Terrorism chic

I started noticing this male fashion trend a year ago when Kanye West’s video “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” came out. In the video he’s in the desert, doing his “I’m trying to be really fucking deep” thing when I noticed the over sized printed scarf around his neck, donned like an oversize bandanna. I thought to myself, where had I seen that look before?

I got it! Terrorists!

The last shot is of Justin Timberlake. I’m not implying that he’s a SexyBack terrorist. He just dresses like one who wears really expensive clothes.

After that video I started seeing the oversize bandanna everywhere in urban fashion. Jay-Z. Pharrell Williams. Usually accentuated with some sort of bling, rocked over expensive urban couture. It was outlaw fashion. Terror chic. And it made sense that the coolest of the cool would be attracted to a look sported by rebel fighters living along the Pakistani border with Afghanistan and in the besieged territory of Gaza.

Nothing says both fey and badass like a revolutionary, even terrorist scarf.

Hot with every paramilitary, militia-loving Zapatista-uprising or FARC, PKK, PLO bomb maker, the look is the no. 1 accessory for all terrorists and revolutionaries from Hamas to Hezbollah. The scarf has been hot since Fidel Castro took Cuba from Batista and the upper class. A mainstay since the Viet Cong made it hot in the Mekong Delta. Basically, if you’re a rebel with a murderous cause, you can’t live without your scarf. Not only can it serve as a mask, but it can keep the sweat off your face, the bugs out of your mouth (if you’re in the jungles of Colombia) and keep the sand out of your nose (if you’re in Saudi Arabia).

It’s a must have.

Nothing gets between them and their rebel scarves.

Of course the Madhi Army and the original gangsta of all radical jihadis, Osama bin Laden, aren’t rocking Kanye’s Louis Vuitton model. Mostly because they 1) despise our narcissistic, hedonistic capitalism, mixed with our imperial desires for global domination and 2) are not going to pay $100 for a scarf. You know they probably get those two-for-one at the flea market.

His scarf is better than yours. You could buy one, but you can’t afford the charge.

And Kanye has to take it even more uptown. He’s not going to any jungle or desert anywhere to kill anything. He’s from Chicago, USA. He’s not interested in getting his ass blown up. Rather than fight the man, he just adds a pair of matching gloves and color-coordinated custom kicks to pimp that look out a little more.

War urban chic isn’t a new idea. During the first Gulf War in 1991 desert camouflage was all the rage among the hip hop set. While shouting out “Peace in the Middle East” lazily at the end of a track there were the tell-tale military style boots, desert cami baggy cargo pants and a crisp white T-shirt with a platinum chain dangling.

This subject has been broached before (I was just slow to read anything about it.)
Gawker blogged in 2006 on the phenomenon
. Also Men’s Flair online in 2007 calls the look the male pashima or “the desert scarf.” They are also called Palestinian scarves, Afghanistan scarves or “shemagh” scarves. The Village Voice blogged on a mini-controversy over Urban Outfitters selling the “Yassar Arafat,” Palestinian style scarf also in 2007.

Jihadi is the new metrosexual.

Now color coordinated for the most fastidious urban hipster.

I’m too sexy for Gitmo.

Mama, I like to dress like a terrorist. You may say I look a mess, but all the homies see is S-U-C-C-E-S-S.

I’d be interested in reading any serious fashion discussion on how wars affect the wardrobe. I mean, we’ve been in the Middle East for almost five years now and I’ve never had the urge to rock a burqa (although the naked chick dancing in the scarf on “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” comes close).

Despite the weird places we often go to find fashion, I actually think the terrorist scarf is a good look for the fashion-forward hip hopper. And temper tantrums notwithstanding, I like the way Kanye dresses. His look brims with inventiveness and originality whether it’s a simple, preppy backpacker look or princely rock-rap regalia. And then there’s all the foolishness. Like those retro ’80s glasses he wore for his video “Stronger” and at the Grammys. Those were so ugly they were awesome.

But keep in mind how I also like how Andre 3000 and Prince dress. And Prince is flawless yet delicately fey. I’m not going to apologize for it. I like black men who take fashion to absurd, queenish territory. Men who aren’t afraid of dressing all crazy because they’re comfortable with their sexuality. It’s like, “Hell yeah I got a $400 dollar scarf on, butt-out jeans and a veil. So what? Call me names. Whatever. I’m still going home tonight with a woman that’s fine as hell. You can’t tell me nothing.”

Below, here are some more fashion moments with Kanye and his new favorite accessory.

8 thoughts on “Terrorism chic

  1. Torrance: I remember seeing some bandanna rockin’ in the early 80s, but it was usually a bunch of kids playing bloods and crips in my neighborhood.So you’re a Dickies chinos and white T-shirt guy? Chucks and white socks? Plaid shirt buttoned just at the top? Cholo style?And Morehouse, know some brothers who went there. What year were you there?

  2. this is a good post. all over the place here in england, it has become the trend for a while now to rock those scarfs. some of them look like tea towels to me but i do think you make a good point in how wars affect warderobe. some people just buy those scarfs because everyone’s doing it, i think it is symbolic of globalisation and it also hints to the fascination that the West has with the Middle East too. Love/Hate relationship has played out into fashion!

  3. I remember the Mujahaddin scarves worn in the ealy 90’s around NYC. Alot of folks also sported the Afghan hats that the rebels were wearing.It’s amazing to me how fashion can be found in so many unexpected ways and places.

  4. I concur with others…”great post”! I actually had a discussion about this last week with a few of my colleagues. There are myriad ways that fashion is influenced by the world around us, and it is typically not through just the conventional means (however you define conventional). Often times the “hottest” trends seem to generally come from those segments of the population outside the normative views of power and participation in the body politic. All that said…Keep doing your thing sister!Respect,VCM aka “Negro Intellectual”

  5. Hmmmm. Looking either gay squared or rocking an accident victim neckbrace. Not sexzay….and I like the almost fem look on a dude too.And is Yay wearing a chainmail scarf? He would go there…

  6. I like Kanye West, i admire his ‘daring’ approach towards fashion. He’s realy trying to steer away from the more… stereotypical look that most rappers swear by. It’s really important that men and women are more open to the idea of fem accessories. I hate when people start labelling one as ‘gay’, to be fair most gay men are fashionable so i wouldn’t really take that as a negative thing!Sorry for steering off topic — Great post!

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