian men has been a turban. A turban is a length of cloth wrapped in a specific way around the top of the head. Most commonly worn outdoors, turbans can also be worn indoors.
Woven of cotton, silk, or wool, turbans can be simple or very ornate. The type of fabric, patterns or colors on the fabric, length of fabric, and wrapping technique used for the turban indicate the wearer's social status, religion, ethnicity, and, in some cases, profession.
Turbans can be decorated in a variety of ways. Often the fabric is dyed one color and bordered with a contrasting color. For more intricate designs, everyday turbans are block-printed or tie-dyed. Festive turbans or those worn by wealthier men are made of more expensive fabrics, such as silk, and even woven or stamped with gold thread.
In most parts of India turbans are worn wrapped directly around the bare head of the wearer. However, in modern-day Pakistan and especially the areas near Iran, Afghanistan, and central Asia, turbans are wrapped over the top of a soft cap called a topi or a rigid cap covered with embroidery called a kulah.
There are many different styles of wrapping turbans. Two common ways include one continuous swirl around the head to form the turban or twisting the fabric into two parts and securing one end as a band around the forehead and then arranging the two segments into a diagonal tie on top of the head. Some wearers leave one end of the turban fabric hanging for decoration or for use as a head towel.
Turbans continue to be worn by men throughout India and by many Sikhs and Muslims throughout the world. The style is also worn by women in some cultures, such as the nomadic group known as Kurds living in parts of Syria, Iraq, and Turkey. A prewrapped version of the turban became a popular hat with European and American women in the 1960s. Some older women continue to wear it in their homes as a casual covering for hair rolled in curlers.
Askari, Nasreen, and Liz Arthur. Uncut Cloth: Saris, Shawls, and Sashes. London, England: Merrell Holbertson, 1999.