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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.