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The Power of the Headdress

March 27, 2016

A lot of what we believe influences good architecture stems from studying different aspects of human creativity and expression, one of which is fashion. Fashion has been, and will always be, an extension of the built form upon the body, and much like architecture it is an extension of a culture and a mindset. This particular blog entry is not going to focus on the typical clothing dynamics that go along with patterning and textiles and how they relate to architecture (which we will touch upon in further entries down the road), instead we want to focus on the brilliance of The Headdress


Its textural quality and inherent dominance as the focal piece in an ensemble parallels the importance of the look and status within a building, both from an urban standpoint and a more intimate, interior place. It is both a visual indicator and a storyteller, carrying with it clues about the creed, status, design, tradition, and race of a culture.  In architectural terms, consider the headpiece the embodiment of "entry".  It is used to command attention, welcome, present, display, and above all else proliferate its form. 


The three important aspects of a headdress are comprised of:


1. Its connection to its Natural Environment 


2. Its connection to Symbolism and


3. Its connection to Social Status 


Headdresses are, above all else, a product of their environment. In a lot of aspects, headdresses are comprised of elements that represent the immediate culture, and a lot of those elements are made up of found items, particularly those in the natural world. From feathers, grass, dyes, and beads, the headdress is a tribute to its ethnology. The First People tribes of the Americas are some of the more prolifically known conveyors of this usage. They would often give importance to different animal totems that would then find homage in the headdresses. From revered eagle feathers for people of importance, to bear claws to represent strength, to porcupine quills that in some cultures represented luck. They also used headdresses as status symbols and to instigate certain activities: e.g. war bonnets (used in battle primarily by chiefs and roach headdresses worn by the men in dance or sport)


A modern day Cheyenne dog soldier wearing a feathered headdress during a pow wow at the Indian Summer festival in Henry Maier Festival Park, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 2008, as found on wikipedia



In some African Cultures, they have gone even further and integrated the headdress into an extension of their hair styles. In the Himba Tribe in Namibia, girls weave their hair into complex dreads full of ochre, mud, and goat hair. Their tribes from early on dictate the way their hair is to be braided, which distinguishes them.


 A Namibia Himba married woman.


In the black forest of Germany spirituality is alive in the folkloric tales that eminent from the region (e.g. the Grimm brother’s tales for one), as well as the religious iconography of Christianity and Protestantism, these are often expressed in traditional garb known as Trachten. Women of different villages often wear traditional headdresses; where Jesse's family is from, Todtmoos, they wear something called a Backenhaube, but the more infamous one in the area is known as the Bollenhut, which has become an important indicator of the black forest region (even though it is typically only worn by the towns of Gutach, Wolfach-kirnbach and Hornberg-Reichenbach). It is comprised of fourteen prominent woolen pompoms in the shape of a cross.  Red, black, and white are the three colors that all of the black forest costumes shares. Some of this stemming from traditional folk tales, and others using more religions canons as there descripts. For the Bollenhut, it became an icon of the female stature. Unmarried women wear red pompoms, married women wear black, and old women and widows wear only the mob cap with no pompoms. Only women make Bollenhuts, and girls can only wear them after confirmation.  


Blackforest headdresses: Backenhaube from the town of Todtmoos (left), and a traditional Bollenhut  (right) image credit:


In the Chinese long-horn Miao minority, the women have gathered the hair of their ancestors, and kept remnants of their own hair, to weave it within twine and yarn to create elaborate hair headpieces that are an homage to their lineage. They are sculptural masterpieces, that start off with the shape of horns, a representation taken from the local revered cow, which is then wrapped with centuries old hair dating back generations. As said best by Shu Tu, a Chinese historian on the Miao people, "For some people, their history is in books. However, for the Miao, their history is on their heads" 


Long haired Miao Girl (photo by


Symbolically one of the most important factors of a headdress falls into its colors: Red typically meaning beauty, black typically meaning victory, white typically meaning purity, green typically meaning harmony, blue typically meaning wisdom, and purple typically being a sacred color. 


Fady Dicko, wears a traditional Tuareg headdress made by artisan Hally Bara in Gao, Mali (Joe Penney/Rueters) as found on a Baltimore  Sun article "Traditional Headdresses, banned by Islamist group, return to Mali" 


Even today we find importance in the aspect of the headdress (whether that be the fascinators at the royal outings, or the simple cowboy hats representing the lone frontiersman), there is a certain gravitas that comes along with the beauty and structure of the headdress. It holds a mysticism of individual space, that can be awesome and haunting. We recently stumbled upon an etsy designer by the name of Miss G who has reinterpreted the headdress and it's importance to relegating the human form, the social space, the symbolism of materials, and the reverence that a headpiece carries with it. We find that studying these elements as designers becomes an important aspect to understanding the space that we currently reside in. Space is not simply confined to the built form, it is confined to the presentation of built materials and the importance governed to them, and the headdress is the ultimate governor of space. Headdresses have an embodied cultural narrative that people carry with them, and in that respect it can be a huge influence to how designers interpret a settled space, using aspects of culture, nature, and form. 


Miss G's headdresses

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