Why do women wear headscarves? – The complex concept of the exhibition, visually and meaningfully, draws conclusions and raises questions. In my opinion, the author’s team did an excellent job presenting the ways of reading the meaning of the scarf and its different applications. The authors of the exhibition laid bare the stereotypes of attribution, demarcation, and a number of other viewing angles. They showed the power of a simple piece of cloth to raise issues of the social position of women (prejudices, inequalities, and often discrimination); they also pointed to women’s right to freedom of choice of their own expression. The right for the headscarf to remain a part of a woman’s intimate life, equally, with all the modalities of the function of cultural marking.

Women wear headscarves-Gaby-Franger-Elisabeth-Bala-Tijana-Jakovljević-Šević-Regional-international-museum-women's-culture-absent-here-at-photo-Katarina-Radisavljević-Museum-of-Vojvodina-Novi-Sad.jpg
Authors of the Exhibition: from the Regional-International Museum of Women’s Culture, Mrs. Gabi Franger, Elizabet Bala, and Tijana Jakovljević-Šević; as well as Katarina Radisavljević from the Museum of Vojvodina Novi Sad, who miss at the photo

I thought for a long time, about how to share my impressions about covering a woman with a scarf—thinking about the relationship between a woman and her headscarf, on the one hand. Then according to her husband`s attitude, depending on family, collective, or primarily the God Almighty. Impressions are coming to me, but there is also a swirl of ideas that I have to deal with in order to write. Subjective or primarily informative? Finally, I return to the idea that came to me “on the spot” in the atmosphere of the setting. Namely, I will try to extract and emphasize those moments that encouraged me to write. Appreciating the comprehensive List of Exhibitions in the Museum of Women’s Culture Regional-International, I’m certainly motivated.

Should I emphasize the spontaneity of the expression or the essential meaning of the scarf for its owner?

Because here we experience very touching spontaneity. But it is also important to express the essential meaning of the scarf for its owner, some statement, knowledge, observation, scene… The wealth of content of the exhibition provides an insight into the shapes and artistry of scarves, production methods, and local specificities. However, everything together shows the remarkable worlds of women decorated, covered, or scarf-wrapped.

I prefer an intimate understanding of the woman under the headscarf. That’s why I will organize a couple of thematic units: Scarves in the regions of Germany and Europe; Immigrant Women of disparate origin and geographical milieu; In encounters with authentic traditions of Asian and African environments; My fascination when learning about some examples of experiences by getting to know, little-known cultures to me, of the distant worlds of Latin America; Finally, closing the circle with our territory (the participation of the host Museum) Storytelling on the old rituals with the hair and covering the head among women in Vojvodina.

Women wear headscarves – If I’m right, we’ll find out in the museum exhibition “Scarf as a cultural signifier” that I presented in the previous post.

Margarete Erber from Neukirchen in Upper Franconia


Mrs. Erber, a German woman from Neukirchen in Upper Franconia is attached not only to her scarf but also to the complete costume. In order to be modern after the war, she took off her headscarf for a short time. But she didn’t like it at all. Having had a lot of traditional clothes and her husband liked her better in them, she returned to wearing her costume. Posing, she was explaining the functions of her scarves. Otherwise, she usually wears ordinary everyday clothes. In winter, tying in front, under the chin, and in the summer it is tied behind, the back of the head. These are patterned headscarves, of more freely colored designs.

Mrs. Erber has kept a holiday embroidered scarf since 1933, as a confirmation gift from her godmother. Still, in 1985, she went to church with her head covered. But, obviously facing a big decision, she mentioned that she will probably take off her headscarf in the summer. It would surprise me because women in relatively later years rarely make such drastic changes.

Barbara Schleicher from Roethenbach in Franconia

Women wear headscarves-Rettenbach-Franconia-wears-small-traditional-scarf.jpg

Mrs. Schleicher from Roethenbach in Franconia is also in costume. She wears a small traditional scarf with hair visible in front. The scarf is tied under the chin. That seems pretty sight, on Saturdays at the market in Nuremberg, where she sells flowers and herb spices. In her native village, women still wear headscarves and costumes, but in Roethenbach, where she lives, it`s a rare sight.

Mrs. Barbara Schleicher is aware, the old scarf is disappearing with her generation. Out of 17 friends, from confirmation in the 7th grade, she is the only one who still wears traditional clothes. While in the countryside, women keep their headscarves in everyday clothes even after removing their costumes. However, Mrs. Schleicher still wears the holiday scarf only during rituals on major holidays. Although, the festive headscarf is still present in Franconia’s ceremonial clothing.

Mrs. Margarete Derfus from Kleinsendelbach in Franconia

A gentle smiling face with floating thought: “Yes, my little scarf”


Mrs. M. Derfus from Kleinsendelbach in Franconia, is elderly, dressed in everyday traditional clothing made of cotton fabric with a typical pattern. On her head is a small scarf tied under her chin. A gentle face with a smile where a thought floats: Yes, my little scarf… which seems to me addressed to her. Then comes the stark truth: If one does not know what to get a woman for her birthday or Christmas, it will regularly be a scarf. Explains that they can be bought at the shop in Erlangen or at the market in Forchheim.

And she left me in a dilemma. Does she consider a scarf always a desirable gift even after the confirmation ritual? Or something completely different, a routine purchase and not a choice for a specific person. Both interpretations seem likely.

Elisabeth Milleger from Bad Ischl in Upper Austria


When became desirable to emphasize ethnic identity E. Milleger from Bad Ischl in Upper Austria, remained the only one who still wore traditional dress. She wore a black silk scarf with her formal costume. She even knew the way of traditional tying of the headscarf. This devotion brought her great importance. Became a competent instructor for training young women willing to wear traditional headscarves.

Trained them to shape a black silk scarf into a decorative headdress. How to neatly wrap the ends in a tight ring around the head, while the free end reaches below the belt.

With her marriage, she brought a scarf as an inheritance from her grandmother. At that time she did not know how to tie in the traditional way. But, learned by watching her mother-in-law. When she had tied it well, she kept it shaped like that and put it on like a cap. But remembers that her grandmother tied herself always all over again. She would lean forward, resting her head on some support, and beautifully shape the scarf herself. She started covering her head after Confirmation, at the age of 15.

Women wear headscarves – in Franconian folk costume

By the end of the 19th century, women left the historical “white horned” headscarf as a festive headdress. Marie Spatz, from Neunkirchen, remembers her mother wearing a white horned cap in 1936 for Marie’s younger brother’s communion. That was the last time she put “horn” on. Women began to wear formal, embroidered black silk scarf. They still wear headscarves in the countryside today, on holidays, especially for the church. The scarf ties back at the neck.

Women wear headscarves-Frankonian-old-type-scarf-and-new-traditional-embroidered-festive-scarf.jpg
Image: both of these traditional head covers: white “horned” old type and black silk headscarf with embroidered flourish design

Mrs. Luitgard Biermeier’s embroidery as a contribution to the evaluation of the Franconian heritage

Over time, older types of headdresses disappear from the Franconian costume. And a festive scarf replaces them for ritual purposes. It is a scarf of black silk satin, with embroidered floral ornamentation. The exhibition displays the work of Luitgard Birmeier from Hetzles near Forchheim. She started her job in 1950, by embroidering for her relatives and friends. But at first, she didn’t earn enough money for her skill. She was incapable to decide a price, for example, for spending an hour embroidering a single flower. Fortunately, most of the satisfied “customers” significantly increased her evaluation.

The scarf on display dates around 1975. A subtly nuanced floral composition imitates old Biedermeier patterns on black silk satin.

Women wear headscarves-Embroidered-festive-scarf-folk-costume-Forchheim-exhibition-mannequin-Scarf-as-cultural-signifier.jpg
Embroidered festive scarf, part of the folk costume from Forchheim. Mannequin at the exhibition “Scarf as a cultural signifier”
Embroidered black silk satin scarf with floral ornamentation (detail) worked by Luitgad Birmeier of Heckles

Why do women wear headscarves? – Originally from Transylvania, Romania, escaped to Germany

Maria Moldovan, a Swabian from Transylvania, has been living in Steinach

Women wear headscarves-Young-Maria-Moldovan-Saxon-from-Transilvania.jpg
The photo of young Maria Moldovan, from the family album

The mild facial expression of the young woman in the photograph does not hint at her future life fate path. Born in Transylvania, in 1920, married in 1938, and escaped to Germany in 1944. She has been living in Steinach since April 1945. After the war, in order to fit in, she took off her headscarf.

She described how all the women at home (Transylvania) wore beautiful woolen scarves, colorful and flowery. Placed the scarf edge close to the forehead, they are tied back, except in winter when it is cold, tied under the chin.

After arriving in Germany, the Bavarian peasant women liked their costumes and scarves. However, when she cut her hair with a heavy heart (in 1949), even her scarf no longer fit her well. Her husband wanted her to fit into her new environment by dressing. But she hardly adapted to being outside revealing her hair. But she hardly adapted to being outside revealing her hair.

Last headscarf sample, that Maria Moldovan wore, before its removal in 1949.

Printed blue-dyed scarves of Lendler women, originally from Austria, in Transylvania

The Landers, an ethnic group of Saxon origin, moved from Austria, in 18. A century and came to Transylvania. Museum researchers in the 1990s explicitly stressed Blue indigo dyeing as the typical feature of their tradition.

Dark blue, with a white pattern stands out among the scarves, made by a variant of the indirect dyeing process. The printed pattern is created thanks to the applied protective paste, by printing the pattern with a mold on an unpainted canvas. After dyeing in an indigo dye solution, the paste is removed by washing. The pattern in the original white remains as a negative on a dark blue base. The blue-dyed scarf is among the distinct examples of remnants of the ethnic characteristics of this ethnicity, who immigrated to Transylvania, a long time ago.

The use of scarves depends on weekdays or holidays; gender and age, marriage status, occasion, and season. Married women wore a braid twisted around their head, called the “Gretel hairstyle”. Over it is a scarf tied on the back of the head. In winter, a scarf is tied under the chin. For Confirmation, the girl receives her first dark blue scarf with a red embroidered hem. She would take care very well, for this status symbol, to highlight well.

Women wear headscarves-Saxon-girl-Transylvania-white-remains-as-negative-on-dark-blue-red-trim.jpg
First blue scarf with red trim, for a Saxon girl from Transylvania. The pattern is original white remains as a negative on a dark blue base.

Here, I will emphasize the fact that the headscarf is mandatory for girls starting from Confirmation (the rite of confirmation of acceptance into Christianity). Usually, it was a gift by the godmother or the family, and if not, they bought it themselves from their modest wages.

Now, at the finished part I of the mini-series on the subject: Why do women wear headscarves? I hope for your visit soon in the next episode

Sincerely, Branka on Textiles

One thought on “Why do women wear headscarves? – Part I – Are you interested in the relationship between a woman, her headscarf, and the rest of the world?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 1 MB. You can upload: image, document, text. Drop file here